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17 Traditional Salvadoran Dishes You’ll Love

Try Salvadoran cuisine with these favorite meals from El Salvador.

Salvadorean dishes come from the country of El Salvador. The cuisine in this area is eclectic, thanks to the impact of all of the indigenous groups from the area as well as the Spanish and Africans.

Pupusas From El Salvador With Curtido And Fresh Salsa

Some indigenous groups that contribute to the country’s food include Alaguilac, Mixe, Maya Poqomam, Lenca, and Cacaopera. 

As you read this list, you will see a few common ingredients. These ingredients include corn, pork, seafood, yuca, and spice mixes.

If you dive into Salvadorean food, you will discover that this cuisine will expose you to several different cooking techniques, including steaming, frying, roasting, and stewing. 

Usually, we pair our food with some kind of drink. One of the most traditional drinks in El Salvador is the horchata, which we will talk about in detail further ahead. Other options include Kolashanpan, a sugar-cane-flavored soda, and Minutas, which is a mix of shaved ice and syrup. 

Popular Salvadoran Foods

Read on to learn about some of the most popular Salvadoran foods.

Elote Loco 

Elote Loco is a version of traditional corn-based street food. While regular elote does have spices, cheese, and mayo, Elote Loco takes things up a notch.

Corn can trace its history back to the Aztecs, and it is a foundational component in many food cultures of the area. 

The dish consists of grilled or boiled corn covered in mayo, cotija cheese, and a lot of spice mix.

Sometimes, ground-up hot chips may replace the spice mix. Other toppings may include ketchup, mustard, lime, and salsa. The corn is often served on a stick to make it easier to eat.  


Panes Con Pavo 

When you need a hardy and portable lunch, Panes Con Pavo is a great choice.

This sandwich traditionally includes Turkey, salsa, pickled vegetables, and raw vegetables. Making this dish from scratch can be somewhat time-consuming, but the resulting sandwich is well worth it.

The sauce involves roasting vegetables, and you need to brush the turkey with sauce before roasting. 

This one is another dish that can trace its origins back to the Aztecs. This ancient group originated turkey farming long before colonizers arrived.

There are similar sandwiches containing different proteins, such as beef or chicken. Other Latin American sandwiches are also like Panes Con Pavo. 


Quesadilla Salvadoreña

If you are familiar with the sandwich-like quesadilla, you may be surprised to learn that Quesadilla Salvadoreña is more similar to bread or cake.

If you live near a Salvadorean bakery, you should be able to find it. However, this recipe is easy to make at home if you can not find a pre-made version. 

This sweet cheese bread is a delicious dessert or breakfast food that includes queso duro, milk, eggs, rice flour, sugar, sour cream, baking soda, butter, and sesame seeds.

If you can not find queso duro, parmesan is a decent substitute. 


Sopa de Pata

Sopa de Pata, also known as cow’s feet soup, is a warm and hearty soup that is a delicious choice if you want a robust dinner or lunch. This soup is a popular choice for Sunday meals. 

Besides the cow’s feet, this soup also can contain tripe, corn, cassava, chili, lime, lemon, plantains, scallion, and tomatoes.

The seasoning for the soup includes achiote seeds, oregano, and cilantro. Before you start making this soup, keep in mind that it can take quite a long time to prepare.

The feet and tripe require careful cleaning, and the compiled soup should cook for a long time. 


Atol de Elote 

Atol de Elote is a popular hot corn-based drink found throughout South and Central America.

It sometimes contains chocolate or pineapple. The drink commonly pairs with tamales or tostadas.

Like many items on this list, this drink has ancient origins. It goes back to at least the Mayan civilization. 

If you happen to be in Salvador or another country where this drink is popular, look for Atol de Elote.

This drink is easy to make at home, causing it to be ideal for special occasions and regular days alike.

To follow the typical recipe, you will need canned corn, evaporated milk, water, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. 


Yuca Frita 

Yuca Frita, also known as Yuca Fries is a dish consisting of deep-fried cassava root.

Like many other Salvadorean dishes, Yuca Frita is eaten with curtido, which is a pickled cabbage and carrot side.

It is also often topped with chicharron. You may also enjoy this dish as an accompaniment to meat dishes

Yuca is another ingredient that can trace its origin back to ancient civilizations. However, the root was likely not fried until Spain came to South and Central America.

Previously, to prepare yuca, you had to boil it. The texture and taste are very similar to the potato. However, it is slightly sweeter and firmer.  


Carne Asada 

Carne Asada is another well-known Salvadorean dish. It consists of grilled steak, which can be skirt steak or flank steak.

The meat may be marinated before it hits the grill. You can eat this meat on its own, in combination with a side like yuca fries, or as a component in a dish like tacos. 

The exact seasoning of Carne Asada may vary significantly. A marinade may include lime, salt, spice rubs, and lemon pepper.

The meats commonly chosen for this dish are often somewhat tough. As a result, you may need to marinate the meat for a long time or cut it very small. 


Arroz Con Leche 

Arroz Con Leche is a rice pudding that often has flavoring such as cinnamon, anise seed, and star anise.

It may often contain dried fruits, such as raisins. This food is one of the dishes on this list that may have Spanish or Moorish origins. It is one of several rice pudding dishes enjoyed across the world. 

There is some variation in this dish throughout South America and Central America. For example, Arroz Con Leche is sometimes made with eggs or different seasoning.

Besides the rice, seasoning, and raisins, the Salvadorean version also includes milk, water, sugar, butter, and salt. 


Casamiento

Casamiento may seem like simple rice and beans, but there is quite a bit more to this dish.

This one is another dish of which there are several versions around South and Central America.

Several cultures contribute to the synthesis of the basic beans and rice dishes. Indigenous groups provide beans, the Spanish produce rice, and the combination comes from Africa. 

This dish includes rice, red beans, bouillon, vegetable oil, onion, green pepper, and seasoning.

You can serve several items alongside the core beans and rice, including plantains, avocados, and eggs. It is very easy to make this dish ahead of time. 


Empanadas De Leche

Empanadas De Leche are small hand pies filled with milk custard.

The dough includes achiote, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, egg, vanilla, and cold butter.

The milk custard filling includes milk, orange zest, cinnamon, egg yolk, sugar, cornstarch, salt, and vanilla. When making these empanadas, you can also add plantains in addition to the custard. 

Empanadas have their origin in Spain and Portugal. They have been widely adopted by Latin American countries.

It is common to eat these empanadas with sides or sauces. Some empanadas may be baked, while others are fried. 


Curtido

Curtido is a pickled cabbage slaw commonly used as an accompaniment to Salvadoran dishes.

The exact recipe can vary slightly, but it usually includes cabbage, carrots, onions, lime juice, oregano, and other seasonings.

This dish is not particularly spicy, which means it is a great sharp flavor that can cut through fatty dishes. 

Dishes similar to Curtido exist throughout Latin America and the world. For example, kimchi, Encurtido, and quick-pickled vegetables are all related to Curtido.

This dish was likely created by the Pipil tribe along with the pupusa. 


Enchiladas

This dish is somewhat different from several other enchiladas that you may find throughout Latin America.

If you are familiar with Mexican cuisine, you might think it looks somewhat like a Mexican tostada.

Salvadorean Enchiladas are a tasty treat that consists of a fried tortilla, beans, guacamole, ground beef, curtido, salsa, and hard-boiled egg slices. 

While you can find these enchiladas at a Salvadorean restaurant near you, this is also a particularly easy-to-make dish at home.

You can also easily change up the ingredients if you want. Like many other corn-based dishes, the enchilada can be traced to the Mayans.  


Gallo En Chicha

Gallo En Chicha is a chicken dish in which the meat cooks in a fermented corn drink.

Technically, this dish is supposed to be made with a rooster, but chicken will do if you do not have access to a rooster. This dish is often made for celebrations or holidays. 

There are a few different types of chicha, including corn beer and non-alcoholic options. If you do not have access to those beverages, you can make this dish with fruit vinegar and brown sugar.

Gallo En Chicha includes white wine, onions, garlic, red pepper, pork ribs, lime juice, prunes, raisins, and other seasonings. This dish is often served with yuca or rice. 


Lomo Relleno

Lomo Relleno is pork, or beef loin rolled around fillings such as vegetables, eggs, mushrooms, bacon, and spices.

Serve this dish with items such as yuca, beans and rice, curtido, and rice. Since this is a somewhat special, and time-consuming dish, it often gets served for holidays and celebrations. 

This dish may have European origins, given its similarity to the French roulade.

There are several different versions of this dish throughout Latin America. For example, Argentina has its Matambre Relleno.  


Pupusas

Pupusas are perhaps some of the most well-known Salvadorean foods.

These are at least 1,000 years old, and they originated with the Pipil. They are one of the items on this list that will likely be easiest for you to find near you. 

These delicious fried tortillas can be stuffed with anything, including cheese, beans, pork, loroco, or mushrooms.

The dish is traditionally eaten with tomato salsa and a curtido, which is a pickled cabbage salad. 

Look for pupusas at your local pupuseria. They are also fairly simple to make at home!

The tortilla itself may be rice-based or corn-based. Pupusas can be eaten at any time of day as a full meal or simply as a snack. 


Tamales pisques

Tamales are a common dish throughout Latin America. The Salvadorean version, tamales pisques, features a refried bean filling wrapped in a corn masa mixture.

While some varieties of tamales steam in corn husks, this variety gets wrapped in banana or plantain leaves. 

While you may be able to find these tamales at your local Salvadorean restaurant, this dish can be hard to find. Luckily, you can make these in your kitchen.

They do take a bit of work. So, it is ideal to make a day of it. These tamales are often a popular choice around special occasions or holidays


Horchata

Horchata is a drink that includes rice milk and cinnamon. It is a beverage found throughout Latin America.

There are several variations of this drink, though it usually has the same base. The Salvadorean version also goes by the name of semilla de jicaro or Morro Horchata. 

This version is a bit different because it contains jicaro seeds, and it can include cocoa, sesame seeds, tiger nuts, peanuts, and cashews.

Horchata is a refreshing beverage that is a great way to cleanse your palate after eating spicy foods. Toasting all the components can take some time, but the result is worth it. 


Popular Salvadoran Foods

  1. Elote Loco 
  2. Panes Con Pavo
  3. Quesadilla Salvadoreña
  4. Sopa de Pata
  5. Atol de Elote
  6. Yuca Frita 
  7. Carne Asada 
  8. Arroz Con Leche 
  9. Casamiento
  10. Empanadas De Leche
  11. Curtido
  12. Enchiladas
  13. Gallo En Chicha
  14. Lomo Relleno
  15. Pupusas
  16. Tamales pisques
  17. Horchata

Final Thoughts

Salvadorean food is complex, comforting, and delicious.

The next time you are looking for something to fulfill your cravings, consider buying or making one of the items on this list. If you are visiting El Salvador soon, now you know which foods to look for. 

However you experience this food, consider the centuries of history and development that each dish is the result of.

Take note of the ingredients regularly used in this cuisine, as well as the way that Salvadoran cuisine relates to food in other parts of Central America and South America. 

Learn about other food cultures, like traditional Turkish dishes or even Mexican breakfast favorites you should try.

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.