One of my favorite parts of traveling is trying new foods, so when I was getting organized to go to El Salvador for the first time, of course I looked up what kind of food I might try that I hadn't had before. Turns out that that national dish of the Central American country, pupusas, was totally new to me. Though I had heard you could get it via food trucks in certain areas of New York City, I had never seen them or had the opportunity to try them. 

So I felt incredibly lucky to not only try my first pupusa (which is like a thick, stuffed tortilla made from either corn or rice meal), but also get to make my own on my second night in San Salvador (the capital of El Salvador). I was taught by the experts, women who make pupusas all afternoon and evening for the hungry crowds walking the streets. 

Ingredients for pupusas

Pupusas can be stuffed with a number of fillings, and it's up to you to decide what you want to include. Traditional fillings include cilantro, cheese, jalepeno, ham, mushrooms and beans. If you are serious about making the dish, you have all the fillings laid out for stuffing. 

Starre Vartan making pupusas

The exterior of the pupusa is made of corn or rice meal, mixed into a dough. I prefer the flavor of the cornmeal, especially mixed with beans, cheese and jalepeno, or mushroom and cilantro (my two combos of choice), but ricemeal pupusas are popular enough that they are commonly available. (I don't like rice much, so I wasn't surprised that rice pupusas weren't very appealing to me.)

Starre Vartan making pupusas

Once you've flattened your pupusa shell into a pancake, you add your fillings in the middle, fold it in half, make it into a pouch, and pull off excess dough from the top. Then you flatten it again, slapping it hard to form a pancake, but now with fillings inside. 

Starre Vartan grilling pupusas

Slap those pupusas, lightly greased with olive or vegetable oil, on the grill. Smash them flat, and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden brown. 

grilling pupusas

(That's fellow travel writer, Lilit Marcus, who is joined in on the pupusa-making with me, above.) Pupusas should be round and whole — no holes with filling leaking out. 

pupusa with fermented slaw and a beer

Traditionally, pupusas are eaten with a fermented cold slaw spiked with jalepenos, and I always add hot sauce to everything, and with pupusas, it is a must. Wash down with a beer. (Pilsener is the national beer of El Salvador.) Enjoy! 

Here's an official recipe with all the steps and ingredients included, if you are serious about making pupusas at home. 

Thanks to Cecilia at EcoExperiencas El Salvador for fascilitating the pupusa adventure! 

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Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

How to make pupusas the traditional Salvadoran way
Pupusas are the national dish of El Salvador, and I learned to make them the traditional way.