Lost In Translation: Ay! Salsa’s Arepas

Everyone loves Ay Salsa! and everyone loves Ernesto, the cook. Ay Salsa! has the word ‘ay’ and an exclamation mark in it. Ernesto is latino and cute. And the food Ernesto makes in Ay Salsa! is great. Why would anyone hate the small eatery on High Street?

No one does. People can’t stop talking about Ay Salsa! — the burritos with plantain, the fish arepas, the weird Mexican drinks. What they don’t know is that Ay Salsa! lies to them. Ay Salsa! lies with every piece of grilled yellow dough they sell as an arepa.

It’s not an arepa. I couldn’t even find online whatever Ernesto decided to give the honorable name of arepa in Ay Salsa!

Allow me to illustrate. THIS is an arepa:

THIS is a woman holding two arepas:

THIS is a frontal view of a really tasty arepa filled with grilled tenderloin and red peppers:

AND THIS is Oster’s Tostiarepa, what I’m getting Ernesto for his birthday:

Don’t get me wrong, though. I was really excited about Ay Salsa! — I knew Ernesto came from Bespoke, and that this was going to be his own place, with his own ideas, etc. I couldn’t wait! I went there for the first time to try his burritos. I wanted to see if they were good, because burritos are my favorite Mexican thing. After Fey.

He recommended the “fish arepas.” I replied “I thought you were Mexican.” He then said, “We make Latin American food from all Latin America here!” with that cute, sly smile of his.

I was skeptical, so I got my burrito and left. A few weeks later, I read this on scene’s backstage “Chef, food-lover, ‘arepa’ master,” an interview with Ernesto:

“Q. Que es arepa? A. An arepa is a corn cake with mozzarella cheese, a little sugar, some butter. Delicious!”

Nononono. An arepa is NOT a corn cake. A cachapa is a corn cake (though what Ernesto sells is not a cachapa either). An arepa is the product of grilling or frying a circular piece of dough you have made by mixing hot water and corn flour (preferably Harina P.A.N., and no, this is not the same kind of corn flour Americans use to make corn bread).

You can add an egg if you want. Some people add a little parmesan cheese. It’s not that complicated, really. Then you grill/fry, cut open like a bagel — but not all the way! The bottom can’t be divided into two, because that’s where all the (sometimes dripping) filling is going to rest.

The classic is some kind of cheese and ham. The next level is adding vegetables. The step after that is adding things that require cooking beforehand — chicken, pulled pork, etc. The next, next step is putting all three steps together in an arepa with cheese, vegetables and some sort of cooked meat. Then again, some people just fill their arepas with quail eggs and ketchup.

So, what is Ernesto selling if not arepas? Easy, corn cakes that are not cachapas. Imagine a small, super-fatty pancake made of expired corn flour. It tastes good, but it looks weird. Then imagine this pseudoarepa below a pile of vegetables, in what only resembles pico de gallo sauce that’s gone cra-zay. But wait, there’s something else in the pile. According to Ernesto, it should be fish.

People love the “fish arepa,” apparently. I have never tried it. Know why? Because Ernesto does not know the “secret to the perfect arepa” and he’s not the “arepa master.”

Or: shut up, scene: the first arepa has yet to be sold at Ay Salsa!

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