Travelling in El Salvador was the best way for me to immerse myself in the culture and taste a variety of authentic local food. Maize, corn and flour are the main carbohydrates, and an extensive array of meat like beef, pork, chicken, and seafood are also consumed.
Although, many of these dishes are also consumed in other Latin American countries and distinctive methods of preparation vary from country to country. These are 3 of my favourite Salvadoran food/snacks.
1. Pupusa – Stuffed Corn Tortilla
Pupusa is king in El Salvador and hard to avoid, especially if you are on a budget.
I will never forget the first time I tasted this national dish – I fell in love! Its hearty, basic and tasty and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who’s visiting El Salvador.
Pupusas look a little like a pancake. They consist of a flattened corn tortilla that can be stuffed with a few different ingredients. Each pupusa is topped with homemade tomato-based salsa and served with curtido, which is a Salvadoran style of pickled vegetables and can often be spicy.
How to make Pupusas
First make the curtido – combine the cabbage, onion, and carrots then pour boiling water over the vegetables. After draining add the vinegar, oregano, and salt. Then make the papusas – after preparing the dough, cook the pupusa in a pan (3 minutes each side). Lastly – serve the pupusa with curtido.
These delicious snacks are usually enjoyed with your bare hands, but be careful, as the filling inside the corn tortillas is very hot when served immediately, I learnt the hard way!
Tamales are a complete meal in a portable form. This traditional dish is made of steamed pockets of corn dough (called masa) and filled with meats, cheeses, dried fruit, or sweet corn, and served in banana leaves. The wrapper is not eaten but imparts a certain flavor to the tamales when they are steamed.
The first time I had tamales was actually in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Our host prepared them in celebration of our arrival.
Dessert tamales are also a thing! For these, the masa is sweetened, often with sugar, and filled with fruit.
How to make Tamales
Once you make the soft tamale dough, spread it onto corn husks then add a filling and fold it into pockets. Steam the tightly folded pockets then wrap them in a few banana leaves and place them on a plate when you are ready to eat.
Tamales are often made during Christmas and many families have a cherished tamale filling recipe, prepared by grandmothers and passed down through the generations.
3. Elote loco – Crazy corn
This is one of those things that undoubtedly can not be missing in every town/city in the country. Its amazing blend of flavours and ingredients makes it a tasty side dish. The name “crazy corn” comes from the mixture of its ingredients.
How to make Elote loco
Stick a skewer at the bottom and softer part of the boiled corn, then use a knife to spread the mayonnaise. Add a few small lines of mustard and tomato sauce (ketchup) and lastly, proceed to sprinkle the grated cheese, then enjoy!
A great (and extremely inexpensive) place to have local food in El Salvador is at markets. If you’re not on a budget, there are plenty of mid-range to upscale restaurants in big cities like San Salvador and Santa Ana.
Don’t worry, if you are not able to make a trip to El Salvador, you can always add a global twist to your usual dinnertime routine. Don’t forget to let me know all about it. Let’s travel to El Salvador together!
Thank you for reading,