On November 5, the Amsterdam Arepa’s pop-up shop opened its doors in the heart of De Pijp. The Venezuelan shop will be open until the end of February.
“Make arepas great again” is the slogan displayed on the shop’s window. Located at Eerste Sweelinckstraat 20, the shop has received a large media coverage since it opened its doors. Inside are a few tables, a short menu with only fresh ingredients, and an open kitchen where customers can watch the chefs at work.
Ignacio Font Kühn, 27, from Caracas, opened the pop-up shop together with his friend Fernando Paez, also Venezuelan. They both had previous experience as chefs, making them familiar with the tricks of the trade. The pair rented an ice-cream shop, closed during the winter, and launched a street food business with a South American vibe.
Font Kühn works in the shop’s kitchen and prepares arepas in front of the customers. He left Portugal and came to Amsterdam at the beginning of November, just in time for the shop’s grand opening. Three weeks later, he had already appeared on Dutch television in the RTL Late Night show on RTL 4, which dedicated a small reportage to the tradition of arepas. “I can’t believe it. Three weeks ago I was in Portugal, giving surf lessons to little kids. And now I am on Dutch TV,” Font Kühn told the Amsterdammer, laughing at his rapid change of fate.
“I had an arepa shop in Portugal with other friends. It seemed to fit well with Dutch food tastes, as Dutch tourists in Portugal liked arepas very much,” explained Font Kühn. “It sounded like a business that could work here.”
A Dutch expression, “Als warme broodjes over de toonbank,” which translates to “It sells like warm bread over the counter,” seems to apply to the Amsterdam Arepa’s shop. “The business is going very well,” said Font Kühn. They receive on average 50 customers per day, and more in the weekend. Most of them are Dutch. “I would say 50% Dutch, 25% Venezuelan, and 25% from other nationalities.”
“Arepas are a messy dish,” explains Font Kühn. “You have to eat it with your hands, maybe throwing some sauce on the table.” For him, this is what makes arepas attractive to the public. “There seems to be something attractive in the messy aspect of the thing. It is not very formal, but it has a lot of flavor and personality.”
Arepas are a typical pre-Hispanic dish from Venezuela and Colombia, the two of whom fight for the right to call the recipe their own. Made of white cornmeal, water and salt, an arepa is a flat, round patty that can be grilled, baked, fried, boiled or steamed. While Venezuelan arepas are split open and filled with a variety of ingredients, Colombian arepas are thinner, so ingredients are put on top of them. Typical fillings are chicken and avocado, pulled pork, beans and cheese.
The simplicity of the dish is reflected by the shop’s menu. “We only have five flavors, but each and every arepa is properly done,” said Font Kühn. “These are all recipes from my grandmother or my mother. I have been eating them since I was very young, so I have the intuition of how they should be prepared.” Every arepa sold at the pop-up store is freshly done, according to the cook.
Until February, Font Kühn and Paez are piloting the business. “We are trying it for four months. If it keeps going well, we will make something more permanent,” said Font Kühn.
There is another arepa pop-up shop in Amsterdam, but it is currently relocating. At the moment, Amsterdam Arepa’s shop is the only active Venezuelan street-food shop in Amsterdam. Its doors are open from Tuesday to Sunday, from midday to 8pm.