Street Food: Pupusas in El Salvador


Street Food

Latin America has a rich history of delicious street foods. Though many of the dishes of Central, Southern, and Latin America share several key components and ingredients, local home cooks and chefs have been preparing these meals for so long that each food has automatically taken on the authentic flavor of the region. 

This is clear with the traditional Salvadorian dish pupusas. Thick, stuffed corn-tortillas pockets, quickly cooked on a skillet, pupusas are usually served with a side of cabbage slaw and a thin tomato salsa. They are almost always made by hand and sold by small vendors in the dense city streets where they are eaten by hand.

Though they are similar to Colombian and Venezuelan arepas and to the Mexican gordita, pupusas have a rich history, and flavors, of their own. Excavated evidence from around El Salvador has shown that pupusas have been made in the area for many centuries.

Fillings can include mixtures of cheese, a cooked ground pork dish called chicharron, refried beans, and loroco, an edible flower found throughout Central American. Common variations include the simple pupusas de queso (cheese only filling), the more adventurous pupusas de queso y loroco (cheese and loroco flowers) and the fully combined pupusas revueltas (cheese, refried beans, and chicarron).

In the 1950s and 60s, Salvadorians started to migrate out of the main cities, moving themselves and their pupusas around the country and into neighboring nations. In the 1980s, the Salvadorian civil war caused many locals to flee their homeland, taking the pupusas with them to all over North and South America. Since then, this popular dish has been served in places like Boston, New Mexico, Virginia, Oregon, Ontario, Alberta, and even Sydney and Melbourne, Australia.

The pupusa is both a typical and fundamental piece of Salvadorian cuisine and definitely a can't-miss part of Salvadorian street food. In fact, El Salvador even declared November 13 "National Pupusas Day," to signify the importance of this simple street food to the nation.

In New York City, pupusas can be found at the Solber Pupusas food truck, which attends the Smorgasburg Food Market in Brooklyn every Saturday. Also in NYC, La Joya de Ceren Restaurante in Rockaway Queens is owned an operated by Salvadorian immigrants and offers renowned pupusas. A small chain of pupuserias called La Pupusa Loca also offers the dish in places like Hollywood, CA, Houston, TX, and West New York, NJ. But like any good street food, it's best to search out a local spot run by Salvadorians for the most authentic flavors.

Photo: Lindsay Hunt