These 20 Salvadoran foods showcase some of the best of what El Salvador has to offer.
These easy recipes use simple, everyday ingredients and turn them into something delicious.
Food in El Salvador is colorful, spicy, and full of rich, complex flavors.
The cuisine is influenced by the indigenous people that make the country their home and the overall flavor palette of Central America.
There’s also a significant and evident Hispanic influence.
Many of these dishes, such as tamales, carne asada, and horchata, will likely be ones you recognize from the menu of your favorite Mexican restaurant.
Others may be less well known to you, but once you give them a try, you’ll quickly discover how truly delicious they are.
20 Traditional Salvadoran Dishes To Try Tonight
1. Pupusas – Stuffed Tortillas
These may look like plain tortillas with a side of cabbage, but they’re so much more than that.
Stuffed with cheese, jalapenos, and squash, these tortillas are cheesy and a bit spicy.
You’ll top each one with curdito, which is a pickled cabbage slaw made with cabbage, carrots, and a few seasonings. They make a very tasty snack.
2. Yuca Frita (Yuca Fries)
Yuca frita, or yuca fries, are very similar to French fries, but they’re a little crispier (if cooked correctly) and have a smoother, creamier texture on the inside.
They take about 45 minutes to make, but they make excellent snacks or side dishes.
3. Dulce de Leche Empanadas
I’ve always loved warm empanadas with their rich, savory fillings and their flaky crusts.
Then I discovered sweet empanadas, and it blew my mind.
Instead of pork, beef, or some other protein, you’ll fill these empanadas with smooth, creamy dulce de leche.
If you’ve never had dulce de leche, it’s an amazingly sweet flavor that’s almost like a milky caramel, and it tastes fantastic inside that warm, pastry shell.
These tamales are the real deal. They aren’t the Hormel tamales that slide out of the can with a yucky plop.
With these, you can choose your favorite filling – veggies, pork, beef, chicken, etc.
You’ll add your filling, sauce, and anything else you want. Then you’ll wrap them in real corn husks.
They take a couple of hours to make, but they’re so good that you won’t mind.
5. Quesadilla — Cheese Cake
This traditional Salvadoran dish is naturally gluten-free and is often enjoyed as a dessert or a breakfast pastry.
It’s dense but fluffy and surprisingly light on your stomach.
It’s also the perfect mixture of sweet and savory, thanks to the sugar, butter, and salty cheeses.
The sesame seeds add a bit of crunch and texture, and there are few things better than a slice of this cake and a cup of hot coffee.
6. Panes con Pavo
If you love sandwiches, you’ll go crazy for the panes con pavo. It takes quite a bit of time to cook, though, so I don’t have it as often as I like.
However, every year, I do usually have one after Thanksgiving with some of the leftover turkey.
The sauce isn’t exactly right, but the pleasant sourness from the pickled vegetables more than makes up for it.
This sandwich has just about everything you could imagine on it, from lettuce and tomatoes to gherkins, radishes, and carrots.
It tastes great and is pretty healthy, as well.
I first tried horchata a couple of weeks before graduating high school.
My friend’s mother hosted a graduation dinner in honor of her son and a few of his closest graduating friends.
My friend’s father was American, but his mother was a Mexican immigrant, and as a result, the dinner was a wonderful mix of American and Mexican dishes.
One of the drink options was horchata, which she called “rice water,” and at the time, it was one of the best things I’d ever tasted.
It was a rich, creamy, milky drink with hints of cinnamon, almonds, vanilla, and sugar, and I begged my friend for weeks afterward to get the recipe from his mom.
He was a teenage boy, so of course, he never did.
It wasn’t until years later that I discovered how to make my own “rice water,” but I’ve made the drink a thousand times since then.
It never tastes any less delicious than I remember.
8. Elote Loco
Elote, more commonly known as Mexican street corn, is popular street food in many Spanish-speaking countries.
This elote loco is a variation of the traditional recipe. It still has the sweet corn in the middle, but the topping is hot, Hot, HOT!
If you’re a fan of spice and heat, this is the dish for you.
9. Carne Asada
Not to sound like a restaurant advertisement, but this tender, juicy flank steak is perfectly seasoned, then grilled to perfection.
Whether you eat it by itself or wrapped in a tortilla with some onions and peppers thrown in, you’re sure to love it.
10. Sancocho de Gallina
Also known as “hen’s stew,” this soup pairs a thin broth with plenty of chunky veggies, herbs, seasonings, and a whole hen.
And when I say “plenty” of veggies, that’s what I mean.
This stew contains corn on the cob, pumpkin, potatoes, yucca, carrots, onions, leeks, and more!
It has loads of flavor and a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and other good, healthy things.
All you’ll need to make the classic “rice and beans” dish El Salvador style is about 20 minutes and six ingredients (plus salt and pepper if you need it).
Serve it as a side dish for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or eat it by itself.
12. Lomo Relleno
Although it takes a bit of time to make this juicy, succulent dish, the ingredients list contains only five items – boneless top loin pork roast, four chorizo links, tomato sauce, all-purpose seasoning, and shallots.
If you’re a hardcore meat eater, this is 100% the main course for you.
13. Sopa de Pata
Although this soup is quite good, you may want to call it by its Salvadoran name because referring to it as cow’s feet soup might turn a few people off from eating it.
As long as they don’t know that little detail, though, chances are they’ll probably enjoy it.
It’s very filling and features plenty of delicious herbs and other ingredients for a unique, complex flavor.
14. Tamal de Pollo
I know we’ve already had one tamales recipe on this list, but of all the tamale recipes floating around out there, this one is one of my all-time favorites.
I had to make a special place for it.
These tamales, like all tamales, take some time to make, but the chicken is tender, and the dough (outer layer) is soft and genuinely delicious.
Plus, the green chiles give them plenty of heat.
Pasteles are more of a Puerto Rican dish, but plenty of Salvadoran chefs make them, as well.
They’re a bit like tamales, actually, but there are a few differences.
For one thing, you’ll wrap pasteles in banana leaves instead of corn husks. The filling is also different.
Pasteles’ fillings are like chunky stew, whereas tamales’ fillings are more solid.
The outer layer, however, is quite similar in both.
Another commonality? Pasteles take quite some time to cook.
Even so, they’re very appetizing, and I don’t know many people who don’t like them.
Did you guys ever have one of those teachers in elementary or middle school who said you could bring a snack or a drink but not both?
Or was that just a weird rule at our school?
I always thought it was the most absurd thing ever.
I was constantly trying to “beat the system” by bringing things like pickles in pickle juice and fruit cocktail in syrup.
I wish I had known about ensalada then. It’s a super yummy fruit juice that has chunks of apples, pineapples, oranges, and mangos in the bottom.
I would have brought it every day.
It’s sweet and unbelievably filling for a drink/fruit cocktail.
17. Yuca con Chicharron
If you’ve ever popped open a bag of pork rinds, you’ve had chicharróns. This recipe just adds a bit more to them.
There’s also yuca, salsa, and what Americans would call coleslaw.
It’s a colorful meal with several contrasting textures and flavors, and it’s probably one of my favorites on this entire list.
18. Sopa de Pescado
This one is for my fish and seafood lovers. Sopa de pescado, or fish soup, takes only 25 minutes to make and is perfect for the colder months of the year.
Lucky for people like me who really enjoy it, it’s light enough to appreciate in the summer, as well.
Even though the main ingredient is sea bass, the garlic, carrots, potatoes, kabocha squash, cilantro, and other ingredients give it an almost garden-fresh taste that’s perfect all year long.
19. Sopa de Res
My gramma has canned hundreds of jars of vegetable beef soup over the years, and it is good. She knows what she’s doing.
However, when it comes to packing as many veggies as possible into a single soup, the Salvadorans have her beat.
This soup uses nearly 20 ingredients, and while I won’t name them all, I will hit the highlights – garlic cloves, onions, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, celery, and corn on the cob.
Yep. Eating a bowl of this soup is like having dinner in a garden, and I mean that in the best way possible.
20. Tres Leches Cake
I know tres leches cake is a popular dessert, but I couldn’t finish my list without adding it.
This supremely soft, mega moist, fantastically fluffy cake is terrific.
Seriously, if you enjoy dessert and don’t like this cake… Well, I’m just not sure how that’s possible. It’s that good.
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