Video: The Arepa Lady of Jackson Heights, Still Sainted

Editor's Note: Welcome to a new episode of 1 Minute Meal, a series of video snapshots documenting the places, people, and foods that make New York a vibrant food community.


Maria Cano, known and cherished by many as "The Arepa Lady." [Photograph: James Boo]

In the world of street food, the cooking of Maria Piedad Cano is known across the country. I first learned of her Colombian arepas as a college student in California, reading the words of Chowhound founder Jim Leff, who is arguably responsible for exposing this "Sainted Arepa Lady" to the pages of American media.


Arepas de choclo. [Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Years later, I tried my first arepa de choclo on a late Friday night in Jackson Heights. I've returned many times over, whenever I need to be reminded that the most straightforward meal is often the most satisfying.

In filming this episode of 1 Minute Meal, I sat down with Maria to chat about her life for a little over half an hour. To say that this video doesn't do her story justice is an understatement. There are many qualities about her and her voyage from Colombia to New York that will have to wait for another story.

But what easily stood out was how forcefully Maria spoke about her common bond with the immigrant community at large, and the unexpected lives that they've come to build. When we, as diners, talk about how delicious a plate of street food can be, it's easy to lose sight of just how tenuous the career of a street vendor—especially an immigrant street vendor—is. For this brief moment, the Arepa Lady reminded me that for those who come to America to make a new and better life for themselves, cooking (even saintly cooking of national fame) isn't necessarily the life they have in mind.

Previously on 1 Minute Meal

The Indonesian Food Bazaar in Astoria, Queens »
The Lemon Ice King of Corona, a Queens Classic »
A Day in the Life of The Baoery, a Pop-Up Restaurant »
Khachapuri, a Georgian Bread Baked into South Brooklyn »
David's Brisket House, the Jewish Deli Run by Muslims in Brooklyn »

About the videographer: James Boo has been a Serious Eats contributor since 2010. Working as a freelance journalist, he is also the founder of Real Cheap Eats and a documentarian. Check out his food-and-travel blog, The Eaten Path, for more journeys to the real meal.

About the music:© "Tired of Fighting" written and performed by Menahan Street Band. Copyrighted by and courtesy of Menahan Street Band and Daptone Records.