I spent the summer I was sixteen as an exchange student in Maracaibo, Venezuela. Somehow that summer happened 20 years ago. My brain can't quite compute that, but I do know, dramatic as it may sound, that it changed my life. I'm sure I wouldn't have become a person who could decide to move to Spain where I knew nobody, or hike the dolomites alone where I ended up meeting a German and following him to Berlin and marrying him and having little half Germans if I had worked at the Gap that summer. As impactful as that summer was, it is sort of a blur, but I do have a lot of food memories. I think I drank my weight in tropical juices on a daily basis. Venezuela is where I learned to love and became addicted to coffee, having read in my guidebook that it's rude to refuse it. On my first night there, exhausted and virtually unable to understand a word anyone said to me, my host family took me to a parking lot with a bunch of food vendors and put some kind of sandwich in front of me. I remember that instead of bread, it had patacones and a spicy mayonnaisey sauce and was delicious. My host family had a maid, Mamita, who made us lunch every day after Spanish class -- meat or fish, cooked vegetables with a big squirt of mayonnaise, and a pile of boiled yuca. I haven't had boiled yuca since and that is a very good thing. Fried yuca makes a decent starchy vehicle for a salsa verde or even ketchup, but boiled yuca is gluey and flavorless and truly vile. Towards the end of my time in Maracaibo, a friend and I were so sick of it/sickened by it, we resorted to throwing it out the window when no-one was looking. Possibly not my finest move as a guest in someone's home, but the stuff is really nasty. Somedays, if we were lucky, she made empanadas and other times there were arepas, the national dish. Arepas are a sort-of cornmeal patty, thick tortillas something like pupusas, made from dehydrated cooked cornmeal and water. They are quite bland and can be pretty leaden and they were never really great. When they were filled with sour Venezuelan cheese, they were especially unpleasant. So, I wasn't all that excited on the trek to sample Kaerrecho's arepas at the Guetermarkt in Moabit a few weeks back. I was so, so wrong because they were probably the most delicious arepas I've ever had. These are some of the lightest arepas I've met and the fillings are all well-seasoned and just really delicious. We sampled the Pelua with shredded beef and sautéed peppers and onions, the Reina Pepeada with an avocado-chicken salad of sorts (our favorite!), and the Rumbera with shredded pork and gouda cheese. Most often, I am trying to convince the three year old to eat something, but once in a while I am wishing he would be his usually picky self and let me have his. This was one of those times. I'll be tracking Kaerrecho down again soon and this time I plan to ditch the kid and save room for a golfeado or Venezuelan sticky bun made with salty cheese.
Kaerrecho - their website is awful; check their Facebook page to find out where they'll be!