What does the arepa power in the movie Encanto mean? Colombian chefs reveal their magic

Melissa Velasquez Luisa

(CNN) “I treated my hands with arepa de queso,” Mirabell Madrigal told her mother, Julieta, in “Incanto,” holding an arepa de queso, a round dough of corn.

Julieta replied, “You healed your hand with love.”

“Encanto,” this year’s Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature, is the story of the magical Madrigal family, who, with the exception of Mirabel, have supernatural powers. While the film’s themes are based on family and love, the film’s foundations are rooted in Colombian culture, which includes highlighting arepa as an essential part of its cuisine.

“It’s quite comfort food, although it’s also part of the daily diet, and it’s a very important part of our daily culture,” said Carmen Angel, chef and co-owner of Restaurantes Carmen in Cartagena and Medellin, Colombia.

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A chef prepares an Aribas in the kitchen of the Ariba Lady restaurant in Queens, New York City on January 27, 2022.

Arribas is what Colombians consider their bread to be, said Alejandro Osorio, co-owner of Arriba Lady, an Arriba restaurant based in New York City with locations in Queens and Brooklyn neighborhoods. Traditional arepa is eaten throughout the day, and although it can be prepared in many ways, arepa is made from cornmeal.

The corn undergoes the process of nixtamalization, which is the removal of the hard outer shell of the corn with lime water. Once the corn is soft, it’s ground with a little salt, made into a paste, shaped into a thin round shape and grilled over hot coals, Engel said.

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There are several types of arepas only in Colombia

The type of arepa you eat depends on the type of corn you use, what you put in the dough, and the Colombian region from which the recipe originated.

A sweeter arepa, called arepa de choclo, is made from fresh sweet corn. Osorio said that in a restaurant like Arepa Lady, these arepas can be served with butter and cheese, or they can have meat inside if the customer requests it. The restaurant also serves cheese arepas, like the ones Mirabelle had in “Incanto,” which are made with mozzarella cheese inside the dough.

Osorio said that on the Colombian coast, locals fry a stew with an egg inside. In Medellin, Osorio’s hometown, aribas are often sold as street food, served with condensed milk as a topping or even just butter and salt.

The versatility of arepa speaks volumes about how accessible it is to all types of Colombians, according to Angel. He added that many of the differences also show how well-established dishes in the indigenous diet have continued to thrive amid modern adaptations to food.

“I feel like Arepas is one of the foods that almost all Colombians eat on a daily basis, regardless of their (social and economic) status, no matter where they live, no matter their religion,” Angel said.

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The Joint, which is shredded beef, beans, sweet banana, and cheese, is a specialty at Ceci’s Arepa Joint in East Meadow, New York.

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The healing power of arepa

In addition to the cultural association, arepas are also a source of nutritional benefits, as they contain vitamins A and C. These two essential nutrients help with immunity and eye health, according to Andy Lee Gonzalez, a registered dietitian based in Palmview, Texas. He added that vitamin C provides antioxidants and builds an immune pathway, while vitamin A supports retinal health and eye vision.

A serving of arepa will contain about 15 to 20 grams of carbs, so Gonzalez suggests adding vegetables, low-fat dairy, or a lean protein source to make the arepa a balanced meal.

While arepas may not heal a wound on someone’s hand as in “Encanto,” Gonzalez said the movie’s message about the dish is how “the staple foods of our cultures are part of our lives.”

“When I watched this part of the movie, it really highlights how we use food in our Hispanic and Hispanic community to heal the soul,” Gonzalez said.

This is how cheese is made

You can make your own cheese arepas by following Chef Carmen Angel’s recipe. Ángel uses a Colombian cheese called Queso Paipa, but mozzarella is a good alternative. You can eat Arespace as a snack, with scrambled eggs for breakfast, or top it with toppings of your choice (like avocado, chorizo, grilled chicken, and tomato) for a Colombian-inspired lunch.

Recipe for 6 Arips

Preparation and cooking time: 25 minutes


1 cup cornmeal ½ teaspoon salt 1/3 cup warm water 1/3 cup milk 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature, plus more for pan 1 cup shredded mozzarella (or other semi-hard cheese that melts like Gruyere or Fontina, more cheese to melt inside the arepa (optional)

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1. In a medium bowl, mix cornmeal with salt and warm water, and mix with your hands to form a paste.

2. Add milk and continue mixing.

3. Add 3 tablespoons of butter, mix well, then add 1 cup of cheese and mix until combined.

4. Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat.

5. Divide the dough into 6 arepas or discs, using both hands to make sure they are evenly shaped and no more than 1/2 inch thick.

6. Add a little butter to the pan and stir to coat the bottom of the pan.

7. Cook the aribas 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Reservation.

8. If desired, using a knife, carefully open the arepas while they are still hot and fill with more cheese of your choice. To melt more cheese, place the stuffed aribas in the toaster oven or return to the skillet over low heat.

– Recipe provided by Carmen Angel of Carmen Restaurant Group in Colombia.

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Terry Alexander

"Award-winning music trailblazer. Gamer. Lifelong alcohol enthusiast. Thinker. Passionate analyst."

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