The culinary traditions are the result of a blend of Spanish and Indigenous influences, with maize and pork being commonly used ingredients. Because the country has an extensive coastline, seafood features heavily in El Salvador cuisine, too. Meanwhile, soups (sopas) and stews (caldos) are extremely popular in the country, especially sopa de pata. From pupusas to fried yucca, here are the best foods to try in El Salvador.
Breakfasts in El Salvador typically include an assortment of Salvadoran food, such as eggs scrambled with vegetables (huevos picados), cheese, fried plantains (platanos fritos), mashed beans, and tortillas. Fresh tropical fruits like mango, pineapple, and banana are also common accompaniments. If you prefer an international option like toast and pancakes, they also serve these breakfast items in most restaurants.
Dishes commonly served in El Salvador include:
Pupusas: Thick corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, meat, squash, and/or other fillings. They are served with a sour sort of cabbage salad and homemade tomato sauce on top. They are classified as El Salvador’s national dish.
Empanadas: Flour pastries filled with meat, potatoes, and/or cheese. In El Salvador, “empanadas” can also refer to a dessert: fried plantains stuffed with sweet cream. The salty ones are usually served with homemade tomato sauce.
Tamales: Boiled pockets of corn dough, stuffed with meat or sweet corn and served in banana leaves. Each country has a different recipe so a tamale from El Salvador may be different from a tamale in Mexico. Some tamales are cooked while wrapped in a corn husk, but in El Salvador, they cook the tamales in a banana leaf.
Sopa de Pata: A popular soup made from corn, plantains, tripe, and cow’s feet.
Snacks and Sides
These foods either accompany some of the main ingredients of a meal or are used alone as a snack:
Yuca frita: Fried yucca, often served with chicharron (deep-fried pork cracklings).
Pacaya planta: Palm flowers breaded in cornmeal, fried, and served with tomato sauce.
Platanos fritos: Deep-fried plantains.
Curtido: A spicy, vinegar-based condiment made from cabbage, carrots, and other veggies. It is much like sauerkraut.
Save room for dessert when you are dining in El Salvador. Options include:
Tres Leches Cake (Pastel de Tres Leches): A cake soaked in three kinds of milk: evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and cream.
Pastelitos: Pastry turnovers, stuffed with sweets like custard, jam, or caramelized fruit.
Semita: Pastry filled with guava or pineapple jam.
The most popular El Salvador beer is Pilsener. Characteristic non-alcoholic beverages in El Salvador include Kolashampan, a sugarcane-flavored soda; tamarind juice; horchata, a sweet herb- and spice-based Salvadoran drink; and ensalada (“salad”), a drinkable blend of finely chopped tropical fruits.
Dining in El Salvador
Other great (and extremely inexpensive) places to try El Salvador food are street carts and open-air markets. If you’re not on a budget, there are plenty of mid-range to upscale restaurants in big cities like San Salvador, and in El Salvador’s touristy coastal regions.
Salvadoran food is varied, delicious, and fast in its own right. However, U.S. citizens hungry for American fast food can even find it in restaurant franchises like Pizza Hut, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Subway in some of El Salvador’s largest cities. In turn, pupuserias and other El Salvador cuisine restaurants are cropping up in the U.S.