Can't wait to try some delicious Salvadoran food? Continue reading to find out about 21 traditional foods to try during your travels in El Salvador.
El Salvador has a long history, starting with the Pipil and Lenca people of Mesoamerican times. Later, they were colonized by Spain.
This mix of cultures has had an influence on their food. And of course, the tropical climate affects which fruits and vegetables can be grown there.
Below you will find a list of some of the most popular main dishes to be found in El Salvador.
15 Salvadoran Main and Side Dishes
El Salvador is known as “the Land of Volcanoes.” It's the smallest country in Central America and the only one without a Caribbean Coastline.
But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in culture, archeology, natural beauty, and amazing Salvadoran dishes. So let's dig in.
1. Sopa de Pata
Also known as Caldo de Pata, this hearty soup is made using cow's feet and tripe. Salvadorans are known for being resourceful and making good use of what they have, which is evident in this popular soup.
Local vegetables are also used in this soup, including chayote (belonging to the gourd family), corn, yuca, and tomatoes.
To bring flavor to the dish, oregano, cilantro, and achiote may be added. Achiote is a spice that gives the soup a nice reddish-orange color.
2. Yuca con Chicharrón
This dish is one of the most popular in El Salvador. It is also found in many other Central American Countries.
The base is yuca (also known as cassava in other parts of the world). The yuca is either boiled or fried.
The Chicharrón component of this meal is fried crispy pork bits. Yuca con Chicharrón is usually served with a cabbage salad, fresh salsa, and hot sauce.
3. Empañadas de Frijol
This sweet and savory pastry is made from a plantain-based dough, filled with refried beans.
The outside is sprinkled with sugar, and sometimes cinnamon.
4. Tamales Pisques
There are many versions of the humble tamale, but this version is made with seasoned corn masa (dough), and refried beans.
They are steamed and served in plantain leaves, which can also double as a plate if you are on the run.
In some countries, enchiladas are like rolled-up burritos covered in sauce. But that is not the case in El Salvador. Rather, it is a flat and crispy tortilla that is piled high with fresh and yummy toppings.
Toppings may include refried beans, crumbly cheese, tomatoes, avocados, sour cream, hot sauce, and a hard-boiled egg.
6. Elote Loco
Literally meaning “Crazy Corn,” Elote Loco is a popular snack frequently sold by street vendors. An entire corn on the cob is either boiled or grilled.
It's topped with condiments like mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, Salsa Negra (a black garlic sauce), and crumbled cheese, and then served on a stick.
Here's a soup for the seafood lover. Depending on who prepares this dish, it may contain lobster, clams, shrimp, octopus, and/or a variety of fish.
The broth usually contains tomatoes, onions, and garlic. It can also be creamy (Mariscada con Crema).
8. Cangrejo Azul en Alguashte
Cangrejo Azul is Spanish for Blue Crab, and Alguashte is a popular seasoning made from ground pumpkin seeds.
In this dish, the Alguashte is added to the broth of the seafood to make a nice soup. Tomatoes, green peppers, and onions round out this dish.
9. Pollo en Alguashte
This soup is similar to number 8, but in place of the crab, chicken is used. Again, the broth is prepared using ground pumpkin seeds as a base.
10. Pipianes en Crema
The Pipian is a squash grown in Central America with a mild and delicate flavor (similar to a zucchini).
To make this side dish, thinly slice the Pipian, and sauté along with onions and tomatoes. Add butter and cream, along with salt and pepper for seasoning, to make it rich and creamy.
A traditional dish that dates to pre-colonial times, Riguas are thin cakes made from fresh corn, and cooked in banana leaves.
Riguas can be eaten plain, or to sweeten things up, try them sprinkled with sugar and topped with cream.
Pupusas are considered the national dish of El Salvador, and for good reason. Historical evidence shows that this Salvadoran food has been around for at least 1,400 years!
The best way that I can describe Pupusas is that they are small corn-flour flatbreads stuffed with goodness. I love them so much that I learned how to make them at home.
Some of the yummy fillings that you can use are cheese, refried beans, chicken, chicharrón pork, and Loroco flowers (a plant grown in Central America).
To balance out the heaviness of the Pupusa, it is topped with curtido (a pickled cabbage salad).
13. Gallo en Chicha
Gallo en Chicha is a traditional chicken dish, more specifically, a rooster (gallo) dish.
It has a sweet and sour flavor that comes from cooking the chicken in fermented juice.
Rumor has it that this dish is usually consumed on Mondays, using the loser of the Cock Fight from the night before.
14. Mango Verde
Mangoes are sweet, juicy, and delicious when they are ripe. But Mango Verde makes use of the firm unripe fruit.
It's cut into slices and flavored with salt, lemon, and chili pepper. For a truly authentic Salvadorian snack, try them sprinkled with Alguashte (made from ground pumpkin seeds).
How do you eat a mango?
15. Chiles Rellenos
If you're in want of a hearty and scrumptious meal, look no further. Chiles Rellenos are grilled Poblano Peppers stuffed with cooked ground meat, rice, and cheese.
The peppers are then coated in batter and deep-fried.
More reading 22 Nicaraguan Foods to Try.
3 El Salvadoran Drinks
With all of this amazing Salvadoran food, you'll need something to drink. Here are a few options to try during your time in El Salvador.
1. Atol (or Atole)
Atol is a drink of Mesoamerican origins made from corn and served hot. There are many variations of this drink in El Salvador. Here are a few (there are many more):
- Atol de Elote: This one is made with corn, milk, cinnamon, and sugar.
- Atol de Piñuela: This thick drink is made using rice flour, cinnamon, sugar, cloves, and Piñuela fruit. The Piñuela plant is a Bromeliad and shaped like a pineapple plant, but the fruit is uniquely different.
- Atol Shuco: Often made from purple or black fermented corn, with the addition of Alguashte (ground pumpkin seeds).
2. Fresco de Cebada
The name can be confusing. Cebada means barley, and barley flour was once used to thicken this drink. However, rice or wheat flour is now more commonly used.
Cinnamon, sugar, and vanilla give flavor. While strawberry extract makes it pink.
This drink is served cold. Street vendors will often sell it in a plastic baggie with a straw. You can also buy a prepared powder from the store and just add milk or water.
This cold drink is made from roasting a variety of seeds, rice, and spices.
The predominant seed used in El Salvador is Morro (or Jicaro). Sesame seeds, peanuts, cocoa beans, and squash seeds may also become part of the mixture, along with cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.
After roasting all of the ingredients separately, they are combined and ground into a fine powder. Cold milk (or water) is then added, and also vanilla, and sugar. The liquid is then strained through a cheesecloth for a smooth and nutritious drink.
3 Desserts Worth Trying in El Salvador
If you have a sweet tooth, here are a few items to add to your must-try list.
Here's another food with a name that means one thing in one country, and something very different in another.
In El Salvador, Quesadilla is a sweet cake made with rice flour, sugar, lots and lots of dairy, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.
It's often eaten alongside a black coffee for breakfast, or as a mid-morning snack. Because of this, you'll find vendors in the streets and marketplaces selling it early in the day.
These traditional small donuts are often prepared as a treat during the Easter season. Other Latin American countries make a similar snack called buñuelos.
A popular variety in El Salvado is Nuegados de Yuca. They are made with yuca flour, eggs, and cheese. After being deep-fried, they are topped with sugar and cinnamon syrup.
3. Dulce de Chilacayote
Chilacayote is a type of squash.
To make this dessert, it is sliced and soaked in lime juice for 8 hours. Then it is boiled in sugar water until it reduces and becomes caramelized.
It comes from a vegetable, so it must be healthy, right?
More reading 25 Bolivian Foods.
Do you have a favorite El Salvadorian dish, drink, or dessert? Or, after reading this list, is there one that you want to try? Let me know in the comment section.
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Hello, I'm Diane Diegor. I'm a travel and nature enthusiast. I love learning about other cultures, and tasting their food.