Hola, old friends

Pupusas de chorizo y queso

Last summer while spending a couple of months in San Francisco, I discovered pupusas, a Salvadoran pancake-like corn tortilla stuffed with delicious cheese and meat fillings. I was in love right away and wonderered how I managed to grow up in Miami, a melting pot of every country in the world but especially those of Central and South America, without ever having one. I’m still not sure, but on mylast trip to Miami, I was eager to try them again, especially since I hadn’t had any since my days in California.

Lucky for me, my sister and I seemed to be on the same wavelenght the day she picked up the beau and I from the airport, because she took us to a restaurant in Little Havana called El Atlacatl, specializing in the cuisine of El Salvador.

My sister was all about me trying the tamales there, which I’ll get into in a moment, but when I saw pupusas on the menu, that’s what I wanted. ASAP.

Tamal de gallina

And they didn’t disappoint. Savory in that salty, grainy cornmealy way that I remembered, they were just the right amount of soft and doughy with a flavorful, filling of chorizo and cheese. I don’t know anything about El Salvador but I’ve made up my mind that I’d love to visit. Any country where I could eat pupusas as much as I wanted seems like a damn fine place to me.

So about those tamales… my sister, who shares not only my DNA but my voracious round-the-clock apetite, really nailed it when she suggested them. Unlike pupusas, I’ve eaten tamales my whole life and still eat them in New York. (Thank you Trader Joe’s for your variety of ethnic eats.) But the tamales we had at El Atlacatl were some of the best I can remember. First we had a tamal de gallina, a wonderfully plump, steaming hot tamale stuffed with tender, juicy hen meat, like pulled pork. Every bite was subtly sweet from the corn dough used in the tamales and savory and hearty from the delicious meat inside.

Tamal de elote

But as good as that one was— and let me tell you, it was GOOD— the other tamal was far and away my favorite.  Unlike the hen-stuffed tamal, this one didn’t have a filling of any kind, and was made with a slightly different sweet corn masa, so that it was considerably sweeter than the other one in an earthy, not sugary way. With the tamal came a small serving of tangy, bright sourcream, and really, I can’t think of a more perfect combination of flavors and textures. Perfectly moist and soft with the earthy sweetness of corn, everything that was good about the tamal was made even better with the cool, creamy tang of the sourcream.  

Only thing now is that I’m not sure how I’ll go back to eating the frozen Trader Joe variety…

Letter to a new friend

Dear pupusa,

Where have you been all my life? Why had we never met before a week ago? No really, why? I grew up in Miami and come from a Central American country… just like you!  I’ve lived the majority of my life surrounded by all things Hispanic, how did we not cross paths earlier?

Pork and cheese pupusa

I’d heard of you before, sure. I mean who could forget a name like that, pupusa. (I’m sorry. Sometimes I’m immature and still laugh at poo poo jokes. You understand.) Yet I don’t remember seeing you anywhere until I ran into you in the Mission, listed there on that giant menu at Taqueria Los Coyotes. I wasn’t sure what to get and I wasn’t even sure that Los Coyotes would be any good. I just walked in randomly because I was hungry and in the neighborhood. But then I saw you and I thought why not try something new?

I wasn’t sure what you would look like to be totally honest, pupusa. Your name made me think you would be round or tube shaped (again, sorry, it must be the thought of poo poo) but then when you arrived you were something else. You were round and flat, like a tortilla. But when the nice lady who took my order asked me what I wanted you filled with, I chose pork and cheese, so I knew there was more to you than just tortilla. I cut a piece off and tossed you in my mouth. Pupusa, you were awesome! Soft on the outside, with a salty, cornmealy taste that went perfectly with the cheese and pork filling inside. You were simple and not overpowering and I really liked that about you. I should have asked for several of you instead of just one.

Carnitas taco

After you, I had a carnitas taco. I’ve had tacos before but never like that one. They just make you all different out here, don’t they? Your fellow menu companion, the taco, was really good, though totally different from you. A soft, white corn tortilla topped with a colorful heap of delicious, juicy pork meat, chopped cilantro, diced onion and a smokey chili sauce with no goopy cheese, globs of sour cream or watery tomatoes. You guys are great!

And then, as if you hadn’t both already done enough, you brought free chips with a whole assortment of salsas, peppers and hot sauces. Free! Now there’s a name you don’t hear often where I’m from. In New York, where I normally live, I meet a lot of Expensives and Overpriceds but not many Frees.  It was a nice change.

Well, pupusa my friend, I plan on seeing a lot of you in the future, especially while I’m still here in California. I hope your east coast counterparts are as delicious as you are, because I’ll really miss you when I leave. Let’s make the most of the time we have left together in San Francisco!

Love,

Angie