El Salvador’s Most Notable Dish


You know how sometimes you see people eating fat, fried tortilla-looking things with just tomato sauce on top? Well, they’re called “pupusas”, one of the most emblematic dishes of El Salvador’s gastronomy. They’re also, quite frankly, pretty awesome.

A pupusa begins with as an average tortilla with the filling right on top of it, rolled into a ball. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

Much like average corn tortillas, pupusas are part of Central America’s pre-columbian heritage and, much like Central America’s pre-columbian heritage, no one’s really quite sure of how they came about. Even though Salvadorians have taken them as their signature dish, it is not all that rare to see pupusas in neighbouring countries. All in all, the recipe doesn’t really vary that much through the region.

Standard pupusas are made with corn dough (better known as masa or “that awesome thing most yummy local foods are made out of”), and some sort of filling. They’re usually served with tomato sauce and curtido, which basically is tropical sauerkraut, on top. Obviously, the quality of the pupusa depends heavily on the expertise of the cook, but it’s really hard to mess it up.

The hole is then covered and the ball gets pounded into the shape of a fat tortilla filled with yummy stuff. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

Pupusas can be filled with many different things. As time goes by, people have come up with new things to put inside the fat tortilla, an exercise we’ve all practiced while being slightly buzzed and super hungry. Half-memories of culinary experimentation aside, the most common stuffings are cheese, pork rind (best known as chicharrones), refried beans, and tropical vine flower (loroco). You can also ask the cook to mix two or more fillings. There’s other fillings such as chicken, ground beef, tuna, shrimp and chicken, but they’re not quite as common.

Pupusas are usually sold at venues called “pupuserías”, which are diners dedicated exclusively to the confection of this iconic Salvadorian dish. They’re usually pretty cheap, but their prices can vary a lot. For instance, you can get three pupusas for about Q.10 or spend Q.15 for a single pupusa; it all really depends on what it’s got inside and where you’re getting it from. Pupuserías aren’t all that fancy, but they’re usually comfortable enough for you to enjoy this delicious meal. In the worst (or best) case scenario, you’ll be sitting on a plastic stool by a plastic table, eating with plastic utensils while having some ranchera music blasting in the background. But, hey, that’s just part of enjoying the whole tropical experience, right?

Afterwards, the fat tortilla is thrown on a frying pan until it’s browned on both sides. Photo: Santiago Billy/Comvite

CAUTION: When you get your pupusas, you might feel incredibly tempted to eat them with your bare hands. Don’t do it. The curtido and the tomato sauce can get pretty watery and messy. If you’re an amateur pupusa-eater, we strongly recommend that you use a plate, a fork and a knife. Especially if you’ve asked for spicy curtido or some kind of hot sauce on it. So, use utensils. Don’t be that guy; you read Comvite after all.

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