El Salvador’s best-known dish is the pupusa, but how many people know that this country boasts a wide variety of foods beyond this tasty treat?
My El Salvador experience began at a young age when I lived in Quezaltepeque, a municipality in the Department of Chiquimula close to the border. I recall making trips with my grandmother via chicken buses to Santa Ana, a beautiful colonial city, and passing through many pueblitos (small villages) along the way before reaching San Salvador, the capital, and our final destination.
From all the Central American countries, Salvadorian cuisine is in close proximity to Guatemala’s in some aspects, especially in this region. After all, El Salvador shares the border with Guatemala at the southeast and people migrate to and from these countries from time to time.
El Salvador’s Pacific Coast has a variety of seafood dishes, from raw oysters on the half shell and conchas (black clams) to fried fish platters containing papitas (French fries) and a salad. Frescos (fresh fruit drinks), such as the colorful and traditional refresco de ensalada (salad drink), accompany most meals.
In many small towns in Latin America, time seems to stand still when it comes to traditional treats. I recall that when I was a young girl, street vendors sold Salvadorian pupusas and yuca con chicharron (cassava with spicy pork rind) door to door in Quezaltepeque. When I went back to visit recently, this was still the case, plus now the vendors even have web pages.
One thing is certain, when food is casual and delicious, crowds gather, and parks and plazas still are the perfect places to find some of the most popular and tasty fare. This is the case in Santa Ana, where at the park in front of the cathedral you can buy maicillo (tiny grain corn) to feed the pigeons, and other tasty treats.
From tamales and tasty stews and soups to chuletas de cerdo and chao mein de pollo, El Salvador has many foods to offer from region to region and from town to town. After all, Central Americans share basic ingredients, such as corn, beans, chilies and tomatoes, and these combined with native ingredients and culture produce the culinary and diversity of each region.
Here is my humble rendition of a dish that has become a favorite in my kitchen, not only because it is healthy, easy and delicious, but because it reminds me of my childhood and those door-to-door vendors from the place from where I have so many happy memories.
YUCA CON CHICHARRÓN Y CHILE
Yuca with Spicy Lime Cabbage Slaw and Crispy Pork Rind
Recipe by Amalia Moreno-Damgaard (AmaliaLLC.com)
There are different versions of this dish in El Salvador and Guatemala. I like to play with spicy raw and cooked ingredients for contrasting flavor and texture. Some curtidos may be cooked as the one used over pupusas, while others may be raw like a quick slaw.
Serves 2 to 4 people
6 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds fresh peeled yuca, cut into 1-inch slices
1 batch curtido crudo (spicy lime cabbage slaw)
– recipe below
1/2 cup crushed crispy pork rind
In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a quick boil and add the salt. Add the yuca and cook it until it’s soft but not mushy (about 15 minutes). Alternatively, steam the yuca until cooked (25 to 30 minutes).
Drain the yuca in a colander in the sink. Let the yuca cool slightly. Take out the stringy inner core (if visible) and discard it. With a fork, break the yuca pieces into small chunks, but do not mash them.
Serve the yuca topped with the slaw and pork rind and add additional lime juice, if desired.
Curtido Crudo (spicy lime cabbage slaw): In a bowl, thoroughly mix 3 cups shredded cabbage; 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice; 1/2 cup julienned carrots or red bell pepper; 1 thinly sliced Serrano, jalapeño or other hot pepper of choice; and 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.
AMALIA’S KITCHEN text & photos by chef and author Amalia Moreno-Damgaard. Her cookbook “Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen-Gourmet Cuisine With A Cultural Flair” has won 9 international awards. AmaliaLLC.com