No trip to San Juan is complete without a dive into the local Caribbean cuisine. A local favorite — in homes and restaurants — is Arepas Puertorriqueñas, the island's unique take one of Latin America's favorite street foods. Ingredients and cooking method (pan-frying vs. deep frying) may vary depending on where you order them, but we’re pretty confident you can’t go wrong with any arepa recipe.
What makes an arepa Puerto Rican?
The Puerto Rican version of the arepa is almost always made with wheat or coconut flour instead of corn flour, more common in South America.
Puerto Rican arepas tend to be smaller than those found south of the equator, and can be served stuffed – typical across Latin America - or plain, more akin to a fry bread. Puerto Rican cuisine is also unique in its extensive use of seafood in arepa recipes.
The Piñones culinary team has its own fresh take on the dish – an arepa de coco with shrimp a la Criolla, a light, sharable arepa topped with fresh, seasoned shrimp.
Arepas Around the World
If you prefer sweetness, consider adding sugar or coconut to your arepa recipe. You can also try sweet corn arepas or arepas de Choclo (griddled sweet corn cakes). They’re most popular in Colombia, where professional and novice chefs alike will mix sweet corn with masarepa, a special precooked cornmeal perfect for arepas. And because they are made from corn, these arepas are generally gluten-free.
Colombian arepas tend to be thinner and flatter, like a tostada. They’re most often consumed for breakfast — especially when they’re made sweet. And most every Colombian arepa recipe you’ll find will call for masarepa, so be sure you visit the local supermarket before embarking on your arepa-making journey.
Most grocery stores carry this dried precooked corn flour. It just has to be combined with a few ingredients to make a dough that's easy to work with — saving you time and energy.
Another favorite is the Venezuelan arepa, specifically the arepa rellena. These thicker arepas are often stuffed with ingredients like beef, chicken, black beans, or pork, similar to a sandwich. They’re also often seasoned with spices that offer a kick — think chili powder or onion. Depending on how these arepas are prepared – they can be fried or grilled. It’s completely up to you!
If you’ve never made arepas rellenas before, you can find relatively easy recipes on Relish.com.
How to make Puerto Rican arepas
With a little patience and a desire to experiment, you can pull together your own South American or Puerto Rican arepas platter at home. This recipe is for a traditional Puerto Rican arepas de coco, similar (but not identical) to those used as the basis for our arepas dishes at Piñones.
Arepas de coco
- Vegetable oil (about an inch)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ tsp brown sugar
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 cup of coconut milk (regular milk is ok to substitute)
In a large bowl, whisk together the baking powder, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Use a spatula to add in the coconut milk. Stir until
Add some flour across a cutting board so you can knead the dough for 5 minutes. Transfer to a covered bowl for about 20 minutes before you roll the dough out.
After the 20 minutes is up, move back to the floured cutting board to roll the dough. It should be very thin. You can use a round cookie cutter to cut out pieces when it’s ready.
Next, it’s time to pan fry. Use a large skillet at medium temperature. Make sure the oil is hot before adding the arepa mix.
Let them fry to a light golden brown, and they’re ready to serve — once they slightly cool down, of course.
Puerto Rican Domplines
This recipe is courtesy of San Juan’s Raul and Richard of The Mindful Grub.
- 1 ½ cups wheat flower
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 Tbsp oil
- ½ cup warm water
- 1 tsp adobo
- ½ tsp paprika
- 2 cups oil for frying
Mix all dry ingredients first. Then, add 1 tbsp of oil and mix again.
Add water little by little (you may not use all of it).
Knead the dough with your hands while incorporating the water until you reach a dough-like consistency.
Once it doesn’t stick, take a tablespoon of the dough and roll it into a ball with your hands. Then, use a rolling pin to stretch out until it’s about 1/16th of an inch and uniform in thickness.
Heat the oil in a medium frying pan and place the flattened dough in the oil for frying.
Using a spoon, take some of the hot oil and pour it over the top of the dough while frying. This will allow it to puff up on the outside, yet keep an air pocket inside the dough.
Once golden on both sides, place on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil.
Serve with stewed beans. The best way to eat domplines is to open them on one side and fill them with beans.
Where to find Arepas in San Juan
Not up for the challenge of making your own arepas? We can help! We can help! We have so many tasty options at Numero Uno Piñones. From pinchos and tostones to chicharrones and Puerto Rican arepas, we're home to the island's ultimate unique locally-inspired dining experience.
All meals are prepared fresh daily using healthy and local ingredients.