If any food in inextricably bound to El Salvador, it’s the pupusa. My pal Marina expounded on how much she loves pupusas until I finally gave in and teamed up with her for a trip to Mis Raices Salvadorian in Reseda to indulge in what is essentially the country’s national food. The restaurant’s name alone sings authenticity–it’s Spanish for “My Salvadorian Roots.”
Pupusas are essentially stuffed corn tortillas, but describing them this way downplays their specialness, sort of like saying the Mona Lisa is a picture of an Italian woman. The whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. The fillings are great all on their own, but they’re insinuated into a package of corn flour dough that has great flavor and texture. They remind me a bit of the Colombian arepas, which are made of masa and some of which have fresh cheese inside.
Marina ordered a duo of pupusas, one containing finely chopped zucchini and the other, pork, cheese and bean–this is a classic pupusa called revueltas. The pork is called chicharon, which in El Salvador refers to pork that has been cooked and pulverized, rather like rillettes in French cuisine (in Mexico chicharone refers to fried pork skin). Quesillo, a soft cheese common throughout Central America, is the queso of choice. Revueltas has that ham-n-cheese thing going for it, but I just can’t imagine anyone in the States putting beans on a sandwich. And that’s a pity–if they’re well seasoned and smashed, they’ll both enhance a sandwich and help glue it together.
Contrarian that I am, I decided to try something different, something from the day’s specials, the flor de izote, that is, yucca blossom. The flowers were scrambled into eggs and tomatoes and served with rice and some really good beans. Everything on our table was pure comfort food.
I dug out one of the flors de izote, to see what they look like. Not satisfied with this, Marina asked our server if we could see what these flowers looked like before they were incorporated into a dish.
She returned with a plate bearing a couple of the blossoms. The flors de izote on their own reminded us of the inner artichoke leaves that you don’t have to fight with, delicate of both texture and flavor, and mildly tart and astringent.
We both ordered cebada, a drink that is similar to a pink horchata. While horchata typically is made of either rice or almonds, cebada is made from barley and flavored and colored with crushed seeds of some sort, although our server didn’t know what they were–and I’ve been unable to find out. No matter–it’s tasty stuff, with the richer texture that makes these grain-based beverages so nourishing.
A few days later, this blog entry still isn’t posted–and I have pupusas on the brain. So I told Himself to meet me at Pupuseria Del Valle in Burbank. One glance at the name, and there’s no question as to their specialty. Himself agreed that these things are highly addictive. To the amusement of our server (I think she also cooked our meal, too), we ordered one of each of the seven types of pupusas offered on the menu: cheese; bean; revueltas again; zucchini again, although they call it Italian squash here; jalapeno; beef chorizo and cheese with loroco, another delicate flower. I can’t name a favorite–they were all quite good. As for sampling any other foods, we just couldn’t. We wanted to, but we succumbed to the lure of pupusas.
Pupusas traditionally are served with curtido, a spicy pickled cabbage and carrot slaw that reminds me a bit of kimchi, and what I hesitate to call tomato sauce, because it’s nothing like what we Westerners think of as tomato sauce. The red bottle in the photo was filled with a thin sauce made of tomatoes and peppers. A healthy pinch of curtido and an equally healthy squirt of the tomato sauce on any pupusa elevates it beyond its usual snack-of-the-gods status.
Embarrassingly–and unhelpfully to this blog–we both om-nom-nommed with the abandon of stray cats at a fish market and realized after the fact that we’d not singled out the loroco to inspect, as I had the izote during the earlier meal. Loroco is a similar tiny white flower that grows in Central America and that’s often tucked inside a pupusa. I promise to go back soon and order a couple of loroco pupusas and pay attention next time!
I want to explore the wealth of other dishes I know Salvadorian cuisine offers, but as with tacos, pupusas are so particular and so beloved that I think it only fair to give them their own blog entry. The rest can wait for another day. Unless I once again succumb to the pupusas.