The Venezuelan performing artist Migguel Anggelo, 46, grew up two hours outside Caracas, on his family’s farm, where cows grazed and oranges ripened on a landscape surrounded by beaches and mountains. “My childhood was extremely beautiful,” he says. “I talked with the birds and the trees, and for me, that was magic.” At mealtimes, he would eat arepas — portable, starchy pockets carrying various savory fillings. “The arepa is like our air,” he says. “It doesn’t matter in Venezuela if you are poor or you are rich, middle class — whatever you are, you eat arepas.”
As a young man, he learned to sing, dance, act, paint and play guitar. At age 26, he left Venezuela to see the world and study opera. By the time he returned, in 1999, Hugo Chávez had assumed power. Chávez gave way to the current president, Nicolás Maduro, who has overseen a period of profound economic collapse and rampant malnutrition. “What’s happening in Venezuela is horrible,” Anggelo says, noting that even arepa flour can be hard to come by in markets these days.
Since moving to the United States in 2002, he has released two albums and written a number of works for the stage, including 2015’s “Another Son of Venezuela” and 2017’s “Welcome to La Misa, Baby,” which was inspired by the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. His current work, a musical one-man show called “LatinXoxo,” runs through November at Joe’s Pub in New York and addresses his relationship with his late homophobic father. By turns Anggelo plays the Virgin Mary, Carmen from Bizet’s canonical 1875 opera and a toreador.
Performing is one way of reckoning with his Venezuelan past. Another way is through food. To stay in touch with his culture from afar, Anggelo makes arepas several times a week in the Brooklyn Heights home he shares with his partner, the event producer David Stark. Venezuelan arepas typically come stuffed with eggs, meat, beans and cheese — though pretty much anything goes — and the couple likes to complement theirs with tuna salad. Still, while there are any number of ways to fill an arepa, there’s only one way to eat it: “with your hands,” Anggelo says emphatically.
2 ½ cups water
2 cups Harina P.A.N. brand precooked white cornmeal (available in supermarkets and Latino bodegas)
1 teaspoon salt
A pat of butter
Fillings of your choice: any combination of scrambled eggs, cheese, cooked ground beef, cooked chicken, avocado, black beans, tuna salad, et cetera.
1. To make the dough, pour water in a small bowl. Add the salt and the cornmeal gradually. Knead until a smooth dough is formed and let rest for five minutes.
2. To make the arepa, take a portion of the dough in your hand and shape it into a ball. Then very gently press the dough into the shape of a disc. You can add a little water, if necessary, to achieve the ideal texture, which feels like a slightly soft pizza dough.
3. Use a paper towel to spread oil around a pan. Heat the pan and place the disc on top. Every three minutes, flip the disc over until it turns golden brown. This should take about 10 minutes. Remove cooked arepa.
4. With a knife, slice the arepa down the middle into a pair of crescent moons. Then slit open the tops of each half to form a deep pocket. Drop a pat of butter into the pocket and add filling of your choice.
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