Juayúa’s Saturday and Sunday gastronomic festival attracts both locals and tourists. It stretches through the regular covered market, seen here, and the streets surrounding the central plaza.
A meat necklace! Located in El Salvador’s center, the city of Cojutepeque exports its sausage throughout the country. Tied with corn husks, they mix beef and pork, and were some of the most memorable bites we had.
This hunk of apple pastry cost us one US dollar. (In 2001, El Salvador adopted US currency in an effort to help stabilize the economy and encourage foreign investment.) We would gladly have done our part for dollarization by paying even more for this concentrated mass of baked goodness.
Atol de elote
Likely dating to the Mayans, the corn beverage known as atol de elote comes with a spoon, thankfully, as it’s almost too viscous to drink. This version also came heavy on the salt and cornstarch, a little lighter on the sugar and cinnamon.
The quintessential Salvadoran dish. Every pupusa begins a ball of masa de maíz dough. You dig a hole with your fingers and fill it with beans, queso, or chicharrón (ground pork, not pork rinds or skin, as elsewhere). Swoop the dough back over the hole. After pinching off the excess, flatten the ball against your palms. Pat-pat-pat. Pat-pat-pat, as metronomic as ironic clapping, and as saliva-inducing as Pavlov’s bell. At only $0.25 each, it was hard to eat just ten.
We topped our pupusas with curtido, the ubiquitous pickled cabbage relish that gives a bite to the otherwise mild disk.
These sugar-covered, incredibly sour balls reminded us of punishment. As we popped one into our mouth, we were immediately cast back to a childhood incident involving swear words and a bar of soap. Native to Africa, the tamarind tree now grows in Central America, and its fruit can be used to make ice cream, drinks, jams, sauces, or candy. It can also be used as furniture polish and, in our case anyway, an aide-mémoire.
We got our French fries “con todo,” with everything, including ketchup, mayonnaise, and shreds of cheese.
This torta guanaca demonstrates the pleasures of sloppy sandwiches: the lettuce slipping around the cold cuts (here, ham), thanks to several smears of ketchup, mayo, and hot sauce, the baguette pressed flat by the heel of an experienced hand. One napkin was definitely not enough.
Technically, riguas are grilled corn cakes. Experientially, they’re more like cornmeal pancakes. Ours had shreds of coconut, so no dipping sauce or syrup was required. We ate the airy, squeaky cheese first, then luxuriated in every chewy bite of rigua.
Camarones con carne
This mammoth plate of food was one of the hottest sellers of the day. The meat added fat to the shrimp, the real stars of this show. They were light and buttery and expertly grilled. “Oh,” we said as we ate. “Oh oh oh oh oh oh.”
A complete meal on a plate: tortillas and rice for grains, grilled rabbit for protein, avocado and chirimol (diced tomatoes, onions, and peppers) for fruits and veggies, lime for acid, a fork and a spoon to make sure not a morsel gets overlooked.
When asked what these were called, the women selling them said “creyos.” Unfortunately, we can’t find a similar word in our dictionaries, in our guidebooks, or on Google. So, we’ll call them “tortilla sandwiches.” Unlike traditional pupusas, these tortillas don’t have any filling, and they’re served stacked atop one another, with melted cheese acting as mortar.
These meringues immediately evidenced their ingredients: sugar, butter, eggs, and coffee. On the tongue, they dissolved almost instantly.
Iguana (garrobo) and iguana eggs
We’re not going to lie to you: iguana does taste like chicken. But this particular iguana got dunked in a peppery sauce made from pepitas known as alguashte, giving it a liveliness the meat on its own would lack. The eggs, on the other hand, tasted like a mucus-filled water balloon. If you're an Andrew Zimmern fan, you might think you should try iguana eggs someday. You are mistaken.
These nuggets of deep fried yucca known as nuégados were doused in a syrup known as miel de dulce de atado, as oleaginous as a compliment from someone who’s trying to get you to do something you don’t want to do, and as irresistible. Inside the crispy shell, the yucca had the starchy consistency of mashed potatoes.
Because orange Fantas are only so hydrating, and because bottled water is bad for the environment, we refreshed ourselves often with minutas, shaved ice flavored with syrup and topped with condensed milk and fruit. The pink is sandía (watermelon), the orange is melón (cantaloupe), and the best is when the ice has melted into a saccharine, slushy soup.
A man with ice on a hot day will never lack for friends. OK, so that’s not an actual proverb, but the sentiment still stands, especially when the man’s wheeled cart also includes lots of flavored syrups and chopped fruit.
Piragua with honey and apples
Our piragua had honey, apples, cherry and orange flavoring, and the distinctive cylindrical shape of hand-shaved, hand-funneled ice. Worth a plane ride.