What is food like in El Salvador?


Before I backpacked through Central America, I naively thought that all food in Central America is somewhat similar to Mexican food. It’s not. While Mexico is a leader in influencing latin culture, especially in Central America, each country has it’s own styles, culture and unique tastes. All of the countries have different foods and different styles of preparing food.

After having a wonderful time visiting El Salvador in 2017, I eventually moved here to live with my Salvadoran girlfriend and her family.

I’ve learned a lot about the food here.

Food from El Salvador is very different from Mexican food. Sometimes people categorize latin foods together. And it’s true that rice, beans, platanos (fried plantains) and choped vegetables are common in all countries in Central America, however, there are distinct differences of how these things are prepared.

For example, El Salvador has these significant differences:

  • Hot/spicy food isn’t common in El Salvador. In fact, most Salvadorans don’t really like spicy food. Occasionally a restaurant in El Salvador will offer jalapenos on the side of a dish, but it’s not the norm.
  • Tortillas are much thicker in El Salvador. Mexico is known to have tacos that have paper-thin tortillas (approximately 2 millimeters thick). In El Salvador, one tortilla has 5-6 times the thickness of a Mexican tortillas.
  • El Salvador doesn’t have tacos or burritos. Unless you specifically find a Mexican restaurant in El Salvador, you’re not going to find tacos, burritos, or fajitas.
  • Salsa don’t exist here. When people from other countries think of Salsa, they think of diced up tomatos, chiles, onion and cilantro. You won’t find that here. El Salvador has a red tomato sauce that they serve with Pupusas, but it’s not the “salsa” that we know.
  • Fried chicken is very common in El Salvador. You can’t go anywhere in El Salvador without finding a Pollo Campero, Don Pollo, Pollo Real or Pollo Indio. (Notice that all of these names contain “pollo”). Chicken is very popular here in El Salvador.
  • Pupusas are unique to El Salvador. Although Mexico offers delicious cultural foods of it’s own, Mexico doesn’t make anything like pupusas. This national staple (shown below) is delicious, filling and only $0.50 each.
  • Crema or “Cream” in english, is very similar to sour cream that we typically think of. However, it’s not thick and has a more milky consistency. It’s almost always served with breakfast and goes well with frijoles y huevos (beans and eggs). Sometimes it’s served on top of fried plantains. While not specific to El Salvador, it’s not common to find crema in Mexico.
  • Seafood is very common here. El Salvador is located on the coast of the Pacific ocean, with 307 Kilometers (109 miles) of coastline. Being on the coast means that a lot of fresh seafood is available and it’s very common to see fresh seafood on the menus at local restaurants through-out the country. I’ve noticed that in other countries of Central America seafood is not often an option on restaurant menus. However, here seafood is almost always an option. And it’s delicious!

As you can see, food from El Salvador is very different from other countries in central and south America. Honduras, which is El Salvadors immediate neighboring country, has very different food from El Salvador. I’m not very familiar with Honduran food (I have a trip planned!), but I’ve had it before and I can say with certainty that it’s very different from El Salvador.

Here are a few dishes that are especially unique to El Salvador:

Mariscada. The name doesn’t have a direct translation to english. However, the word “mariscos” means seafood in english. It’s a cream-based soup that’s served hot with a side of thick tortilla. It’s usually served with lobster, crap, shrimp and sometimes it has fish and clams. It’s very filling, rich and can feel heavy on the stomach. It’s maybe not the best choice on a very hot day because it’ll warm you up. But, without doubt it’s the perfect meal on a cloudy day or a chilly day.

A different version of Mariscada:

Coctal De Cameron en Salsa Rosa – This “creamy shrimp cocktail in pink sauce” makes a delicious appetizer or meal. It’s usually accompanied by salted crackers, lime, salt and a spoon. Many places in the world offer “shrimp cocktail”, but El Salvador’s creamy version is unique and mouth-watering.

Pupusas – The most well-known food from El Salvador is certainly the pupusa. In my article “What are Pupusas?” I wrote in detail about what they are. These delicious thick tortillas are filled with beans, cheese and other incredients based on preference.

Chorizo – El Salvador has it’s own unique form of sausage, called “Chorizo”, which is sometimes prepared with a touch of spice or “picante” inside of the sausage. Chorizo is common through-out Central and South America, but prepared differently and has different ingredients based on which country it’s from. On the picture below, you can see fried chorizo to the left of the mixture of tomato and onion in the middle of the plate.

As you can see, the flavors, ingredients and preparation process of the foods are different in El Salvador. The food uses primarily ingredients and produce that are harvested from El Salvador, which of course contributes to the makeup of each dish avaiable here.

The food is incredible here. I’m living in heaven.