Arepa! No, it’s not an exclamation. It’s breakfast.
Sofia has one almost every morning alongside an egg and fresh-squeezed orange juice (from our own trees!). Lukas won’t go near them.
Arepas are common fare in Colombia, almost like the tortilla in Mexico. Except that arepas are often eaten on their own or on the side, like bread or rolls. They are usually round and flat and anywhere from the size of a hockey-puck to a dinner plate. Usually, the bigger they are, the thinner they are. They are always stiff, unlike tortillas, and would make good frisbees. Arepas con queso are popular in our house. They are basically corn-cakes with cheese baked in.
We are bread snobs, a lasting consequence of my mom’s baking prowess and refusal to purchase bread from the store. Here most bread is the white tasteless stuff wrought into numerous forms, as if the shape of the bread made a difference. Sure, we can find decent bread (and have, thankfully), but it isn’t common.
When in Rome, do as the Romans…
The arepas steps in for good whole-grain bread. I don’t know that it is as healthy, but made from whole corn an arepa is tasty and filling. It’s easy, too. There are other, more complicated (read: involves oven), alternatives also.
Pan de bono (no useful translation I know of) is particularly popular. Like bread, it gets wrought into many forms, but at least it’s somewhat unique and filling. The recipe is just shy of top-secret. All I know is that there is cheese baked in and the masa is special somehow. We get the dough frozen and bake it as buns. If the bun is good, you can pop it to release the steam (and burn yourself if you aren’t careful!) before tearing it apart to eat. The inside is soft and gooey, the outside baked crispy, and it tastes a bit savory. Lukas will stand in front of the oven the full half-hour waiting to eat his. And he’d have it every day if he could.
Other only-at-the-bakery native options are pan de yuca (too crunchy for me), almojábanas (cousin of pan de bono), pancacho (croissant), boñuelos (fried dough balls)… and more. Most are not sweet. There are sweet options, too, usually filled with guava jelly. We avoid these.
As far as I’m concerned, these Colombian pastries go down best with a coffee and/or a glass of juice. Colombians do know how to make good, strong coffee. The kids opt for milk.
Milk, it turns out, is one of those foods that, although it looks the same and technically is the same stuff from one place to another, tastes and smells completely different. It took us some time to adjust and to find the brand that was least strange tasting and smelling. I don’t know what it is that gives the milk its flavor. Different cows? Different forage? Different processing? It is more likely the cows here are “free range”—like the ones that wander around our neighborhood. Maybe they eat mangoes (the trees grow like weeds). I don’t know. Sofia holds her nose. Lukas, the milk-aholic, could care less. It’s white and wet.
The most aggravating thing about the milk, though, is that it comes in bags (and it’s ultra-pasteurized). Soft, flimsy plastic bags. Like rice or dried beans. Bags that break easy. I have yet to figure out out to get the milk out of the bag without losing 10% and using an expletive.
It’s all part of the experience.
And if you want a truly authentic breakfast or early morning snack, you’d swap hot chocolate for the coffee. Real hot chocolate. With cheese melted in (note a trend?).
We’re learning that a key to adaptation is not too look for the things we miss (and ultimately are disappointed by), but to enjoy the unique alternatives.