Each day Elaine Gomez Lozano sets up her cart on the corner of Carrera 11 and Calle 38 in Cartagena’s Old City and begins making handmade arepas. Her cart is positioned in front of the crumbling wall surrounding the historical district so that she can cater to the passing locals and tourists looking for a quick and savory bite. For the past 40 years, Elaine (whom I’ve come to refer to as The Arepa Lady) has stood on this very corner flattening and shaping the maize, tossing the arepas in a vat of hot oil and serving them alongside colorful salsas in vibrant greens and reds.
In Colombia, the arepa is a staple of the cuisine of the indigenous people and colonial farmers, making this humble treat an important part of the country’s culinary tradition. Usually eaten for breakfast or lunch, Arepas con huevos are traditional in Colombia and can be likened to a crispy, round hot pocket with a sweet, corn exterior and cooked egg–often mixed with meat–on the inside.
Arepas are sold on almost every corner of Cartagena–some arepas are left sitting out, growing progressively drier under the hot sun while other arepas, like Elaine’s, are made fresh. The arepa—unique to Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine–is a flat bread made of cornmeal with the word “arepa” translating as maize or corn and said to have originated from the Caracas natives,
When I travel I almost always go to the streets for the best representation of a country’s local fare and to find dishes unique to the region and best representative of the culture. While on assignment to explore the Cartagena food scene for an article, I came upon Elaine and her unassuming arepa stand.