There are condiments that work greatest after they’re added to different meals, after which there are condiments so good that they’re a star attraction in their very own proper. Such is the case with Caracas Arepa Bar’s spicy, candy, and tangy home sauce — or, as Caracas co-owner Maribel Araujo calls it, “salsa Caracas.”
I first encountered the gleaming, yellowish-green sauce in 2008. I used to be 19 years previous, and had simply moved to New York from my mother and father’ residence in Gurgaon, India, to attend school. On considered one of my first solo outings to Manhattan, I made my means straight to Caracas. Though I didn’t know a lot in regards to the metropolis or its meals scene, an aunt had instructed me that I had to take a look at the restaurant, which served what she described as the right road meals.
And so I discovered myself standing outdoors of Caracas’s tiny storefront on East seventh Road. After I parted the curtains that hung simply previous its entrance door, they revealed a darkish, slim room with sq. tables lined up alongside a protracted wood banquette.
I sat down and watched servers stroll by with plates of what appeared like tiny white sandwiches bursting with totally different fillings — I’d later study they have been arepas, which I had imagined can be extra like savory pancakes. It was my first time consuming in a New York Metropolis restaurant, and my first encounter with Venezuelan meals. I used to be curious and excited, and once I observed a plastic squeeze bottle on the desk, I squeezed a couple of dabs of sauce onto my finger. Making an attempt sauces at eating places lengthy earlier than the meals arrives is a behavior I’ve by no means been capable of rid myself of, and this one jogged my memory why. It was spicy, however not in a fiery means, simply sufficient to tickle my throat. It additionally had citrusy, herby taste and a creamy sweetness, nearly as if it was made with coconut milk.
I discovered myself moving into for one dab after the subsequent. Ultimately I started to really feel somewhat responsible that I won’t have any left to eat with an arepa, and puzzled if anybody had watched me greedily drain the bottle.
In a current telephone dialog, Araujo instructed me I wasn’t the one one consuming copious quantities of her salsa earlier than the meals had even arrived on the desk. She stated that servers regularly encounter clients asking for a number of squeeze bottle refills. On one event, she recalled, a server needed to chase after a diner who was making an attempt to make off with one of many bottles.
The sauce’s reputation is much more stunning to Araujo as a result of it happened fully by chance. Quickly after Araujo opened the restaurant in 2003, Valerie Iribarren, the pinnacle chef on the time, was making an attempt to create a model of the standard inexperienced guasacaca sauce that’s sometimes served alongside arepas in Venezuelan eating places; its elements embrace avocado, recent herbs like cilantro or parsley, and chile peppers. Iribarren was having a tough time discovering the aji dulce peppers used within the recipe, so she determined to experiment with a distinct, milder chile. Araujo gained’t say which one — she retains the recipe and its elements a intently guarded secret — nevertheless it labored, and salsa Caracas was born. Though the experimental sauce didn’t go down notably properly with Venezuelan clients, a few of whom instructed Araujo it was a tad too candy, it was an immediate hit amongst most different diners like myself.
After Caracas opened, Araujo and co-owner Aristides Barrios started handing out the sauce in little to-go containers for diners to take residence; by the top of their first 12 months in enterprise, they have been promoting bottles of it.
Within the years following my first memorable outing, I returned to Caracas again and again. I launched associates to the restaurant, introduced my mother and father alongside after they visited for my school commencement, and took my boyfriend, who later grew to become my husband. Every go to created new salsa Caracas acolytes.
Nevertheless it wasn’t till a number of years after my first go to that I took residence a bottle of my very own, from the extra expansive Williamsburg outpost that Caracas opened in 2008 (the restaurant additionally had a location on the Rockaway Seaside boardwalk till final fall). I discovered myself drizzling copious quantities of the sauce on fried eggs at breakfast, sandwiches at lunch, and sometimes onto simply plain white rice at dinner. And sure, I ate it many, many instances all by itself, squirting beneficiant quantities straight from the bottle into my mouth.
Late final 12 months, I used to be devastated to study that Caracas was closing its East Village residence after nearly 20 years. A significant a part of my New York Metropolis historical past was no extra. However I took solace within the sauce, every dab a reminiscence of my days as a younger grownup within the metropolis. I can’t wait until I could make my means again to Caracas’s Williamsburg location once more, and for the times when it would really feel secure as soon as extra to squeeze sauce from a communal bottle and drizzle it atop Caracas’s pulled rooster and avocado arepa. And naturally, I can’t wait to take a bottle — or two — residence.
Caracas Arepa Bar’s home sauce ($11) is accessible for buy on the restaurant or for native supply by means of the restaurant’s web site. Araujo says they’re additionally trying into making the sauce out there for nationwide and worldwide delivery.
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