Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sarita's pupusas

When I go to the Grand Central Market, one of my favorite food stalls is Sarita's Pupuseria. Pupusas were first created by the native peoples of what is now the country of El Salvador. Artifacts for making pupusas have been found in some of that region's most ancient ruins.

The cook pinches off a piece of dough a bit smaller than a tennis ball. It's a simple dough made from masa de maiz, and the cook shapes it into a pouch with her hands. Then she puts in a tablespoon of filling - cheese, refried beans, chicharrones, or loroco, a Central American vine used as a vegetable. The cheese is a soft, white Salvadorean cheese similar to mozzarella. She seals the pouch shut, then claps the dough back and forth between her hands, until it's a disc about 5 inches round and a half inch thick. At Sarita's, when the cooks are making pupusas, you hear a sound like someone applauding the performance of an artist.

Pupusas are heated on a grill until done on both sides. They are served hot, with a scoop of curtido, a kind of pickled cabbage slaw-like relish, and a thin orangey hot sauce - they gave me a beaker full of it to pour on my plate.

This was my lunch, a pupusa with loroco and queso. Loroco is the chopped buds and flowers of a Central American vine Fernaldia pandurata. It has a bitter, pungent flavor, but only a bit goes into the pupusa, so it doesn't overpower.

At Sarita's there's a narrow counter with a deep blue formica countertop that curves around the back of the stall, and eight or so matching bar stools where you can eat and watch them make more pupusas. I used the knife and fork to cut it into pieces, with a bit of curtido to flavor each bite. I dipped into the hot sauce gingerly, hesitant to raise the heat level. The cheese was creamy and melted, and bits of green loroco was distributed evenly throughout. The masa gave the dough a faint grit on the tongue, and you could taste the corn flavor.

A guy sat down to eat his pupusa. He knew the cooks at Sarita's and joked with them while he ate. Instead of fussing with a knife and fork, like me, he tore a chunk of his pupusa and folded it round a bit of curtido, mopping up the orange sauce. I studied him carefully, and finally set my utensils aside - it's good to learn the right way to eat!


Vallen said...

I am lucky enough to work with lots of folks from Salvador who occasionally think of their gringa friend and bring me a fresh pupusa for breakfast. MMMM, que bueno!!

tinsenpup said...

Yum. They look great. I wonder if I could make those at home? Wonderful article too!

Woman in a Window said...

That looks delicious. I really appreciate your telling of it too, the process. Too bad up here all you can find are burgers and fries, poutine, and if you're lucky "Canadian Chinese" food. huhhhhhhh, not so good I'm afraid. A smattering of East Indian though if you're willing to drive 3-4 hours round trip.

sealaura said...

Great pictures and great post. As a Salvadoran, I am always happy to hear when people know what pupusas are and are willing to try them. I have found some pupuserias here in the IE of socal but I sure do miss living in LA where all you have to do is go down 3rd or wilshire.