Pupusas from El Salvador are thick, disc-shaped cornmeal pancakes with cheese, and meat all in one sinfully delicious package. Pupusas have been described as “corn flour quesadillas, only sealed around the edges”. Eating a pupusa means suspending all attempts to count calories, but your first few bites of this traditional delicacy will convince you that this treat is worth every calorie.
What is so wonderful about a pupusa?
Pupusas are not only delicious, they are easily available and budget friendly as well. In 10 Best Pupusas in Los Angeles, Rachael Narin of LA Weekly says, “Pupusas are cheap and cheerful, exceptionally hearty, stuffed and griddled disks of slaked cornmeal or rice flour that originated in El Salvador. They invariably cost less than $3 in even the most stylish restaurants, and are most likely available somewhere near you.”
When you visit a pupuseria, you can choose from five traditional fillings: minced pork called chicharon (this is different from pork cracklings), cheese, beans, loroco (a vine flower), and revuelta, a combination of cheese, beans, and pork. Take note that the richness of the pupusa comes only from the fillings, the masa itself is relatively fat-free and griddled, not fried.
The pupusa pancake is an indicator of the quality of the pupuseria you are visiting. In the best establishments, the corn for the dough or masa is ground by hand, giving the pancake a distinct texture. Each pancake is formed by hand, lightly rolled till thin, and then griddled at just the right temperature so that it puffs up.
After you place your order, your pupusa is cooked. There is no such thing as a ready-made pupusa; each one is made fresh, so be ready to wait a bit. When your pupusa comes, it will be served with a bottle of hot sauce and a shallow bowl of curtido, a mixture of pickled cabbage and carrots flavored with oregano. The pickled cabbage and the hot sauce will cut right through the richness of the filling, and if you order some loroco for your filling, this vine flower with its spinach-like flavor will also prevent the pupusa from being too rich.
How to Order Your Pupusa
If you visit a pupuseria in El Salvador, you will need to make your order in Spanish. In many cases, it is wise to be able to do this even when you are in LA or New York. The principal types of pupusas are cheese (pupusa de queso), refried beans (pupusa de frijoles refritos), beans and cheese (pupusa de frijoles and queso), with loroco (pupusa con loroco), very finely ground pork (chicharron), and a mixture of beans, cheese, and pork (pupusa revuelta).
Pupusas now come in many variations. You can now have pupusa with cheese and a squash variety called ayote (pupusa de queso y ayote), with blackberries (pupusa con mora), or with cheese and spinach (pupusa con queso y espinaca).
Enjoying your Pupusa
In “Guide to Pupusas in El Salvador – Try Them!”, International Mel gives a guide for people who want to enjoy pupusas the way a native of El Salvador would. She says, “If you’re in a restaurant, you’ll get the pupusas on a plate, with a side bowls of the curtido (cabbage/vinegar slaw) and salsa. Put the slaw on top of the pupusa, pour some salsa on top and you’re ready for the hard part. Most Salvadorians eat pupusas with their hands. I’ve tried, and it’s hard navigating the slaw and the salsa. But I’m still trying. If you’re in a pupusaria, they’ll take pity on you and give you a plastic fork. This is kind, but basically worthless. Pupusa’s aren’t tough, but the plastic fork falls short. If you’ve taken them para llevar (to go), feel no shame and grab a knife and fork. You can also usually get proper silverware if you’re dining in a restaurant…”
Restaurants and pupuserias are not the only places where you can enjoy a pupusa. You can certainly make you own pupusas, even without grinding the corn for your dough. Today pupusas have become very versatile. If you are running out of breakfast ideas, try creating a pupusa with an egg on top, stuffed with some bacon slices. That ought to wake people up – with or without the hot sauce.