Friday, February 08, 2008

Salvadorean Pupusas: Strange Name for a Unique Taste

People from El Salvador have their own typical dish: Pupusas. These round plums are particular because of their name and also because they have their own national celebration: According to Legislative Decree 655 of El Salvador, the second Sunday of November is considered the “National Day of Pupusas”.

Nelson Sosa, from El Salvador, explains that the “National Day of Pupusas is very well known. He says the decree was created because Honduras or Nicaragua were saying that pupusas had originated in those countries and not in El Savador, while the dish, is indisputably, from El Salvador (they took the case to court and used historians, documents, etc to determine they originated in El Salvaor).

The word “pupusa” comes from the combination of the word “púpu” (scramble) and “tsa” (bulge), which would translate to “stuffed bulge”, according to José Manuel Bonilla, specialist in the nahuat language and national director of cultural development of Concultura.

There are two types of pupusas: corn and rice. “Rice pupusas are typical of a town called "Olocuilta", localed near the airport (San Salvador). For that reason, all Salvadorians that travel stop by to buy pupusas on the way to the airport”, says Daniel Rivera from El Salvador.

But, what makes these pupusas so special that Salvadorians have even reserved a day in their honor?

To answer this question I had to try them myself.

When I went to Washington DC, USA, a friend from El Salvador decided to introduce us to this delicious dish. We drove for about an hour to the place where they sold “the best pupusas in DC” to try them.

On a first impression, they reminded me of Colombian arepas: rounded, crispy and fresh corn disks. Only arepas are eaten by themselves, while you place curtido on top of the pupusas. Curtido is a mixture of cabbage, carrots, onions and green chilli soaked in vinegar.

Since we were a large group we ordered pupusas with different suffing so we could try a large variety: cheese, cheese and beans, “revueltas” (fried crackling (chicharrón), beans and cheese), beef and cheese with “loroco”. That time we did not try pupusas filled with “ayote” (a type of cabbage), and fish, among others.

My favorite ones were filled with cheese; they were not as heavy as the other ones, which allowed me to eat more. At the same time “revueltas” have a particularly explosive taste.

Even though it was a fun experience and I enjoyed this centroamerican dish, I doubt my love for food would ever take me to compete in the “pupusas eating” contest, where according to Daniel, “one time a guy ate 42 pupusas (when a regulas woman usually does not eat more than 3, and a average male usually eats 4 or 5!!!”).

If you ever get the chance, I would recommend to try pupusas, it is the entrance to El Salvador.


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