Every summer our parents sent us to Venezuela, where we practiced our Spanish with the family we'd left behind, and spent weekends with snorkels tightly wrapped around our small heads, floating alongside jutting corals near the stunning Morrocoy National Park.
We also learned the art of making arepas -- flat corncakes fashioned from precooked, white cornmeal and stuffed with cheeses, spicy ground beef, cumin flavored black beans, or shredded chicken and avocado.
Family and friends would often gather on Sunday mornings at our grandparents' home for basketfuls of the fried treats. Before they arrived, our abuela would be in the kitchen, teaching us how to pat the smooth discs so that our small handprints were not all over the finished arepas. Traditionally arepas are flash-seared and baked, but in our grandmother's case, they were pan-fried to perfection. Once cooked, the inside was fluffy, while the exterior gave way to a firm, crackling crunch.
At the end of our summer sojourns, our grandmother would send us home with bags of Harina P.A.N., her favorite brand of arepa cornmeal, so our mother could continue the Sunday tradition. Today there is no need to sneak Harina P.A.N. through customs, as Latin supermarkets such as El-Chaparral Meat Market in Virginia (2719 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 703-276-8337; 7202 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church, 703-207-1777) sell it. Also, baked arepas, popular in Venezuela and Colombia, have debuted on numerous Washingtonian menus, as have pupusas, El Salvador's larger and flatter cousin to the arepa.
This summer, we revived the arepas brunch, and -- keeping to family tradition -- we fried ours. In a nod to the District's cultural ties, we filled them with an international smorgasbord that included cheddar (American), Gouda (Dutch), mozzarella and prosciutto (Italian), and chorizo (Spanish). We served them with ripe tomato, mango and cilantro salad, and passion fruit mimosas.
The savory snacks made us glad we no longer need a passport to eat arepas -- though we still have a yen for the white sand beaches of Morrocoy.
Carolina Buia and Melissa Buia
Carolina Buia is the co-author of "Latin Chic: Entertaining With Style and Sass," due out in October (Rayo, $34.95)