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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Cartagena’s Arepa Lady - Page 2

Written by Nikki Vargas
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Like an expert to whom a process has become second nature, I watched as Elaine kneaded out the cornmeal, slapped the yellow dough between her bronzed hands, folded the dough and deftly cracked an egg into the fold before tossing it into the bubbling oil. Fishing out the arepas at the precise moment when ready, Elaine wrapped the warm treat in a white napkin and handed it to me. The first bite of the arepa was fragrant and savory, with the crisp maize mingling with the taste of egg and beef. The accompanying homemade condiments ranged from fresh guacamole to a fiery red salsa to a cooling, white sauce reminiscent of tzatziki--each one changing the taste of the arepa and creating a new symphony of flavors. For less than the cost of a New York subway ride, anyone passing by could enjoy a treat as true to Colombia as the local making them.

My attempts to excitedly tell Elaine that I would be writing about her arepas for “an American food publication” were lost in translation, so I took her e-mail, wrote down the street location and vowed to recommend her food to all who visit. 


Almost a year later, I found myself back in Cartagena and hungrily heading towards my favorite arepa lady. I eagerly walked towards Carrera 11 and Calle 38 only to recognize everything–-the stand, the street, the food–-but not Elaine. Perhaps it was her daughter that was now whipping up the arepas or maybe Elaine had simply taken the day off, but that crispy arepa was without a doubt the same it had been 365 days earlier—perfection.


After my Cartagena in 10 Plates article was published, I tried contacting Elaine to share the news of her much-deserved moment of fame. In vain, I tried to decipher the scrap of paper where she had hastily scribbled down an e-mail address but never received a response to my message. Elaine might still be oblivious to the waves of fans she has created among my family, friends and readers so, if nothing else, consider this my homage to The Arepa Lady, her wonderful food and 40 years of making people smile–whether she knows it or not.


©Nikki Vargas

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