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Posted by on Jun 7, 2011 | 17 comments

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

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.

Pupusas ready to be eaten

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.

Cooking pupusas on the grill (comal), Juayua

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)
  • Tamales
  • Riguas (sweet corn tamales)
  • Atoles (shuco, chilate)
  • Grilled meat
  • Roasted Chicken
  • Seafood
  • 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).

Juayua's Gastronomic Festival

Chef presenting food at Juayua's gastronomic festival

However, there are more “interesting” options for intrepid palates.  You can also find the following:

  • Rabbit
  • Frog (not just frog legs but the whole body)
  • Armadillo (cusuco)
  • Iguana (garrobo)
  • Possum (tacuazin)
  • Some sort of snake (masacuata)

Grilled rabbits and frog legs for lunch

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.

Desayuno tipico

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.

Typical Breakfast (desayuno tipico), Apaneca, El Salvador

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:

  • Arrayan
  • Jocote
  • Rambutan
  • Mamey
  • Granadilla
  • Manzanilla
  • Passion Fruit
  • Annona
  • Nance
  • Pineapple
  • Guava
  • Coconut
  • Mangoes
  • Bananas

Me with a giant mango on a roadside shake stand, El Salvador

Fruit stand next to the road

Be adventurous and try something different (also try them as juices or shakes).

Sweet and cold coconuts

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.

Seafood Stew, Metalio Beach

Seafood Spaguetti, El Cuco Beach

Lobster Stew, Metalio Beach

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.

Meat Plate at Cerro Las Pavas, Cojutepeque

Chorizo sampler at Cerro Las Pavas, Cojutepeque

Pollo Campero

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.

Homemade food

Desert, Juayua

Beans drying at the side of the road

17 Comments

  1. Pretty good food overview… yumm! It’s funny that when I was in Guatemala I skipped every single Pollo Campero I saw (trying to stay away from “fast foods”), but then, when i saw a Pollo Campero in El Salvador I couldn’t resist it anymore and went straight in. I have to say that chicken is delicious!
    Norbert recently posted..5 Additional European Cities To Visit If You Love ArchitectureMy Profile

    • I know. Sometimes you want to eat something more authentic but Pollo Campero gets into your mind subliminaly because it is every where. Also, it is always good to go with local friends since they like it so much.
      Ruth recently posted..Papillon Photos- New York City’s ChinatownMy Profile

  2. Why is it that salsa makes everything look even better?

    Sounds like a place for foodies! I would stick with the more traditional meats but everything else looks great. We had Yucca at a Peruvian restaurant in San Francisco and it was really good.

    thanks for sharing this culinary trip through El Salvador!
    Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista recently posted..Langauge- A Necessary Part of TravelMy Profile

    • Debbie,
      There are so many choices. Unfortunately, a lot of people do not know about the gastronomic wonders of this place. Like I said, this is just a simple description. Once I was done writing the article, my husband revised it (he is from El Salvador) and told me about a lot of other dishes that I have never heard about it.
      Ruth recently posted..Santa Monica on Memorial DayMy Profile

  3. Ruth, the food looks good with some interesting choices. El Salvador would definitely be an interesting place to visit. Not sure I would partake of all the food options but most of it looks tasty!

    And you’ll be happy to know, I don’t disagree with you on a post for once! 🙂
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..Vancouver- TBEX- travel blogging- and my first modeling gigMy Profile

    • We should have more tipicos around so we can have one once in a while. Especially, like the one I took the picture. It is from a hotel/restaurant in the town of Apaneca. The tipico from there is the best I have tasted in El Salvador.
      Ruth recently posted..9 Things Tour Companies Don’t Tell YouMy Profile

  4. Empanadas are so good- craving one right now! Love the beans photo- I’ve seen that in Mexico too.
    jade recently posted..The Power of PostcardsMy Profile

  5. You’re right — all the food sounds delicious! (Well, maybe not the armadillo or iguana). There are a few Salvadoran restaurants in L.A. so I’ve tried pupusas before. They are good!
    Michael Figueiredo recently posted..Where in the World am IMy Profile

    • I am 100 percent autntheic Salvadorena. My daughters and I made pupusas the other day. I was happy to find the recipe for the salsa which is unlike a mexican salsa for dips or enchiladas. Authentic pupusas are also filled with chicharon, I believe that is like fried pork. Or any of the fillings given in this recipe (cheese, beans or a combination revueltas ). Today pupusas can be found with any filling you can think of. They are typical to El Salvador and Guatemala. They are defintely eaten by tearing and opening up to add the curtido and salsa. Thank you so much for this recipe which shares our culture.

  6. i love pupusas (but i must say that i like the honduran baleadas better!)
    before i met jess, i frequented pollo campero on the odd occasion. i thought it was ok, some seemed better than others.
    im not sure if they have it in el sal, but in honduras my favourite fruit was mangosteen!
    delicious post!
    jamie – cloud people adventures recently posted..Laguna Lachua – GuatemalaMy Profile

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