Arepa Market, a recently opened take-away offering the Venezuelan cornbread sandwich after which it's named, joins the overflowing roster of Kensington eateries offering quick snacks for the wandering crowds making their way through the market. Whether you're looking for a burrito, empanada, patty, or even a gourmet grilled cheese, the options are endless, but one of the great things about Kensington is that new additions pop up all the time, somehow managing to find a corner to squeeze into.
Take for example, Arepa Market, now inhabiting a small section inside El Gordo Fine Foods . The space itself isn't exactly warm and inviting, with its fluorescent lights, sparse no-nonsense glass cases and stark white walls, but the latin music playing in the background and the welcoming demeanour of the people behind the counter make the situation a little more appealing. This space also has the benefit of housing a bakery you must walk through first to get to the arepas and empanadas in the back, and the smell of freshly-fried churros and other pastries is enough to pull us in off the street.
Arepa Market's menu is simple and straight forward; they offer a short card of the grilled cornbread sandwiches (a good wheat-free option for those looking to avoid gluten) with a variety of fillings and nothing else. The purchase of an arepa, ranging from $3 for plain cheese to $5 for most other options, also gets you a complimentary styrofoam cup of papelon, a Venezuelan sugar cane and lemon beverage.
As people place their orders, the friendly vendor, who happily poses for our photos, takes the grilled bread and fills it with scoops of the requested toppings from a few containers lined up along the counter. After some deliberation, we pick three items off the menu posted on the wall and wait for our sandwiches to be prepared.
The first to arrive is the chicken, avocado, and cheese arepa ($5). For some reason I had expected, as this has been my previous experience with arepas, that the fillings would all be warm. I also expected that the chicken arepa would consist of pieces of chicken, perhaps shredded. What we get, however, is a heaping scoop of some sort of cold chicken salad, very goopy in texture, presumably with the avocado mixed in. The crumbly, salty fresco blanco cheese adds some flavour, but this one is definitely my least favourite of the three.
Next comes the avocado, cheese, tomato, and guacamole arepa ($5), decidedly the favourite amongst our choices. The messy, generous portion consists of fresh tomatoes, the same crumbly fresh cheese, and guacamole on top, which I assume accounts for both the guacamole and the avocado in the item's name on the menu. In this arepa the toppings are also very cold in contrast to the warm bread, but nevertheless this one is enjoyable enough, and the quickest to disappear.
For our final choice, we ask the cashier what she would suggest. The menu offers a chorizo and cheese arepa ($5), and the cashier explains that this one actually has plantain in it as well, and that it's a popular item. Since I was hoping to order at least one arepa with plantain, we decide this is the way to go.
Once we make away with our sandwiches, however, we realize that we were actually given a pork shoulder and cheese arepa, so we just go with it. The pulled pork is passable, though quite greasy, and as a pool of oil begins to form inside the paper wrapper, the sandwich becomes soggier and more difficult to eat as grease drips all over our hands and suddenly many, many napkins are required. Not to mention that our guilt levels begin to rise at the sight of all the unnecessary oil surrounding the meat, and this one goes unfinished.
Part of the fun of an afternoon in Kensington Market is eating your way through the wide variety of snack offerings from savoury to sweet, and Arepa Market adds another quick and cheap option to the list. The friendly service and unbeatable price point make this take-away an option for something easy and filling, but I'm still convinced that the higher quality, much more delicious arepas at the not-so-distant Arepa Cafe on Queen St. are definitely worth the couple extra bucks.
Photos by Taralynn Marshall