By ALEXANDRA TIRADO
“So, what is it?”
“It is sort of this wheat bun –”
“No, no, it’s round and kind of sweet but not really––”
“So like an English Muffin?”
“You know what? Never mind.”
If this conversation sounds familiar to you, you have probably tried, at least once, to explain to a non-Hispanic person what an Arepa is.
It is no secret that food is an important part of any culture. One bite of your hometown’s traditional place can take you back home no matter where you are. If you are a college student far away from home, you might feel compelled to go to the local restaurants owned by people of your culture, listen to songs in your language and might even look for people with the same or similar culture as your own.
However, one of the great things you get to learn in college, is that celebrating one’s culture is only exciting when you get to celebrate it alongside other cultures as well––and that is exactly what fusion cuisine does.
Here are some of the fusion restaurants in Tampa that make culture mixes taste delicious:
“It all started when I was little,” says Arepitas owner Carmen Perez, 58, a venezuelan native.“My mom had Arab relatives, so she used to make Arab dishes and since I’ve always liked cooking, I learned to cook Arabic food,” said Perez.
“Years later, when Perez came to Tampa with the intention of opening a restaurant, she found a place that used to serve only Lebanese food. “I took that as a sign and decided that it was perfect––I love to cook that food and I can add Venezuelan food as well.”
Still, it catches people’s attention when they find out that the restaurant mixes the culinary practices of two cultures whose countries are 10,739 kilometers away.
Sydney Anderson, a junior in business who has always been into cooking, couldn’t resist the idea of one of her favorite cuisines mixed with a Latin flavor. “My dad’s side of the family is Lebanese, so the first thing when I got a kitchen was order a few Lebanese cookbooks,” Anderson said. “Then I heard about Are-Pitas and was completely intrigued by it. I think that the fusion of Venezuelan and Lebanese cuisine is an interesting, unique concept.”
The menu offers a variety of plates which includes Venezuelan arepas and cachapas and Lebanese falafels and pitas.
The most popular ones? The ones that mix both cultures.
“One of the best selling items on the menu is the pita filled with pabellon criollo [shredded beef, black beans, rice and plantain], which is called La Pita Venezolana,” said Perez. “Also, the lamb arepa and the falafel arepa [are very popular].”
What happens when an Asian guy and a Cuban guy become friends? The answer is Arcoiris.
The Chinese and Cuban fusion restaurant, whose name means rainbow in Spanish, has the typical dishes that you would expect from each culture such as fried rice and fried plantains. Additionally, it has oddities like the popular Latin American drink Malta, which is a non-alcoholic malt beverage that tastes similar to beer.
The vibe in the restaurant is much like a bar, although you don’t see the people you usually do at bars. There are middle-aged men drinking beers, a family eating lunch, and two 60-something ladies blabbering away in Spanish about a runaway bride.
Most of the main plates include plantains and fried rice as a side.
“I like the restaurant because you can either order fried food or go a healthier option like grilled chicken,” Veronica Lopez, a senior business major, said. “I also like that it’s kind of a hidden gem, not many people know about it.”
Surrounded by a vintage bookstore, a pizza place and cookie dough place, Bamboozle cafe fits right into the culinary mix that is East Twiggs Street in downtown Tampa.
True to its Asian roots, the restaurant surrounded by bamboo sticks and colorful lights that give the place an artsy yet Zen vibe. The vibe doesn’t change much as you walk through the door.
The place is small yet well-arranged. There are pictures decorating the wall. Upon closer look, you can see the price-tag below every work of art which has been crafted by a local artist.
“I feel like it is a quiet, relaxing place where the food also happens to be very good,” said Sara Muinoz, a senior business major. “You definitely get what you paid for, the plates are pretty big, and the good thing about that is that you get leftovers that last you for a day or two.”
“[Our influences come] mainly from other Southeast Asian countries,” Lynn Pham, the owner of Bamboozle, said. “We pull some of our influences from eastern cooking as well and, on top of this, we also have a French Influence, since the French colonized Vietnam.”
Thy specialize in pho, which is a Vietnamese noodle soup, and fresh rolls, which according to Pham, are the most popular plate.
“We’ve been open for 10 years and as downtown Tampa has been growing, so has our clientele. We have very loyal clients,” Pham said. “Usually people that come into our restaurant are adventurous and want to try new things.”
So if you meet those descriptions, don’t be afraid to cross the bridge for some pho and fresh rolls.
Located in Soho, Ceviche is probably the best known from this list.
Since most of the restaurant’s plates are small, it gives you the perfect opportunity to be able to order more than one item in the menu and to be delighted by exquisite taste of their plates.
The place is decorated in a sophisticated way with European airs and odes to the Spanish culture like Flamenco pictures.
Although the restaurant classifies itself as a “lively restaurant specializing in Spanish tapas & sangria, with a cozy patio & flamenco too,” plenty of its cuisine is derived from Latin America. In fact, their most famous dish, ceviche, is actually from Peru. Their dessert section also takes from different, including Churros, which come from Mexico, and la Crema Catalana, which is the Spanish version of the Creme Brulee.