Cruzao Arepa Bar
The deep voice of Cruzao Arepa owner Eyal Chipkiewicz, is barely audible above the buzz of the small Brunswick St restaurant and bar on a Saturday night. The sound of laughter and conversation steadily grows as waiters with hot plates of lovingly prepared Venezuelan arepas navigate the chairs and tables to make their way to hungry diners.
The speakers around the bar pump out an endless catalogue of Latin music and in front of most people is the bar’s specialty, a mojito with emerald green syrup sitting at the bottom. Eyal explains that the syrup contains everything needed to pack a punch in a mojito, just blended for convenience and flavour sake.
A mojito is put down in front of me. It’s a good way to start an interview. “At the first sign of a tooth, we are fed an arepa,” Eyal says. The Venezuelan dependence on the corn-based arepa seems to be stronger than any connection Australians might have to meat pies or lamingtons. “It’s not a working class food, it’s for everyone.”
When Eyal came to Melbourne, the gap in the food market instantly became apparent. “One day I thought an arepa should be an alternative to the burger, the sandwich and the souvlaki,” he says. Eyal believes the slow-cooked meats and the grilled corn give the arepas “major health advantages” over other low cost quick meals. Everything is made on site, except for the corn flour which is imported from Venezuela, of course.
Cruzao Arepa has been open for little over a year and continues to grow in popularity. Eyal says food, in particular the arepa, used to dominate the ethos of the restaurant, but slowly, things are changing. “Over the last few months it has become really clear to me that the cultural mission is just as important as the arepas,” Eyal says.
“We try to make it a cultural experience, you can see some people come in here and they just don’t fit. They’re sitting a bit too close to the people next to them, the music is a little too loud for them... it’s not for everyone, but I think that’s part of it. We want to be who we are and people can decide for themselves if they want to be here,” he says.
The cultural experience that Cruzao Arepa provides has started to make the Brunswick St venue the go to place for people who want to connect or reconnect with South America. Eyal estimates up to 70 bands have played everything from salsa to Colombian Cumbia on the small stage. The stage has featured such an eclectic mix of styles and bands that it has earned the title of “the amazing music repertoire of a fascinating continent.” As well as the music and the food, Casa De La Cultura has set up regular Spanish language classes at Cruzao Arepa for those wanting to learn or to keep in touch with the language.
Eyal says Cruzao Arepa has started to take on a life of its own, “We’ve allowed the cultural vibrancy to overtake – to stand for itself and for what it is.” Cruzao Arepa is at 365 Brunswick St, Fitzroy. To see the menu or which bands are playing, go to www.cruzao.com.au.