Mia Mendoza spills the black beans about her arepas
I stumbled upon Mia’s Arepas by accident when, hangrier than a toddler at a theme park, I had only a twenty minute break to find and eat some dinner. The name popped up on google maps with just a mobile number and a menu. Curious, I called to place my order and then lurked around outside a supermarket in Chinatown waiting for Mia to appear. It felt clandestine and exciting, like going to a ‘secret’ new bar.
As I handed over the cash in exchange for a brown paper bag, Mia grinned and told me these were the best arepas in Manchester.
If you don’t put your passion into it, your food is never going to be tasty. The most important ingredient is passion
Around the corner, my hunger reached critical point and I sat on a wall at the side of the road to tuck in. The steam escaping from the box parted to reveal a monumental beast of a ‘sandwich’.
Despite the gargantuan capacity of my gob, there was no way it was going in there. So, using my fork as a shovel I wolfed as commuters doing the rush hour shuffle gawped, probably hangry too. It was outrageously good.
I texted Mia later that evening to tell her how much I loved her food. The next time I ordered (just a week or so later - you’ll understand once you try them) Mia invited me up for a natter.
Mia Mendoza came to Manchester three years ago and worked as a hotel bartender before she set up her business this April. She is a powerhouse one woman operation.
"I go to the gym at 8am, then I go to buy the veggies. If I have to buy meat, it’s 6am. I take my suitcase and fill it full of meat and then bring everything here. The lift isn’t working at the moment so I have to carry it up the stairs."
This is not your average takeaway. With no public premises, Mia works from her kitchen in a tiny top floor apartment. At the moment she uses a small domestic hot plate but she’s hoping to buy a professional grill soon, as demand is increasing.
"Last time I took a day off, customers were calling me saying "Mia! Are you open? I want to order some food!" So many people were sending text messages."
Although she is now on Just Eat and Deliveroo, a lot of her customers simply stumble across her, like I did.
"Yesterday I went downstairs to the Chinese shop to buy eggs and I found two Venezuelan guys. They were going, "Mia’s Arepas… Mia’s Arepas…" and looking at Google maps on their phone. I said "Are you looking for me? Come on let’s go!"'
For the uninitiated, Arepas are traditional Venezuelan flatbreads made from cornflour. Since the cornflour she uses is gluten free, she decided to buy all her ingredients gluten free so all people can eat her food without worry.
Mia cooks her arepas on the hot plate and then stuffs them til bursting with various combinations of meat, veggies, beans and cheese.
"This is our bread in Venezuela. We eat it for breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, any time. We can’t live without it. We grow up with it."
Mia doesn’t use anything that comes from a can. Her arepas are freshly made every morning.
She cooks dried and soaked black beans slowly in her pressure cooker and makes all of her meat and veggie fillings from scratch. You can taste the freshness.
"I don’t use garlic powder or onion powder. That kind of ingredient doesn’t exist for us in Venezuela. Everything we use is fresh. Proper onion, proper tomato, green, red, yellow, pepper. I like to to go to the market and choose my ingredients every three days. I usually go to Strawberry Garden in the Arndale Market, they have very nice fruit and also they have plantain."
Mia grew up making arepas. She says it’s in her blood.
"My arepas are the best because I put my heart into making them. If you don’t put your passion into it, your food is never going to be tasty. The most important ingredient is passion."
If you've never had an arepa before and don't know what to try first, here are a few from the menu that Mia and I think you will love...
Pabellon Criollo (£8.59)
Mia’s most popular arepa is based on a classic Venezuelan dish which originated in the capital city of Caracas. Traditionally, black beans and slow cooked shredded beef are eaten with white rice with small arepas on the side. The three colours - white, black and brown - are said to celebrate the multiracial culture in Venezuela. Mia stuffs all this as well as fried, sweet plantain, avocado and cheese into one of her side-plate sized arepas.
Reina Pepiada (£7.63)
This means 'curvaceous queen' in Spanish and is traditional Venezuelan dish named after a Miss World winner in the 1950s. It is an arepa stuffed with shredded chicken, smothered in mayo, and avocado salad.
La Tarraya (£8.59)
Mia’s own recipe, this means 'fishing net' in Spanish and contains shredded, seasoned cod and garlicky, citrus sharp Cuban mojo sauce.
La Chama (£8.59)
Another of Mia's creations. It means ‘female friend’ is filled with chicken, avocado, tomato and cheese.
Vinotinto Arepa (£9.50)
Named after an important Venezuelan football match. This one is crammed with beef, bacon, eggs, cheese, grilled onion and garlic mayo. The perfect hangover cure?
Veggie Caliente (£8.54)
My favourite. Stuffed with grilled halloumi cheese, black beans, avocado and caramelised plantain.
Arepa Musiua (£6.50)
‘Musiua’ is a positive word that Venezuelans use to describe people from another country. So Mia created this one to be typically English with bacon, egg, cheese and tomato. Unfortunately she only opens at 1pm so unless you’ve had a very long lie in, breakfast from Mia’s isn’t an option - yet.
Vegan muchachita (£7.63)
This is one of several vegan offerings and Mia gets a lot of vegan customers. This is a vegan lentil burger that she created. She adds crushed avocado and a vegan garlic mayo.
Tequeños (£5 for six)
If you go to Venezuela you will find kiosks everywhere selling empanadas, arepas and tequeños. Tequeños are sticks of semi-soft salty cheese, like a mild halloumi, wrapped in bread dough and fried. Mia serves hers with a pungent garlic dip. Indecently good.