26 Pope's Road,
London SW9 8JJ
Two arepas con queso: £2
Selection of baked goods: £4
I have discovered the definitive hangover cure: just-fried churros rolled in cinnamon and sugar and filled with syrupy caramel. Or, if you have a savoury tooth, arepas con queso (cornmeal pancakes made with cheese) fresh off the griddle. If you live within London, you are a fortunate soul: both of these the-morning-after-the-night-before slayers can be picked up from Las Americas Cafeteria on the Pope's Road end of Brixton Market.
My experience at Restaurante Santa Fereño converted me to my newfound excitement about Colombian food, and another mid-morning wander around Brixton brought me to a cafe-takeaway-butcher specialising in Colombian meats and snackfoods.
Las Americas Cafeteria is easy to spot as you walk down Pope's Road. Once you have reached the door between the woman frying churros and the grizzled Colombian man flipping fresh arepas on an outdoor grill, you are in the right place. Inside, amidst the crowd of Colombian women at the counter idly flirting with the man behind it, are stacks of empanadas, bunuelos (fried balls of dough), pandebono (sweetly cheesy bagel-shaped breads), papas rellenas (large yellow balls of dough stuffed with rice and meat), and a lot more besides. Across the room is the butcher's counter, filled with morcilla (black pudding), pork belly, fatty chops, something pink with green flecks, and other meats not found in your traditional butcher's shop or Tesco counter.
Knowing barely a word of Spanish, I asked for a beef empanada, a bunuelo (the name of which I only recently googled), papa rellena, and a pandebono, in addition to the two arepas the man outside was preparing for me. It was mainly a case of pointing and hoping, and so it was a nice surprise that everything I ate tasted good, although the bunuelos are a little uninteresting.
The empanada was just how I like them: fried and with some bite to the shell, and crammed with spicy shredded beef. The pandebono was warm, bready and dense, with slight veins of cheese running through the already cheese-infused dough. I had hoped that the bunuelo would be something similar, but although the bread inside the fried crust was springy and light, it did not taste of much. The papa rellena, however, was the surprise hit, as I had no idea what would be inside the bumpy and vividly yellow doughy exterior. The ball contained a mix of spicy yellow rice and shredded beef. About as big as two fists clenched together, it packs both carbs and protein, and would make a good lunch.
I had decided that I would take home some Colombian food to my dad in Manchester, but that I would eat the arepas as breakfast. It was a good choice. The arepas, burningly fresh as they were, not only warmed my hands but cleared my hangover with their soft and cheesy insides. I like to think that I was the envy of the top deck of the 59 bus as I scarfed down the hand-sized pancakes, but my greedy eagerness, fueled by the arepas' all-round deliciousness, probably just made me look like a crazy person instead.