Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Eating My Way Through El Salvador

Inside Santa Ana's CathedralThe rain and the cold weather in Northern California made us yearn for a warm weather vacation. My list is simple and short: nothing expensive, somewhere close by and having a tropical weather.  We narrowed down our choices to three - Central America, Hawaii or Miami. When the unanimous choice was Central America, the first thing that popped out of my mind was El Salvador.

For years, I've been prodding Mijo to take me to El Salvador, his country of birth. At first, he hesitated. But when I found a good deal on airfares going to San Salvador, he started reconsidering and eventually agreeing to take me to his motherland. Over ten years of immersion in the Salvadoran culture through Mijo and his relatives and friends, I'll be able to finally say in Spanish - Soy Filipino Latino-Americanizado - in El Salvador.

San Andres Mayan ruinExcept for the mestizo-looks of the locals, it felt like I've been to El Salvador before - the weather and the topography seem so familiar. It somehow reminded me of the Philippines. Even the torrential rains are similar to the ones I am familiar with.  It only rained twice while we were there but it rained like there was going to be flash floods, there was zero visibility, but they were over after an hour.

For this trip, I will combine the cities and their memorable landmarks, and of course, food.  Here are my top 3.  There were lots of sites and the Salvadorans eat so well, I had to include an honorable mention in my list.

AñilPupusas and San Salvador.
I have never seen so many volcanoes in one city. No wonder the ancient Mayans called this area the Land of Hammocks. The city is a big sprawl but getting from one point to another is not much of a challenge because of its excellent highway system. I was told it is one of the best in Central America. You can find here the city's plazas and cathedrals both colonial and modern, best contemporary and archeological museums in the country like the MARTE and the MUNA; El Boqueron, where a hike to the top will reward you a breathtaking crater view of the San Salvador volcano; Los Chorros, a series of natural springs and pools; the posh shopping centers in La Gran Via and Multiplaza where the middle class go, and much much more.

Pupusas y Pilsener by raluistro, on Flickr In terms of food, Pupusas is king. High above in the city hills where the Los Planes de Renderos is located, you can find Abbi's Pupuseria, which is reputed to serve the best pupusas in town. Pupusas is a traditional Salvadoran food which is corn tortilla filled with cheese, beans and ground pork. It is grilled so the fillings are oozing out of the tortilla when served. Having been acquainted with Salvadoran food for over ten years through Mijo, I thought I was a level up from being an intermediate Salvadoran foodie. I was in for a surprise!

At Abbi's, the pupusas are much smaller compared to the one we get in San Francisco. These smaller pupusas are much more tastier and are eaten using the hands. They melt in your mouth. The tortilla dough is thin so the fillings meld with the crust. The taste is a good balance of the four ingredients. I love the burnt and crunchy sides and not one flavor overpowers the other. The curtido, a condiment similar to kimchi, has a hint of vinegar flavor,  reddish in color and it is stored in a big jar with a red lid. It is served as toppings on pupusas. I've seen locals smother pupusas with curtido so I followed their lead.  Chile, or hot sauce, is also added for that spicy twist. Wash it down with a cold cerveza. Locals prefer either Pilsener or Golden, which are made by the same brewery. The dinner won't be complete without the sweet fried plantains called platanos. They are usually eaten with sour cream and refried black beans. The combination of the three is an acquired taste.

La PosadaQuesadilla and La Libertad
Colonia La Libertad is a long state, it extends from the coast to the inland part of the country. If you take highway CA-4 going to the coast from San Salvador, it will take you to the western beaches of La Libertad. El Tunco, the more popular of the beaches, is great for surfing although the waves look dangerous from afar. El Sunzal beach is good for body surfing or just sunbathing. The sands on these beaches are very fine and black. I've never seen sands this dark. Theyre so black that they sparkle under the sun. There is also an area next to the port and the amphitheatre where you can find rows and rows of restaurants mostly serving fresh seafood.

On your return back to the city, dropby the La Posada restaurante. They serve, among other things, the best quesadilla I have ever had. Quesadilla is a Salvadoran coffee cake having a taste of cheese, hence the name. I am fortunate because there are a lot of panaderia in San Francisco selling this pastry. La Posada is on a big dirt lot consisting of small cottages with its own kitchen and a set of cooks making them look like they are separate restaurants. If you follow with your nose the smell of freshly baked cheese pastries, it will take you on the far end of the complex where a huge clay oven dominates. From there, three women work on mixing, baking, and serving the quesadilla. The quesadilla they serve is creamy, warm and not sweet at all. It is so good! Theirs is not fluffy, in fact, it is a bit thinner but very moist. Have I already mentioned it is creamy? I also noticed the absence of sesame seeds. You have to try their coffee. It is perfect with the warm quesadilla. If I could send a couple of quesadillas to my mom so she can taste, I would.

ParilladasFestival de Gastronomico in Sonsonate
A good view of Volcan Izalco can be seen from the highway in Sonsonate. Izalco, with a dramatic black cone, was once called the Lighthouse of the Pacific because of its non-stop eruption.

The town that holds this festival is called Juayua. This is the mother of all gastronomic festivals in the country.  They close several city blocks every weekend to celebrate their creative but unpretentious tasty food.  Lots of grilled meats, including rabbits, frogs and goats; soupy dishes, yucca or cassava with meat toppings, rice dishes including paella, grilled vegetables and corn, pastries, and the local coffee.

Postres y cafeSalvadoran Coffee
Speaking of coffee, it is worth mentioning this since this country produces a lot of coffee, usually for export.  Except in Starbucks when we were in the city, I did not have a bad coffee in my ten days in El Salvador.   I like it that their coffee is not acidic, the taste has a hint of burnt caramel.  I wanted to go on a coffee tour but I was told the harvest season is over. It runs from December through February. Oh well, next time.  Anyway, I brought so much coffee back to the States for personal consumption and for give aways. A quarter of my luggage was coffee so that when I opened it, it smelled so good.

Te cuidas y hasta luego!


Kaye's Heavenly Adventures said...

Hi Rolandito!
Thanks for the El Salvadorean coffee ha. Will let you know as soon as we tried it. Mukhang masarap!!!!

Rolandito said...

thanks momsie sa comment. maybe we can go on a coffee tour in tagaytay next time. :)