Henning lived for several years in El Salvador, working as a teacher. He is Co-Founder of the SAY ZONTE! project. Writing for this blog is his way to give s.th. back to “el pulgarcito.”
The best food in El Salvador:
A traveler’s guide
Do you want to learn more about the typical food in El Salvador? Then you should read the following post!
Cooking and food, in general, have always been a part of human culture.
So if you want to get to know El Salvador better, you should discover El Salvador’s traditional cuisine and other details that you might find interesting.
In this post, you will get some useful tips about what you should try and where to find it. ¡Vamos!
Traditional Food in El Salvador in general
Food in El Salvador has always been based on three ingredients typical for many Latin American countries: corn, rice, and beans.
There’s almost no traditional dish in El Salvador that doesn’t contain at least one of these ingredients, but very often, all three of them!
I can’t cover every detail to cover all the facts about the delicious food in El Salvador. But you will have a good idea after reading this post.
The most importantat traditional food in El Salvador: Pupusas
Ok, eating “pupusas” is a must-do if you want to get to know the food in El Salvador. Even if you decide not to like them, don’t tell a Salvadoran!
There’s no joking about “pupusas” – it’s actually an unofficial state religion in El Salvador!
Pupusas are thick flatbread (or tortillas) made out of corn- or rice meal filled with different ingredients like beans, meat, vegetables, and cheese.
You can choose whatever you prefer. A pupusa costs about US$ 0.50 to US$ 1.00, and 3-4 pupusas are enough to satisfy you. So it’s a good and delicious option if you’re traveling on a budget.
Please notice our most essential “pupusa-tips”:
Don't use fork and knife eating them if you don't want to be total "gringo". You eat them by hand!
Don't call them "tortilla" or whatever! They're pupusas!
Try them with "curtido" (traditional coleslaw) and tomato sauce!
Try to find out where they sell good pupusas! Even in El Salvador, the quality is no the same everywhere. Ask a local or try "Pupuseria Jeisy" in El Zonte.
And a secret tip: Get to know some locals in a pupuseria and ask them if they might show you how to make pupusas. It’s not that easy and most people here really aprecciate if you show interest in their culture.
Other traditional food in El Salvador
Talking about traditional food in El Salvador, we have to mention many other typical dishes that you should. Just to let you know some of them.
Tamales are typical food in El Salvador, but especially in countries like Mexico and Guatemala, they are very popular.
The Azteks already ate them. There’re different types of Tamales, and depending on your taste, you should at least try them. Tamales content a dough (“masa,” starchy, and usually corn-based) steaming in a corn husk or banana leaf.
The wrapping is removed before eating or is used as a plate, the tamale eaten from within. Tamales are filled with meats, cheese, fruits, vegetables, chilies, or any preparation according to taste. Very tasty!
Sopa de Mondongo and Sopa de gallina
“Sope de Mondongo” or “Sopa de pata” is a soup with vegetables, seeds, and …yes: diced tripe (the stomach of a cow or pig) and/or cow’s feet.
It’s supposed to be very nutritious and tasty, but to be honest: we’ve never tried it. Let us know if you were brave enough.
Also, very traditional food in El Salvador is “Sopa de Gallina India” (Indian Chicken Soup). It’s cooked with – of course – chicken, different vegetables, herbs, spices, and “guisquiles” (a certain kind of pumpkin).
Food in El Salvador: The typical Breakfast
If you don’t have any roots in Latin America, the usual breakfast in El Salvador might seem weird.
Cereals, for example, are not that common (also because they’re pretty expensive). The typical Salvadoran breakfast is: “el tipico”.
Beans with rice, 1-2 eggs, 1-2 tortillas (cornbread), and fried bananas (plátanos). Sometimes you can also get an avocado or cream cheese with it.
You can buy a typical Salvadoran breakfast almost everywhere, for US$ 3-5.
Popular Food in El Salvador: Fingerfood and sweets
Texting about the typical food in El Salvador will be incomplete if we don’t mention the “small things”.
There’s a large variety of finger food and sweets that you can buy in the streets. If you don’t know that they exist, you can easily walk by without recognizing them.
Have you heard about “minutas“. You can buy them at almost every corner, especially at the beach. “Minutas” is crushed ice, served with different artificial flavors, lemon juice, or honey in a plastic cup.
It sounds very simple, and it is, but it’s delicious! Try the strawberry flavor with lemon juice!
Another secret is “choco-banano“. It’s simple but brilliant: A frozen banana on a stick, covered with chocolate. If you see a sign, stop and buy one.
“Mango Twist” is another delicacy that lots of Salvadorans can’t resits. It’s chopped (green) mango, served with lemon juice and spices. You can buy it at these little mobile start-nows that are almost at every corner of the city.
But be aware: sometimes the sensitive stomach is not used to some bacterias. If it looks and smells fresh, it usually is, trust your senses before eating.
Last but not least: if you keep your eyes open, there is traditional artisan candy everywhere. Some of it you might know, some of them you have probably never seen in your life. Have a look if you can find these little sugar balls of tamarindo, ginger, or other hidden secrets.
Fast-Food in El Salvador
As everywhere in the world, globalization doesn’t stop in El Salvador either. Same with the food in El Salvador.
There are fast-food chains everywhere, especially in larger cities like San Salvador, San Miguel, and Santa Ana. If you like fried chicken: “Pollo Campero” might be an option for you (they’re actually Guatemaltecan)!
There’s one close to El Tunco in La Libertad. What does that have to do with traditional food in El Salvador?
Well, it’s an unhealthy but delicious part of the popular food culture here. For example, Salvadorans are actually taking little boxes with fried chicken in the airplane when they visit their relatives in the US.
Famous Non-Salvadoran Food in El Salvador that you should try though
Besides “pupusas” and the other traditional dishes, there’s other tasty food in El Salvador that is not typically Salvadoran but worth trying.
Seafood, for example, is excellent and pretty cheap compared to other countries. You should try it, especially if you’re around La Libertad, El Tunco, or El Zonte!
There’s a nice fish-market (“El Muelle”) in La Libertad where they sell all kinds of seafood for fair prices. Even if you don’t like, seafood it’s worth a visit.
“Ceviche” is actually Peruvian, but don’t miss it in El Salvador! Some places that are worth trying their ceviche are “Covana Kitchen” (Puro Surf, El Zonte), “Esencia Nativa ” (El Zonte), and a tiny place in La Libertad called “Ceviches Baloizon”.
Not everyone’s taste but worth trying are seashells and oysters. Be sure that they’re fresh! You can eat them almost everywhere around the coastal area in El Salvador.
(Craft) Beer in El Salvador
In the last five years, the craft beer scene in El Salvador has made unexpected and excellent progress.
There’re several good craft beer breweries in the country that you should try if you’re a beer lover. “Cadejo”, for example, they have several stores and restaurants in El Salvador.
Other excellent beer brands, among others, are “Premio” and “Santo Coraje”. Besides the craft beer also the “traditional” beer brands like “Regia”, “Suprema,” and “Pilsener” is a delicious beer.
So there’s no need to buy expensive imported beer in El Salvador.
A secret tip: artisanal rum at “Surfos” in El Tunco
“Patiño,” the owner of “Surfo’s” in El Tunco, is offering his self made artisanal infused rum and tequila in his start-now.
The flavors are coconut, ginger, chile, tamarindo, and others. We wonder why he hasn’t got an immoral offer from a big company to buy his brand and rum.
Last but not least: Fruits as typical food in El Salvador
Like every tropical country, El Salvador has a large variety of fruits that are probably not existing in your country (or they’re costly).
At first, you will notice all the coconuts everywhere. The juice and the meat are sold almost everywhere for about US$0.75 everywhere.
Also, there’re exquisite mangos of different types everywhere. The Mango season is between February and May.
Additionally, you can enjoy papayas and watermelons everywhere – their size and taste are just impressive. Besides all these fruits, you might already know there’re some fruits that you probably have never seen.
Marañon (cashew fruit), jocotes, sapote, manzana rosa, or (rose apple) are just some of them. Best would be to visit a local traditional market and discover what you can find.
Food in El Salvador that is NOT good
Well, I know that some people might be annoyed now. But I think that some food in El Salvador is probably NOT on the top of the gourmet list.
You have to pay a lot for good cheese, bread, and other imported delicacies that are mostly imported from other countries. But as always when you travel: eat local and enjoy what this country has to offer!
I hope you got an impression of what food in El Salvador is all about. There’s a lot more to discover.