On a side street off Preston’s busy main strip there’s a sunshine-filled cafe so cheery in its yellow, white and aqua colour palette it’s almost therapeutic. It’s a pretty, lively room with an open kitchen and a turntable playing South American vinyl.
The dedicated arepa diner is the second South American cafe from Colombian-born Santiago Villamizar and Carolina Talero, the husband and wife behind Fitzroy’s Sonido. Arepas are a Colombian staple dating back to pre-Spanish colonisation.
The “Arepa Lab” and the dining room are separated by a glass partition made from old Art Deco-style window frames. Next to the open kitchen there are stacked sacks of dried Australian white-corn kernels. The pair cooks the corn, grinds it, mixes it with water, salt and vegetable oil and flattens it. The dough is pressed into flat discs with an arepa maker (from Colombia) before they’re crisped on the grill.
There are 10 topped arepas including one with vegemite, guacamole and tomato, and one with scrambled eggs. Or you can create your own with black beans, chorizo, morcilla (black pudding) or pulled beef.
You can also buy packaged plain or cheese arepas to cook at home – just throw them on a hot pan until golden.
Jugs of Colombian hot chocolate are spiced with cinnamon, cloves and honey. There’s also raw sugarcane juice and fresh juices made from tropical fruits such as guanabana (“soursop”) and passionfruit, as well as coffee by Brunswick’s Wood and Co coffee.