Just over a mile from the airport outside San Salvador you will find a tiny village ripe with what many would call the national snack of the Central American country, El Salvador–the pupusa. In the village of Olocuilta little shops sell these masa harina cakes, which are filled with any combination of beans, cheese, pork, yucca, shrimp, loroco, or squash.
There are so many shops selling the pupusa in San Salvador, “the competition is great so the prices are very low,” explains, Eduardo Ventura, the manager of Pupusas Mama Tia in East Dallas on Buckingham, which is owned by his family. “You can find pupusas for 25 cents a piece.”
This major pupusa Mecca is where you can find people of all backgrounds scurrying to find the perfect pupusa as they watch the women of the village crank out dozens of these little pockets of flavor. Olocuilta distinguishes itself by also offering a special rice flour pupusa that is made only with beans and cheese, along with the traditional corn flour version that has unlimited possibilities for ingredients.
“Every Salvadoran knows about Olocuilta,” Ventura adds, “it is very popular even with tourists”.
All pupusas are traditionally served with a curtido, a slightly fermented cabbage salad that is crunchy and dressed with vinegar. The salad is generally combined with carrots and onions, and sometimes red chiles. Since the pupusas are served piping hot off the griddle, the curtido acts as a cooling agent to take the edge off the molten queso fresco.
Dallas has growing pockets of Salvadoran immigrants who can be found in Carrollton, Irving and Garland, making these spots the happy hunting grounds for locating a fine pupusa. We set out to find some of the very best for you to enjoy.
Mama Tita Pupusa | 1480 W Buckingham Rd, Garland
What makes the savory dish so delectable is the fresh made-to-order by hand meat and cheese filled masa disk, which is thick and brimming with your choice of fillings.The griddle marks are signs of its flavor, along with the fastidious and expert nature of the pupusa maker. Ventura mentioned that when he goes out to play futbol in Irving everyone calls him Mama Tita since he is often associated with his family’s restaurant. This might be considered fighting words, but the largish Ventura assured me that it made him proud to be associated with the popular dish.
The pupusa that Ventura makes is every bit as delicious as you will find in Dallas. Mama Tita’s has a bit more char marks from the grill, but still a buttery exterior. The slight char lends a dimension of flavor, making this one of the most difficult challenges I have encountered in Toque history.There has to be a winner, right? Well, the only winner today was Toque itself and our happy belly.
Michoacan Tortas y Pupusas | 3030 N Josey, Carrollton
Unlike the name might imply, Michoacan has little to do with the coastal Mexican state and is owned by Salvadoran immigrants. The English spoken at the tiny eatery is sparse, and it is located off Josey Lane not too far north of the George Bush. Fellow food enthusiasts will note it’s the same shopping center as Hong Kong Royal, one of the better dim sum finds in the Dallas area. The menu at Michoacan is fairly vast, offering daily fish specials, tortas, hamburguesas, and of course, our coveted pupusa. Very little served at the tiny mom and pop shop can be considered expensive by any standard. Here you will find plenty of pupusas, we enjoyed the chicharon, as well as enchiladas and tortas as the name would imply. The Cuban torta is extremely delicious.
The most common and popular is the revueltas pupusa, which contains queso blanco that has been thoroughly mixed with chicharon. In the Mexican world, you would equate chicharon with the skin of the pig, that when fried, makes chicharones. But in El Salvador, chicharon is a term for pork that has been cooked down to a tenderness loaded with flavor.The pork is then mashed and mixed with the cheese, then dolloped onto a mass of masa and formed into the rounded patties that are the pupusa.
Our pupusas came steaming within a few minutes along with the requisite side of curtido. This salad had some mild red chiles, but was cool enough to take the sear off the flaming hot but expertly made pupusa. The exterior is buttery, crisp and pliable with the extreme heat of the filling. The owner Ramone said when we come back he could make any pupusa, even if it’s not on the menu.
Market Latina Restaurant | 9753 Webb Chapel Rd, Dallas
Located on Webbs Chapel in Dallas there is actually no market as the name would imply. However the restaurant serves some delicious Salvadoran cuisine. We are talking classic Salvadoran cuisine including grilled chicken, those special Salvadoran tamales (made with banana leaves and a creamy texture masa), pupusas, and those delicious grilled plantains. English is a struggle at this restaurant, so this is a perfect place to exercise your high school Spanish. The point and smile method also works very well. The pupusas are plump with a great smoky bite, and the tortillas are obviously handmade almost to the thickness of the pupusas.
Rainbow Ice Cream Shop | 446 Webbs Chapel Extension, Dallas
With a name like Rainbow Ice Cream shop you might expect for them to serve large scoops of ice cream, probably in both cup and cone form, and most assuredly with choices of toppings. This little shop has that. But there is more. Owned by Mexican transplants, they offer up beautiful sliced fruits of all sorts, proudly displayed in a deli case. During our visit, patrons marched in proudly and snatched these cups of fruit up and sat down with their families to enjoy the healthy snack.
Some choices for fillings at Rainbow Ice Cream Shop include Asado de Puerco en Chile Rojo (a stewed pork in red chile sauce), Chicharron (spicy pork skin), Desebrada (pulled pork), Piccadillo (ground beef and potato) and Rajas (strips of roasted peppers and cheese). Expect to be there a while before the order is complete, but you might be lucky enough to be serenaded by the owner. This is a slice of enjoyment that was unexpected but appreciated.
Tienda La Campina Salvadorena | 1408 W Davis St, Oak Cliff
Possibly the best pupuseria we have in the Dallas area. Scads of pupusas, tamales and much more to choose from, all perfectly hand-made. You will also find Marañon Juice. Marañon is a fruit whose shape and color assimilates that of a red pepper. It has a peculiar acid and sweet taste, but it is utilized by Salvadoreans to make a wonderful juice. According to Salvadorean culture, Marañon juice is “The Juice of Memory”, because “it speeds up your brain activity“. This wonderful drink also has a high amount of vitamin C and energy.
You will enjoy platillos of fajitas, tacos, bistek, and sopa mariscos which is a lovely broth power-packed with seafood including shrimp, crab, fish and rice. Delicious. They also serve one hell of a breakfast. If there in the morning grab a plate called Campestre which is loaded with everything you will need to start your day. Oh, pineapple empanadas!
Make Your Own Pupusa At Home
Pupusas are traditionally made by slapping the dough back and forth between well greased palms. A tortilla press is quicker and easier for beginners.
Makes 4 or 5 pupusas
Masa harina — 2 cups
Warm water — 1 cup
Filling (see variations) — 1 cup
In a large bowl, mix together the masa harina and water and knead well. Work in more water, one tablespoonful at a time, if needed, to make a moist yet firm dough. A ball of the masa should not crack at the edges when you press down on it. Cover the masa and set aside to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
On a clean, smooth surface, roll the dough into a log and cut it into 8 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball.
Press an indentation in each ball with your thumb. Put about 1 tablespoon of desired filling into each indentation and fold the dough over to completely enclose it. Press the ball out with your palms to form a disc, taking care that that the filling doesn’t spill out.
Line a tortilla press with plastic and press out each ball to about 5 or 6 inches wide and about 1/4-inch thick. If you don’t have a tortilla press, place the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap or wax paper and roll it out with a rolling pin.
Heat a well greased skillet over medium-high flame. Cook each pupusa for about 1 to 2 minutes on each side, until lightly browned and blistered. Remove to a plate and hold warm until all pupusas are done. Serve with curtido and salsa roja.
Pupusas de Queso: Fill the pupusa with grated cheese. Use grated quesillo, queso fresco, farmer’s cheese, mozzarella, Swiss cheese or a combination of two or more. Add some minced green chile for a bit of a kick.
Pupusas de Chicharrones: These pupusas are filled with chopped chicharrones, or ground, cooked pork, and mixed with a a little tomato sauce. A reasonable facsimile can be made by pulsing 1 cup of cooked bacon with a little bit of tomato sauce in a food processor.
Pupusas de Frijoles Refritos: Use either black or red refried beans.
Pupusas Revueltas: A tasty mix of chicharrones, cheese and refried beans. Revueltas means roughly “mixed up” in Spanish.
Pupusas de Queso y Loroco: A filling of cheese and a tropical vine flower, called loroco. Loroco can be found in jars at many Latin markets.
Other Fillings: Try cooked, chopped potatoes or finely minced and sauteed jalapeño peppers.
Pupusas de Arroz: Rice pupusas are a variety of pupusa that uses rice flour instead of corn masa.