Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Being Bourdain: Discovering the Pupusa

Continuing my Being Bourdain series, this month I discovered El Salvadorean food.  I sought out well-known LA eateries that make the famed pupusa, El Salvador's most well-known dish. And I was pleasantly surprised to find a new cuisine, very different from their neighboring Latin countries. 
Some background information on El Salvdor (from wikipedia): 
It is the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. Ninety percent of Salvadorans are mestizo (mixed Native American and Spanish origin). Some report their race as being White; this population is mostly of Spanish descent, including some of French, German, Swiss, and Italian descent. El Salvador is 8% indigenous, mostly Pipil, Lenca and Kakawira (Cacaopera).
El Salvador's most notable dish is the pupusa. Pupusas are a thick hand-made corn tortilla (made using masa de maíz or masa de arroz, a maize or rice flour dough used in Latin American cuisine) stuffed with one or more of the following: cheese (usually a soft Salvadoran cheese, a popular example is Quesillo con loroco), chicharrón, and refried beans. Loroco is a vine flower bud native to Central America. There are also vegetarian options, often with ayote (a type of squash) or garlic.



I found this gem roaming the sawdust floors of Grand Central Market in Downtown LA. It doesn't look like much, but this food stand has some of the best El Salvadorean food I've ever tasted.

Their specialty is the pupusa, an El Salvadorean pancake, that is made of either masa de maize or arroz, cheese and a choice of filling. By far my favorite is the chicarrones, I've tried the carne asada and the queso but they don't come close to their chicarrones in terms of flavor.

Sarita's pupusas are made to order and come out piping hot. They're served with a spicy cabbage slaw. They've also got great fried plantains and other El Salvadorean dishes. Prices are good too.

Pupusas are made-to-order, right in front of you.

Sarita's Pupuseria on Urbanspoon

La Pupusa Loca

This is a familiar hole-in-the-wall El Salvadorean place, I don't think you can get more authentic than this. While it's not my favorite, I do give kudos for an extensive menu of uncommon dishes.

I recommend their fried meat pies, it comes three to an order. They're akin to large-sized fried chinese dumplings but they taste meatier. Think of a dumpling filled with Taco Bell ground beef.

My favorite thing to order is their ensalada fresca. I'm not sure exactly what it is, it tastes like watered down orange juice, reminiscent of a sangria, with fruit floating in it. It's delicious, refreshing and not cloyingly sweet.

I wish I had better things to say about this place, as Chowhound and LA Times loves it, but I was disappointed with the food here. (maybe I don't like El Salvadorean food?) Of course, they have the famous pupusa, either in masa de maize or arroz. I tried the puspusa de arroz and it was good but not as flavorful as Sarita's. The masa was very bland, and it didn't ooze out cheese and filling when I cut into it. Their camarrones pupusa was my favorite, it was filled with diced, dried shrimp.

They also have Chilate con Nuegadoes. It's an unusual dish, the chilate is ground corn with a texture much like American grits. It is bland. They were whole allspice in there, I accidentally bit into one, yuck. As a contrast the nuegadoes, fried yuca donuts, were cloyingly sweet and flavorful. They remind me of korean fried yuca donuts. I like these.

Empanadas here are not like their Spanish cousin. These empanadas have mashed plantains and creme inside then they are deep-fried. They are very bland. They aren't sweet at all. I didn't care for them and wasn't thrilled I just consumed three thousand calories in one dish.

I do want to come back to taste more authentic El Salvadorean dishes. I recommend this place for authentic El Salvadorean food but not for the wayward traveler.

La Pupusa Loca on Urbanspoon


FruFrugal said...

oooh that looks yummy!

Smokeydoke said...

Thanks Fru! And it was frugal too! hehe, I love ethnic food.


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