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From the heart of the country’s capital of San Salvador to the pueblos in the rainforest and on the coast, El Salvador is united by one important thing: food. The ingredients involved in this Central American cuisine aren’t earth-shattering, but they’re the type that have sustained entire civilizations for centuries. Corn, beans, meat, tomatoes, plantains, cheese, sugar, and salt are all whipped together in a myriad of ways to make meals that are quintessentially Salvadoran. Here’s our rundown of the most delicious El Salvadoran food.
Pupusas are the undisputed highlight of Salvadoran cuisine. It’s eaten by everyday folks, and it’s eaten by famous people from El Salvador. It’s adored by the entire country. Now, what exactly is it? A pupusa is essentially a thick corn toritall stuffed with cheese, meat, squash, beans, and sometimes chicharron (or fried pork). It has got plenty of balance as the corn dough is slightly sweet and the meat filling is salty. Usually, it’s topped with finely chopped cabbage salad and homemade tomato sauce.
Every Latin American country has their own interpretation of the tamale, and El Salvador is no exception. Instead of being wrapped in a corn husk, tamales here are wrapped in banana skins, which makes them a bit more juicy and sweet than the standard Mexican style you may be accustomed to (although Mexico does make our list of Culinary Travel: Countries With the Best Food). Filled with corn dough and a meat filling, this is the perfect kind of portable meal that makes for great leftovers.
In El Salvador’s version of the quesadilla, cheese is involved — but not in the way you might think. Made from butter, eggs, milk, flour, and queso fresco, this quesadilla is more of a cake, like a pound cake or a coffee cake. It’s a sweet dish usually eaten in the morning for breakfast. If we’ve piqued your sweet tooth cravings, decide which of these 7 Scrumptious Greek Desserts or these 7 Heavenly Puerto Rican Desserts you want to order next.
Panes rellenos directly translates to ‘stuffed breads,’ which is a pretty apt description of this popular lunchtime dish. It can best be described as a sandwich, but it looks a little more overwhelming than that. Imagine a heaping mound of chicken or turkey with tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, pipil spices, and tons of sauce.
The Typical Breakfast
The typical breakfast in El Salvador is a hearty combination of a few of the country’s staples. Scrambled eggs with vegetables are thrown on a plate with cheese, fried plantains, refried beans, and tortillas. Traditionally, the breakfast is served alongside a freshly squeezed juice made from mango, pineapple, or banana.
Don’t jump to conclusions too quickly — this isn’t a traditional salad. This is actually a fruit salad drink that has become the most recognizable drink in El Salvador. Order a heaping jar of diced fresh fruit in a base of lemon juice, water, and sugar, and be prepared to feel refreshed. This is comparable to Colombia’s salpicón if that rings a bell.
Even though this isn’t technically an entire dish in its own right, Yuca Frita, or fried yuca, is perhaps the most important side dish in El Salvador. For the uninitiated, yuca is the root of the cassava plant, it’s comparable in size and shape to a sweet potato. Because it’s high in calories and carbs, it’s a staple food in the developing world. Fried yuca is a delicious and filling side component to any dish you’ll be tucking into in El Salvador.
Empanadas de Leche
The plantain is a versatile fruit, and empanadas de leche are a perfect example of that. Little balls of plantain are stuffed with vanilla custard and sprinkled with powdered sugar. This makes for a deliciously sweet pastry dish that some opt to have a night while others have for breakfast.
Sopa de Pata
Sopa de pata is a popular soup that has tons of different variations, but generally speaking it’s an all-inclusive, non-discriminating dish. Which is to say: it includes everything except the kitchen sink. Sweet corn, plantains, yuca, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, cabbage, lemon juice, cilantro, tripe, and cow’s feet are all thrown into a massive pot and slow-cooked for hours. The result is a hearty soup, typically cooked in huge batches and served for family gatherings.