Boiler House Food Hall
Truman Brewery, Brick Lane
In the summer of 2003, I told my then-girlfriend I'd very much like to meet a Venezuelan. It seemed like a random utterance at the time, but being a determined sort it was only three months before I had a nice young man from Caracas living on my bedroom floor. If I hadn't been living with my parents at the time it wouldn't have been a problem.
He had been in the UK on a work trip and had decided to skip the flight home, fearing a civil war. In enthusiastic Spanglish, he told me all about the history of puppetry and physical theatre, the political situation in Venezuela, a bizarre new sport he'd invented called Fireball (like Dodgeball with an actual ball of fire) and how he was going to get it in the Olympics, and how he missed arepas, the national dish of his homeland.
Arepa & Co are the only people selling Venezuelan food in London. This, they said, is because it's bloody time-consuming to make the cornbread properly. I can't vouch for these arepas' authenticity, but I thought they were fantastic, like a carnitas burrito substituting a tortilla for a sweet, flaky cornbread pitta. Black beans, grated cheese and lots of spicy, juicy pork - delicious. The Hungarian CouchSurfer I was hosting, photographed here dutifully holding my tasty arepa, realised she'd made a big mistake ordering the Chinese dumplings.
I wondered what had become of the man who used to sleep on my floor. The last time I saw him was in September 2003 at Victoria train station. His girlfriend had flown from Caracas to Amsterdam and then taken the ferry to Harwich so she could hop on the train to London. My friend was going to propose to her at the station and they were going to live happily ever after in the UK. He was carrying the ring in his pocket. But she never made it past UK border control.
He took the first train to Holland the following morning to be with her. I was so sad for them. And I was pretty sad for myself. I'd been told she made one hell of an arepa.