There were two things missing from my Venezuelan take-out lunch at Luis’s Arepera earlier this month, three if you count the masks.

Coffee and a siesta.

The prequel to lunch was quick and polite. I phoned up the cheery Forest Avenue eatery (it’s painted bright blue and yellow) and was told my order of arepas, yuca and green plaintains would be ready in just 10 minutes. I hopped on my bike, parked it by the matching blue and yellow benches, and found my order bagged and waiting. It took another 10 minutes to bike home, and lunch survived the ride intact.

Lunch was also quick, by necessity. I’d forgotten I had a Zoom meeting to attend. The containers were helpfully labelled for gringos like me who know less about Latin American food than we should and want to. But after lunch? Time slowed to a near standstill.

The Paballon Criollo Arepa at Luis’s Arepera. Photo by Peggy Grodinsky

I’d ordered shredded beef ($7.99) and pabellon criollo arepas ($7.99), which my partner and I shared. The latter, which I liked better, added beans and sweet plantains to the beef. The fillings were sandwiched between thick, crisp fried corn cakes. The pabellon criollo was a little sweet, a little chewy and a little cheesy. Mostly, it was hefty, as was its mate. The generous servings of plaintains ($7.99) and yuca ($6.99) were also fried, and not in the delicate Japanese manner, rather a rustic, hearty fry. Conveniently, my partner liked the plaintains (which came with a side of chunky avocado sauce), while I preferred the starchy, salty yuca.

The fried green plaintains come with a side of avocado sauce. Photo by Peggy Grodinsky

I ate my arepa desk lunch and tuned in, sort of, to the scheduled Zoom meeting: What story was I working on next? When did I plan to hand it in? Did I think I could manage the workload when my boss went on vacation the next week? These questions buzzed pleasantly in my brain as I attacked the dwindling pile of yuca; I failed to answer any of them adequately. Siesta, I thought, the word turning over slowly inside my head. Siii-esss-taaa. Nap. Zzzzzzz. Or failing these, a nice cup of coffee, maybe from neighboring Colombia.

I’ve read that Venezuelans often eat arepas as snacks. In the future, I’ll reserve them for treats on leisurely weekends when I don’t have much to do (alas, the arepera is closed weekends. Maybe my boss didn’t notice my torpor?). I wanted dessert (churros, sweet plaintains or flan), but I’d resisted that impulse. Probably a good thing as Luis’s Arepera serves filling, stick-to-your-ribs food.

The Venezuelan eatery on Forest Avenue offers arepas and empanadas for pickup. Photo by Peggy Grodinsky

About the missing masks: Two other customers picked up orders inside while I was there. They, and I, wore masks that covered our noses and mouths. The two people behind the counter did not, though one had a mask circling her neck, the new must-have pandemic accessory? It was getting to be a steamy afternoon, so I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt – a one-time slip-up, I hope. But the state has been abundantly clear about what we need to do to keep the pandemic from spreading, and in case any other hospitality workers need a refresher, here is the relevant part: “Require employees to wear cloth face coverings and practice good hand hygiene.”

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