There is a great deal of cultural diversity in Central America, reflected in its food. The cuisines of Central America are influenced by a wide variety of flavors and cultures from around the globe.
El Salvador food features many dishes that are similar to ones in neighboring Guatemala. However, despite their differences, they share the same name. For example, quesillo in Nicaragua or Costa Rica differs from quesillo in El Salvador, but they are the same dish.
El Salvador’s cuisine can be described as exotic, spicy, and hearty at the same time. There is a strong Spanish influence on wine, cheese, and coffee. Native American traditions left behind food based on maize, beans, and rice, such as tortillas, tamales, and atoles.
The culinary tradition of El Salvador is fantastic, and the tortillas made there are among the best you’ll ever eat. Sadly, most people haven’t had the chance to try El Salvadoran food. So check out this list of food you should put on your bucket list.
If you are traveling the whole of Central America, don’t miss our delicious guides!
- Best El Salvador Food
- Pupusas – The National Dish
- Yuca Frita – Deep-Fried Yuca Fries
- Salvadoran Tamales
- Salvadoran Quesadilla – Cheese Cake
- Pan Con Pavo/Pollo – Sandwiches With Turkey Or Chicken
- Horchata – Ground Morro Seeds or Jicara Beverage
- Elote Loco – Corn
- Fried Fish
- Carne Asada – Grilled Meat
- Tres Leches
- Torrejas – Sweet Toast
- Wrapping up on the best El Salvador food
Best El Salvador Food
Pupusas – The National Dish
Biting into a pupusa will instantly reveal the authentic taste of El Salvador. Usually filled with cheese, spinach, garlic, or ayote, a rich squash popular in El Salvador, these handmade corn flour discs are filled with melted cheese.
These warm, grilled tortillas are finished off with salsa roja, a tomato-and-onion sauce that has a hint of heat. They are rolled up and toasted until golden outside and warm inside. People on the go, who are rushing to get ready for their day, turn to this inexpensive dish to fuel them for the day.
And, a quick word on pronunciation; pupusa is pronounced poo-poo-sah. But don’t worry if it doesn’t come out right the first time; Salvadorans may appreciate your effort more than your pronunciation!
Yuca Frita – Deep-Fried Yuca Fries
Yuca Frita is one of my favorite El Salvadoran dishes. It’s an integral part of the local food and culture, but it’s also one of the most underrated.
This deep-fried root vegetable comes sliced into thick wedges and has a slightly juicy, starchy inside, high in carbohydrates and low in fats. They are also somewhat bitter and need to be boiled or baked before consumption.
Yuca is fried with literally huge flames coming out of a vat of boiling oil right beside it. This is deceptively delicious comfort food.
You’ve got to try this one if you’re in El Salvador. But, first, make sure you go to one of the food trucks with the massive vats of burning hot oil and long sticks for frying the Yuca.
Salvadoran Tamales called Tamal de Pollo are made with savory corn batter filled with chicken and vegetables and topped with a delicious and tangy Recaudo sauce. You will enjoy the sweetness, aroma, and texture that are enhanced and encircled by green banana or plantain leaves.
As the tamales steam, they cook and release their natural flavors.
Tamales are an old tradition in El Salvador, which locals consider a delicacy. Everyone makes tamales the same way, but each family has its special recipe.
This delicacy is so popular among Salvadorans that it remains a household dish that requires the combined effort of several family members to complete.
Salvadoran Quesadilla – Cheese Cake
In Mexico, quesadillas are usually grilled and melt cheese, meat, or veggies. But in El Salvador, an entirely different type of cuisine is available. When most people think of quesadillas in El Salvador, they imagine the sweet, cheese-filled dessert that takes them back to their childhood.
Quesadilla or Quesadilla Salvadoreña is a very iconic and popular El Salvador food. Traditional quesadillas and Salvadorean Quesadillas differ in the kind of cheese they use.
A wholesome, salty, cheesy breakfast treat topped with sesame seeds pairs perfectly with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate at breakfast.
Pan Con Pavo/Pollo – Sandwiches With Turkey Or Chicken
A Pan is a sandwich filled with turkey or chicken. It is another popular dish in El Salvador. The dish consists of bread filled with meat, traditionally accompanied by a side salad consisting of jalapeño slices and tomato wedges.
In some cases, the meat has been mixed with mayonnaise. The sandwich is eaten as a complete meal or a snack at any time.
El Salvadorans enjoy eating sandwiches at any time of day. The name “Panes” is simply a plural of the word pan, the Spanish word for bread. Like pupusas, named after the collective, a single one being Pan con Pavo.
Also, Salvadorans take their turkey preparation seriously and far more complex than a traditional thanksgiving Turkey, the result being a moister and by far, tastier turkey so it is unparalleled in the world and one of the most underrated Salvadorean dishes.
Horchata – Ground Morro Seeds or Jicara Beverage
El Salvador’s Horchata de Morro, also known as the Salvadoran Horchata, is part of the large group of agua frescas (“fresh waters” in Spanish). In El Salvador, horchata de morro is made with ground morro seeds or Jicara fruit. It is consumed throughout the nation.
Squash seeds, white rice, sesame seeds, peanuts, cocoa beans, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander seeds and allspice can also be used to prepare this drink. It can also be prepared with sugar and vanilla extract. A very nutritious and refreshing drink. Salvadorans drink it all day long.
The best part about horchata is that it’s full of magnesium and iron, and it’s a perfect post-exercise drink.
The first sip will reveal a creamy vanilla flavor with touches of cinnamon and nutmeg mixed in. It has a natural sweetness from the ingredients instantly providing you with a great dose of energy to help keep your day strong and fight off fatigue.
Elote Loco – Corn
When I discovered Elote Loco in El Salvador, little did I know it would become one of my favorite things to eat there.
Once you try this dish once, you will quickly understand why I’m so crazy about it.
The Elote Loco street vendors begin by roasting corn in big metal drums on the street. Once the corn is cooked, the vendors cover it in a special sauce and sell it to passers-by for just a few dollars.
This unique sauce is similar to coleslaw and barbecue sauce and is made from a blend of sour cream, mayonnaise, and fresh vegetables, including chiles and carrots. However, the secret ingredient which sets apart Elote Loco’s sauce is lime juice.
Often found at fairs, parades, and food markets, this snack takes corn on the cob to a whole new level.
El Salvador has miles upon miles of coastal shoreline bordering the Pacific ocean and advanced fishing industry. This combination ensures the country plenty of fresh seafood right from the sea, including fish.
Shrimp is the most commonly used seafood for frying, but some restaurants also use larger fish (red snapper, grouper, or sea bass).
Salvadorans love their seafood, and for an excellent reason. Fried fish is a popular dish that is enjoyed as an appetizer or served as a main dish. It always comes accompanied by a refreshing salad of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, and lemon.
Carne Asada – Grilled Meat
Carna Asada is a popular El Salvador food and is a cornerstone of national cuisine. The literal translation from Spanish is “grilled meat.”
Rather than the dish itself, the name refers to the way the meat is cooked. Central and South America are world-renowned for grilling meat over open fires, which forms the basis of so many social gatherings and events.
Marinating the meat before grilling in a glaze of thinly sliced onions, orange juice, vinegar, salt, black pepper, and bay leaves is common in El Salvador. It is usually served with corn tortillas or rice when grilled.
Tres Leches cake is trendy in Central American countries, and it is easily one of El Salvador’s most favorite desserts. On my trip to El Salvador, I indulge in this dessert on at least two occasions. So, if you are lucky enough to run into Tres Leches during your time in El Salvador, I recommend you try it out. It is a delicious cake!
Tres Leches’ ingredients are simple, yet the flavor and tenderness of the cake are incomparable. In addition, its simplicity allows it to be easily paired with a variety of fruit and whipped cream options.
Combined with sugar, baking powder, butter, eggs, flour, vanilla, and cream, this cake is very moist and creamy. Several hours after baking the Tres Leches cake, it must sit in the refrigerator before being served chilled.
There are various ways to decorate this cake, including grated chocolate, cinnamon, and cream.
El Salvador is known for its amazing cuisine, and enchiladas are no exception. A traditional Mexican enchilada uses larger tortillas that are soaked in sauce, whereas a Salvadoran enchilada uses smaller, fried tortillas.
The tortillas are topped with the seed from Annatto, which is ground into a paste and can be filled with various ingredients.
Common Salvadoran enchilada fillings include hard-boiled eggs, cabbage, sliced tomato, fried beans, ground beef, and various sauces.
When enchiladas are topped with Parmesan cheese and rich sauces, you often have to eat them with your hands and be careful not to bite your fingers. These are incredibly tasty!
Torrejas – Sweet Toast
El Salvador’s version of French toast, Torrejas (or “Torrejas Salvadoreñas”), is by far one of the most delicious and unique dishes I have ever had in my life.
Torrejas are made with Dalaj Literary ma’a ye or “kneading dough,” which is sweet cornmeal. The dough is then baked together with cheese, milk, and eggs to create this fluffy bread to soak up all the syrup.
Unlike French toast, Torrejas is made with more than two pieces of baked bread. Instead, the Salvadoran dish uses thick peanut butter-like bread dipped in an egg for a few seconds and then fried in butter or oil till it turns golden brown.
Using yolk bread, dulce de leche instead of maple syrup, and cinnamon on top make for a moist, dense, sweetly-spiced sandwich ideal for a Sunday brunch or holiday breakfast.
Wrapping up on the best El Salvador food
Food is so essential to your travels when you’re exploring new countries. It provides a convenient way to taste the local culture and gives you the power to discover what each place offers. And Central America has so much to offer when it comes to authentic, flavorsome dishes.
Salvadoran cuisine utilizes the country’s diverse geography, pulling ripe produce from the farms and fresh seafood from the Pacific to create some genuinely divine food.
Igor Jovanovski is an aspiring digital nomad, travel blogger and graphic designer who really loves food. He also has a creative side, and he works as a freelance graphic designer in his spare time. He has traveled across Europe quite a few times since he was young and recently started his mission to visit every country in the world! Igor’s favorite thing about traveling is the way he gets to know new people, food, places and cultures.
This exciting experience helps him create his own stories and make memories that will last forever