Weston Town Center is home to one of my favorite spots to eat Latin American food: Panna. Panna primarily serves Venezuelan staples, ranging from tequeños to cachapas to stuffed patacones. The arepa pelúa, though, is my go-to dish to order whenever I visit the restaurant. Biting into an arepa pelúa is always an enjoyable experience because it serves as yet another reminder of the unique and delicious nature of Latin cuisine. Though I am not Venezuelan myself, this dish has a comfortable familiarity because I grew up alongside many Venezuelans in Weston, Florida. An arepa pelúa from Panna has an unquestionable ability to reinforce my Latino pride.
Arepas are stuffed cornmeal cakes that can be a vehicle for a variety of flavors. They can be filled with cheese and nothing else, scrambled eggs, chicken, and even ham. But my favorite way to eat an arepa is when it is stuffed with shredded beef and gouda cheese, pelúa style. Nothing beats the juiciness of the beef mixed with the rich, melted cheese.
The cornmeal cake itself is, in my opinion, the most important component of an arepa because it should be both crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. At Panna, you have the option of ordering an arepa that is either pan fried or deep fried. To me, the deep fried preparation is ideal because it achieves a more consistent crispy texture on the outside of the cornmeal cake. Hearing the crunch of an arepa is such a pleasant sound, and the crispiness is so important because it enhances the one-note taste of cornmeal. The crunch meshes well with the fluffiness of the cake on the inside, which beautifully soaks up the flavors of the filling.
Shredded beef and gouda cheese pair deliciously in an arepa pelúa. Shredded beef can sometimes be dry and tedious to eat, but Panna completely avoids this issue, thankfully. The shredded beef from Panna tastes like it has been submerged in a savory broth and cooked to perfection with diced onions, garlic, and red peppers. Shredded gouda cheese brings a subtle note of sweetness to the dish, balancing out the beef’s salty punch. The creaminess of the cheese not only adheres to the fluffy cornmeal interior, but also engulfs the juicy shredded beef, making every bite of an arepa pelúa delectable.Arepas are one of those dishes that you can eat on-the-go or when you are sitting down with friends and family members at a holiday party. They are very versatile, making them such a hit among several Latin American communities. I am lucky to have been raised in a town where these communities were prevalent, as it allowed me to interact with both amazing people and enticing cuisines. The five-minute drive to Panna from my house is a blessing that I sometimes take for granted, but certainly not when I visit home. Shortly after ordering an arepa pelúa at the restaurant’s counter, they give me a wrapped up, stuffed cornmeal cake that steams with an aromatic scent that makes me so happy. I have found that Latin American cuisine has that effect: it embraces people through flavor, it lifts individuals up when they are down, and it invites reflection. To think that an ingredient as simple as cornmeal can act as the foundation of such a popular dish is indicative of the love and care that Latin people put into their food. An arepa pelúa from Panna reminds me of the skill and hard work it takes to execute an “everyday” dish in such a memorable way. Arepas are eaten so regularly in Latin American countries that they might seem ordinary at first, but they are so loved because they are flexible in preparation. They make a profound impact using relatively few ingredients, and they always produce a smile.
Cover photo courtesy of MyPanna