El Salvador is one of smallest countries in Central America, so it isn’t surprising that not many people are familiar with our delicious Salvadorian dishes and drinks, but don’t worry, this Salvadorian has got you covered. Read up on some of my favorite things from the very small country that is near and dear to my family’s heart.
Pupusas are actually very similar to homemade tortillas. They are a delightful creation of corn flour stuffed with any combination, ranging from cheese and beans to shrimp, pork or chicken and cheese. They can be stuffed with literally anything you can think of. My personal favorite is spinach, beans and cheese. The corn flour is then rolled into a ball, closed off and flattened out and pan fried.
Once they are cooked to golden perfection, they are served with tomato sauce and “curtido,” which is cabbage, cauliflower and carrots that have been pickled with vinegar and salt, giving it a tangy flavor. If you’re now craving pupusas and you decide to head over to a Salvadorian restaurant to get a few, don’t pick up that fork unless you want to seem like a newbie. Pupusas are ALWAYS eaten with your hands. Just think of it like a quesadilla.
2. Tamale de Elote
You may be familiar with Mexican Tamales, which are wrapped in corn husks and usually stuffed with chicken, and are kind of dry. Salvadorian Tamales are a whole other story. Instead, they are built and wrapped in banana leaves. Boiling them instead of steaming them makes them a lot softer and less dry. Another big difference is that the stuffing is not only limited to savory options like chicken or cheese. Sweet corn tamales or “tamales de elote” are exactly what they sound like: sweet.
3. Yuca Frita
This one is a little harder to explain. Think of french fries, but without the potatoes. Yuca is a root that is starchy like potatoes, but has a strong texture. The yuca is cut up into little long pieces and fried, exactly like french fries. It is usually served with the same curtido that comes with pupusas to balance out the salt and greasiness.
4. Panes Rellenos
Think of big subs. This is a french bread roll, stuffed to the brim with chicken, cucumbers, watercress and radish slices, and then topped with cole slaw. The chicken is cooked in a creamy broth, so when its poured into the bread, the bread soaks it up and becomes a little soggy. The sogginess is balanced with the crunch you get from the cucumber, radish and cole slaw. This is the usual at big holiday family gatherings. Without fail, my aunt serves this every year at Christmas.
If you’ve heard of empanadas, then pasteles are a bit similar. In actuality, “pastel” in Spanish means “cake.” These pasteles are small little pieces of dough, stuffed with chicken and potatoes or beef and potatoes, and then are fried. What really makes these different from empanadas is the fact that the dough is slightly different. A little red sauce is added to the dough togive it a zesty orange color. You can really stuff them with any meat, or even make them vegetarian by stuffing them with veggies.
6. Platano Fritos con Frijoles, Crema y Queso
Any Salvadorian family will tell you that this is almost what every weekend breakfast looks like. Platanos are just plantains that are pan fried, and frijoles are refried beans. All of this is served with Salvadorian cream, which is a little saltier than sour cream, and a Salvadorian cheese that is known for it’s saltiness. It’s a mix of sweet with the plantains, and salty with the beans and cream. It is also occasionally served with scrambled eggs on the side that sometimes include chorizo, a Latin-American version of a sausage.
Ensalada means “salad” in English, but in El Salvador, it’s actually a drink. It is a mix of fruit juices with diced fruits like apples, melon, and other tropical fruit. It’s similar to sangria, but you drink it like boba. It usually comes with a big straw, so you can slurp up the small pieces of fruit. This is my favorite drink because every time you get a little piece of fruit to chew on, it’s a nice surprise.
El Salvador prides itself on Kolashampan. It’s a unique soft drink that’s flavor is hard to describe. When you first see it, it looks like orange soda, but when you take the first sip, it doesn’t taste like oranges at all. The best way to put it is it’s a sugarcane flavor based drink; you just have to try one to find out what it’s all about.
This drink is basically a tamarind tea, since the seeds of the tamarind are boiled in water. Instead of being served hot, this drink is served over ice. It’s a little sour and a little sweet, and completely refreshing for hot days.