Flavors of El Salvador
El Salvador is one of the lesser known countries of Central America. For a lot of different reasons, it is the country I have visited more times (5 times). For that reason, I can suggest you a compelling reason to visit this beautiful country blessed with mighty volcanoes and wide beaches. That reason is FOOD!! You may not believe me but the food in there is great. The variety is immense. And when I am taking about variety, I am not just talking about a huge selection of dishes and cooking techniques. I am also referring to the different types of animals that can end over your plate. Gulp! More about that later.
In this post, I want to give you a basic and simple introduction to what dishes (or raw elements like fruits) you can try at El Salvador. Remember the magic words in here: basic and simple. It is not possible to describe the national gastronomy in less than 1000 words (it would be a crime, by the way). I just want to introduce you to the delights of this Central American gem. Who knows? Maybe one day you will feel the urge to go and eat your way around.
Pupusas are probably the stars of the Salvadoran cooking universe. They are thick corn tortillas filled with ingredients like: cheese, cooked shredded pork (chicharron), refried beans, and loroco (Central American vine flower bud). Another famous filling is made by combining cheese, refried beans and chicharron. This combination is called pupusas revueltas (yum, my favorite). Some creative minds are getting fancy with pupusas and they are filling them with ingredients like ayote (a type of squash), spinach, mushrooms, garlic, carrots and chicken. They are also made of unusual leaves like papelillo, cochinito, mora and chipilin.
Pupusas are usually served with curtido (fermented cabbage, sometimes chiles and/or cucumbers are added) and tomato sauce. A lot of people say that the best place to eat pupusas is at Planes de Renderos. Los Planes (as everyone calls it) is a high elevation area located in San Salvador. The view of the city, the San Salvador volcano and the Ilopango Lake are fantastic from here. The best part is that there are many restaurants offering tasty pupusas. Some even offer live music. Remember to eat your pupusas piping hot for maximum enjoyment.
There are also pupusas made of rice flour. This type of pupusa is hard to find outside of El Salvador. If you visit, make sure to try it. The town of Olocuilta is considered the birth place of this delight. Olocuilta is located in the highway connecting San Salvador to the international Comalapa Airport. So a quick stop before a flight does not hurt anybody.
In the town of Ahuachapan (in the east side of the country), there are several restaurants that sell the pupusa loca or crazy pupusa. This is an extra large pupusa (lthe size of personal pizza) stuffed with everything you can imagine (cheese, beans, chicharron, shrimp, ham, onions and peppers). I need to have one of this every time I go to El Salvador. You should try it too.
Juayua’s Gastronomical Fair
If you want try as many Salvadoran dishes as possible, you should consider visiting the Gastronomical Fair in Juayua (a town located in the Flower Route in the eastern part of the country). The fair takes place every Saturday and Sunday. With the years, it has been growing into a bigger and bigger event. This is a must see (and taste). Here is an example of the dishes you can try:
- Fried yucca (cassava) served with curtido and crunchy pork rinds. Sometimes chimbolos (small fried fish) are added.
- Panes con chumpe (sandwich filled with stewed turkey, tomato, onions, lettuce, mayonnaise, cucumbers, etc. The turkey is sometimes replaced with chicken).
- Sopa de pata (soup made from the tripes of a cow, plantain, corn, tomatoes, cabbage and spices)
- Riguas (sweet corn tamales)
- Atoles (shuco, chilate)
- Grilled meat
- Roasted Chicken
- Quesadillas (Salvadoran corn bread)
- Empanadas (made of sweet yellow plantains and stuffed with vanilla custard)
- Minutas (like a Mexican raspados or a snow cones)
- Horchata (this is one is different from the Mexican one, it is made with rice, cinnamon, peanuts, sesame seeds and the seeds of a fruit called morro).
However, there are more “interesting” options for intrepid palates. You can also find the following:
- Frog (not just frog legs but the whole body)
- Armadillo (cusuco)
- Iguana (garrobo)
- Possum (tacuazin)
- Some sort of snake (masacuata)
My husband dreams about the day he can go back to the fair to taste some of this. He has tried some but not all.
The fair also offers live entertainment, dining facilities and a craft market.
You cannot leave the country without having at least one desayuno tipico (typical breakfast). It consists of scrambled or fried eggs, fried plantains, refried beans, Central American cream (saltier than Mexican cream) and fresh cheese. Some fast food chains like Biggest and Mr. Donut offer a decent tipico. However, a small restaurant version should be better.
Roadside Fruit Stands
If you are driving around, make sure to stop at one of the fruit stands lining the road. Fruits are sold at rock bottom prices. The best thing is that you can find “exotic”, never seen before items in here. Look for the following:
- Passion Fruit
Be adventurous and try something different (also try them as juices or shakes).
Seafood next to the beach
Make sure you try a seafood plate if you visit one of the country many beaches. Lobsters, fish, shrimp and crab stews can be found at really good prices. Fried fish served with rice and chirimol (like pico de gallo) is also delicious.
You can find the famous black shells cocktail. The cocktail is made using a mollusk with a black shell. There is another cocktail called Viagra which is the result of mixing shrimps with the black shell mollusk.
Chorizos de Cojutepeque
The chorizos from this town are famous inside and outside of the country. It consists of beef and pork made into little balls and tied with corn husks between the links. You can try them anywhere in El Salvador but it is better to try them in one of the restaurants located in the original town. Restaurants located at the Cerro Las Pavas offer grilled chorizo sampler plates. They are served with avocado and cheese and are beyond delicious.
Sorry, guys. I cannot talk about what Salvadorans eat and leave behind the infamous Pollo Campero. This is a fast food chain selling mainly fried chicken. Salvadorans are crazy about it (even though it originated in Guatemala). The planes flying from El Salvador to the United States are known as the chicken flights. Almost everybody brings boxes of fried chicken on the plane. If they get hungry, they just open the box and start munching. It is hard to stand the smell for about 5 hours (from El Salvador to Los Angeles).
Now, there are Pollo Campero establishments in the States. The truth is that they are nothing when compared to the restaurants in Central America. Try the chicken at El Salvador (or other Central American country) and try to see if you can figure out what the craze is all about.
Food in El Salvador is everywhere. You just have to get lost in it. Hope you have enjoyed this post.
Let me know about your favorite Salvadoran dishes in the comments section below.