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Pupusas – El Salvador’s National Food

pupusas - El Salvador

pupusas – El Salvador

Pupusas – El Salvador’s National Food

I had read and heard about pupusas from other travelers long before I ever entered El Salvador. Everyone seemed to be ranting and raving about them.

Described as corn tortillas stuffed with cheese or vegetables or sausage or combinations of ingredients, they certainly sounded like they might be delicious.

But I was somewhat skeptical. I imagined them to be fried or even deep fried, drenched in oil. That did not seem inviting at all. So I was holding off on my opinions until I actually tried one.

On my very first day in El Salvador I got my chance. I was starting my explorations of the country in little Juayua town, on the Ruta de Flores in the western part of the country. As luck would have it, Juayua’s little Pupuseria Esmeralda is apparently famed throughout the country as one of the best pupusa restaurants in the country!

Pupuseria Esmeralda - Juayua

Pupuseria Esmeralda – Juayua

So come evening time, I promptly headed over to Pupuseria Esmeralda with another traveler to try them. They had quite a selection of ingredients, half of which I had to have translated despite speaking fairly good Spanish and having traveled around Mexico and Gautemala for 1 ½ years.

After arriving in El Salvador, I quickly discovered that they use different words to describe many common foods. So to some extent I had to learn some basic Spanish vocabulary all over again.

In any event, Esmeralda’s offered ‘chicharron’ – a type of pork – chicken, cheese, zucchini, a vegetable similar to spinach and other ingredients. They would also make up any combination of ingredients for you.

I ordered two pupusas with chicken, cheese and the spinach vegetable then patiently waited for my meal to arrive. My friend got a different combo. In the meantime, the waitress brought out a bottle of ketchup-type salsa and a bowl filled with a kind of cold vegetable salad – shredded cabbage, carrots, turnips and onions.

condiments for pupusas

condiments for pupusas

Luckily for me, my travel friend had eaten plenty of pupusas already. She explained that the veggies and salsa are put on top of the pupusa and eaten all together. She also told me that in El Salvador pupusas are eaten with the fingers, breaking them into small pieces, rather then cutting them with a knife and fork.

When the waitress eventually brought out our orders, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that pupusas are not fried but grilled. Yippie! They aren’t oily at all!

But they were stiflingly hot. I had to wait another 5-10 minutes to let them cool off before I could actually dig in.

When I did, I discovered right away why everyone has been ranting about them. They are delicious! And now I had a new, readily available, tasty and cheap meal to eat during my one-month travels around El Salvador.

fillings for pupusasPupusas are found everywhere, from tiny villages to beaches to big cities. They are sold at street stalls, carts and restaurants. And pupusas vendors are plentiful – practically on every block in some places.

The only hitch is that in many places the pupuseries are only an evening food, with stalls and restaurants opening from 5 or 5:30 pm. However, in some towns pupuserias are open from early morning until late at night. You can eat pupusas for any meal you please.

Pupusas are also a very, very inexpensive food. The normal price ranges from $0.50 – $1 US. In some pupuserias a giant-sized specialty pupusa stuffed with multiple ingredients might cost $2-2.50 US. Pupuseria Esmeralda, for instance, is particularly famous for its giant mixed pupusa that fills an entire plate and costs $2.50.

Depending on one’s appetite, 2-3 pupusas will probably fill up most people. I seem to be able to eat 1 1/2-2 for one meal. So I generally spend about $1-1.20 US per meal.

I know that sounds incredibly cheap from a US or European standard. But it’s actually about what I normally pay to eat in many countries around the world. Mexico for 20 pesos. Thailand for 30-40 Bhat. Indonesia for 5000-10,000 rupias.

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You might also enjoy reading these articles about El Salvador: 

Ruta de Flores

Climbing Santa Ana Volcano

The 7 Waterfalls Trek 

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