The most interesting thing about El Salvador gastronomy is the evident presence of ancestral traditions in it. It works from very natural ingredients that are combined to give shape to dishes full of flavor.
Although little known, Salvadoran gastronomy manages to fuse the culture of corn with that of foreign peoples in delicious recipes that awaken the senses. It has a seal of ancestry and identity that is updated day by day.
The irregularity of its surface favors the climatic diversity that, together with soils of volcanic origin, allows for a great variety of excellent-quality foods. Many of them shape the daily recipes of the Salvadoran diet.
Among the most common products are corn, beans, rice, yucca, a great variety of meats, fruits, and vegetables. For these people, food means a daily reunion with their customs and history.
Salvadoran cuisine has an extensive variety of recipes, most of which are autochthonous. Also, many of them are the result of mixtures with gastronomies such as Spanish, Italian, or North American.
Corn plays such an important role in the country’s culture that festivals are held in its honor during the second half of each year. So, if you are interested in the gastronomy of this town, this is an opportunity to get to know Salvadoran food.
Let’s get to know in this article 21 typical foods from El Salvador.
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Pupusas are the most representative dish of Salvadoran cuisine. Pupusas are very easy to find on the streets or in restaurants throughout the country. They are like tortillas similar to Mexican gorditas but thicker and made with corn or rice, ingredients with which the dough is prepared.
Once cooked, they are opened and filled with beans, ground pork rinds, cheese, shrimp, or any other available ingredient.
The most popular pupusas are the “vueltas” filled with chicharrón, cheese, and beans. All are accompanied by natural tomato sauce and pickles prepared with cabbage, carrots, grated onion, and chili; all soaked in vinegar.
Tamales are not only part of the typical foods of El Salvador, they are also among the typical dishes of Mexico and other Central American countries.
The dough is prepared with corn and various spices that give them their delicious flavor. Individual portions are made and filled with pork, duck, or chicken and natural tomato sauce. Before cooking in boiling water, they are wrapped in banana leaves.
Salvadoran tamales are:
The corn dough is filled with beans and cheese. No meat is used.
Tamales de Chipilín
They are prepared with the traditional corn dough to which chipilín, a typical plant that gives them a distinctive flavor, is added. When serving, tomato sauce with a touch of spice is poured on top.
Tamales de maíz
This type of tamale is made with corn kernels when the cob is still tender. Cream, milk, lard, and sometimes sugar instead of salt are added to the dough.
These tamales are wrapped in corn husks, not banana leaves.
3. Yuca frita o salcochada (fried or boiled yucca/cassava)
Fried yucca is a very popular typical dish in El Salvador. Although it is not considered as a complete meal as such but as a “snack” or appetizer. It is quite common to find stalls where they sell yucca already prepared to taste it, especially in some places such as popular markets. Yucca can also be found or bought in the markets to prepare it at home, and it can also be prepared in different ways: fried or boiled.
Either of these two ways of preparation can be accompanied by an infinity of ingredients, which can be: Chicharrones, pepescas (small dried fish), tomato sauce, curtido, tomato, cucumber in short almost everything, you just need to have creativity to combine any flavor with this delicious dish since with most ingredients it tastes great.
4. Sopa de pata (Cow hoof soup)
This is a soup so popular and in high demand in El Salvador it is also known as Sopa de mondongo or sopa de puya salvadoreña. You can find it in the best restaurants of traditional food even in municipal markets. There is no excuse to taste one of the best typical recipes of El Salvador.
It is a hearty broth as its name says it is made from the legs of beef with parts of the intestine and fresh vegetables that make this soup one of the most popular in Salvadoran cuisine.
The Salvadoran Sopa de pata is a tradition, you can savor it on a Sunday lunch to take away that discomfort caused by a night of drinking. That is why it is one of the most consumed Salvadoran soups at the end of the year or simply delight yourself with a unique Salvadoran food dish.
When served, jalapeño peppers in small pieces, onion, and cilantro are added. A few drops of lime will give it a more exotic flavor.
Salpicón is another typical food from El Salvador. It is prepared with cooked beef cut into very small pieces, to which mint, onion, chopped radishes, salt, and lemon are added. In a variant of salpicón, beef is replaced by rabbit meat.
6. Panes con gallina (Chicken Sandwich)
Typical food of El Salvador also known as “panes migueleños”, because it is traditionally eaten in the eastern part of the country where the Department of San Miguel is located.
They are prepared from a long flour bread that is filled with lettuce, watercress, tomato, and cucumber. Although it is not part of the main ingredients, it can also include pickled vegetables.
Portions of hen meat are placed on top of the vegetables and at the moment of eating, they are bathed with natural tomato sauce.
Atoles are one of the typical foods of El Salvador and there are several types. They are thick and are eaten hot.
They are prepared with corn, cashew seeds, roasted corn, and pineapple. The most famous of all is the atol shuco, one made from fermented corn, water, and alhuashte, the powder obtained by grinding ayote seeds.
Also prepared is chilate, an atol made from corn, ginger, and hot pepper. They are made to accompany sweet dishes.
8. Sopa de mariscada (seafood soup)
Soup with one or more seafood and fish heads that are initially boiled in water with tomatoes, onions, green chili, cilantro, pepper, and salt.
Once this broth is ready, seafood such as clams, octopus, crabs, squid, shrimp, and shrimp broth is added. Let it cook until it is ready.
When serving, cilantro and chopped chives are added on top, along with a splash of lime juice. If you like, you can also add a little milk cream.
Gallo en chicha is a meal to celebrate children’s births, graduations, and other events. The dish has rooster or chicken meat that is cooked in a chicha prepared with pineapple (including the pulp and shells), plantain (with all and shell), corn, and sweet panela that gives it a characteristic strong flavor. You could compare or say that it is the local version of Coq-au-vin. Like many Salvadoran recipes, this one is an exotic mix of European influences and Salvadoran ingredients and cooking traditions, resulting in a good dish.
The dish is consumed in most parts of the country but has a greater presence in the central and western parts of El Salvador. The dish is consumed in both rural and urban areas; usually made for special occasions or celebrations, such as holidays or birthdays for example. This is because the dish is very complicated to prepare, and it takes a lot of time and ingredients, making it a great cooking process, and at the same time a dish that cannot be enjoyed every day.
10. Arroz negrito
One of the typical foods of El Salvador that can be eaten alone or accompanied by the salpicón.
Arroz negrito is obtained by cooking the rice in the broth of the black beans, without including the grains.
Salvadorans accompany it with any type of meat or combined with the salpicón as in San Vicente. In any case, a pickle is added at the moment of serving.
Soup prepared with a Creole or “Indian” hen (raised in the backyards of the houses).
The bird is cooked with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and chilies and boiled until its meat softens. Add potatoes, chopped carrots, and chufles and season the broth with aromatic herbs such as mint and cilantro. Let it cook until the vegetables are ready and serve it with some chopped coriander on top.
12. Yuca con chicharrón (yucca with pork rinds)
Yucca with chicharrón is one of the easiest dishes to prepare in El Salvador.
One of its most attractive components is chirmol, a sauce of tomatoes, onion, and spicy green chili cut in small pieces, to which salt, pepper, and vinegar are added.
The yucca must be cooked first in boiling water and then fried in oil. The chicharrones are placed on it and everything is bathed with the chirmol sauce.
13. Sopa de cangrejo (crab soup)
The Salvadoran crab is one of the richest in flavors and for this reason, it is used to elaborate one of the typical meals of El Salvador: crab soup.
In addition to the crustacean, the recipe includes carrots, potatoes, plantains, and indispensable spices to obtain the desired result.
Cilantro along with tomatoes is mandatory to give Salvadoran crab soup that special touch that makes it unique.
When serving, add some chopped cilantro and a splash of lime juice.
14. Buñuelos con miel (Fritters with honey)
Buñuelos con miel is a typical food from El Salvador that can be eaten as lunch, snack, or dinner.
They are prepared from a dough made with cooked yucca to which eggs, a touch of salt, and some sugar are added. They are made into little balls that are fried in oil and at the moment of serving they are bathed with honey.
An excellent companion to enjoy these delicious fritters is chilate.
Chilate is one of the most traditional drinks in the rich gastronomy of El Salvador. It is usually served as something to drink in the evenings although it is also drunk as an accompaniment to some dishes.
Normally in El Salvador chilate is usually taken in the chilatería and where it is served very hot prepared with a corn base. It is made with toasted dye, cocoa, and chili, although it can also contain anise, ginger, pepper, and cinnamon.
16. Nuégados (Yucca or corn dumplings)
Another sweet dessert among the typical foods of El Salvador. They are dumplings of yucca or corn fried in abundant oil or lard, that when serving are bathed with honey prepared with panela.
The yucca ones are prepared with yucca, cheese, and egg. On the other hand, the corn ones (also known as masa) are made with corn flour -the same used for tortillas- baking powder, butter, and/or margarine. Egg whites and yolks, baking powder, baking soda, and bread flour are used for the egg ones. All the nuégados pass through oil to be able to taste their crunchy flavor.
Although the nuégados cannot be missing. And although we do not doubt that some prefer to eat them without the extra and special ingredient, most guanacos cannot conceive a nuégado without its perfect ally: honey.
This honey is made with panela, dulce de atado as many call it, and contains hints of cinnamon. A nuégado is probably not the healthiest option as a mid-afternoon snack, but do not doubt that at 3 p.m., accompanied by a cup of coffee or atole, it will go down well in any stomach.
17. Hojuelas (fried dough disks)
Flakes are a traditional snack that accompanies the celebration of the Day of the Dead, every November 2. In the days around, it is common for Salvadorans to go to cemeteries to honor their loved ones and also taste this typical Salvadoran dish.
They are flat and crunchy doughs (because they are fried) made with wheat flour. They can reach up to 35 centimeters long. At the moment of serving, they are covered with honey prepared with dulce de panela.
In the last few years, this dish has also been offered by food chains in the country.
18. Jocotes en miel (prunes in honey)
Dessert traditionally prepared for Easter is also popular in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.
The jocotes or ciruelas de huesito, as they are also known, are cooked in a syrup made with dulce de panela, and cloves and cinnamon are added.
They are boiled until the syrup has the desired consistency and after cooling, they are eaten.
19. Salvadoran Minutas (shaved ice dessert)
Minutas are a refreshing dessert consisting of shaved ice bathed in syrups flavored with strawberry, pineapple, vanilla, lemon, orange, and many others.
They are sold everywhere in El Salvador in the streets by the “minuteros” (meaning the man who sells minutes). Minuteros can be identified as easily as the gentlemen pushing an old wooden cart, with a bunch of bottles filled with different colored syrups and plastic caps with a tip so that the syrup can be easily sprayed on the ice.
The minutero also carries in his cart a large plastic-wrapped ice block, which is surrounded by salt, so that the ice does not melt quickly because of the hot sun and heat. A minutero can not hold this title if he does not have the ice scraper in his hand, which is a piece of metal with which he scrapes the block and which also serves to put the scraped ice in the serving cup. Once there is shaved glass in the cup, then comes the turn of the client to ask the minutero what he wants his minuta, then the minutero generously sprinkles the shaved ice with the chosen syrups.
20. Licor de Nance (Nance liqueur)
This typical drink of El Salvador is made with the fruits of the nance tree, a typical plant of Central America and Mexico.
If very ripe fruits are used, the liqueur will have a very sweet flavor with a touch of acidity. Nance has a quite marked and characteristic odor.
As with all handmade beverages, the longer it is made, the better the nance wine or liqueur will taste.
21. Sopa de frijoles (Bean soup)
The traditional soup of El Salvador only requires the fundamental base, red beans, water, and just a little salt. Despite this, if you want to invest more you can add from vegetables to red meat.
Bean soup is a highly nutritional dish as it provides large amounts of iron. If you add more ingredients, this becomes a source of vitamins for anyone who requires extra nutrients to withstand the wear and tear of everyday life “mainly strengthening the blood”. And most importantly, since it is very low in fat, you don’t have to worry about gaining weight.
The preparation of Bean Soup is very versatile, you can spend little time and money or a lot, it all depends on the resources available.
I’m Maria and I love cooking—and mostly EATING—food from all around the world. I’ve been sharing my abuela’s secret Latin-American recipes for the last 7 years with the world on this blog. I’ve been a full-time food blogger for many years and I’m always trying new delicious meals that don’t require a culinary degree or a Michelin-star chef. I also love traveling, cats, and knitting.