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Pupuseria Silvia: Swell swollen tortillas

Maybe 40 years ago, nobody had heard of pupusas

Young volcanoes of El Salvador feature on Silvia’s walls.
Young volcanoes of El Salvador feature on Silvia’s walls.

Aahh! San Diego pupusas. And I mean San Diego, the Central American beach twenty-six klicks south of San Salvador, capital of El Salvador. ’Twas there I first ate that country’s national food, the pupusa, introduced to me by a gun-toting doctor who showed me the ways of life in Central America: the good, the bad, the scary. After hours of searching for missing and sick survivors of the giant earthquake they had down there, he’d break off and say “Basta! Hasta La Playa!” And then he’d haul that supercharged wagon of his down the Carrito Puerto La Libertad highway and screech to a stop outside his favorite beach eatery. “My Pupuseria,” he’d say, and order up a bunch of cervezas, natch, plus a choice of pupusa. They’re fat little flying saucers of fried or grilled tortillas, stuffed with anything from edible plants to chicharrones — pork rinds — and then folded over. Anything goes in, from fried beans, cheese and squash flowers to meats like seasoned pork.

This busy crew is Mexican, but they know all the secrets to Salvadoran food.

“Of course,” my doc told me, “the meats came into pupusas only after Columbus. These ‘real’ plant-filled pupusas go wa-ay back beyond the Aztecs to the Mixtecs and the Mayans. They were healthy foods! Still are! Stuffed with yucca, plantain, the loroco plant — fantastic combinations.”

So since then, any time I want to scare up those memories, I head down here to National City, and Silvia’s, because Silvia has pupusas, what any Centro-Americano hankers for, as emotionally as a Brit would hanker for fish and chips, or an American would pine for a good burger. And Silvia’s pupuseria makes the kind that haven’t changed for as long as corn has been around (10,000 years, they reckon), for as long as people such as the Pipil have been turning tortillas into snack pockets. The promise of the “pupu-sawa”: a tortilla “swollen” with something nutritious.

Sponsored
Sponsored
Place

Silvia's Pupuseria

916 East 8th Street, National City

So here I am, at this little place in National City, near Highland Avenue. We’re inside a surprisingly roomy space dominated by a mural of a new, angry volcano ready to blow, in the middle of the tropical lushness that is El Salvador. Beautiful art, but it’s Pupusa Decision Time. Honestly, these choices for pupusa fillings are much like those you’d choose for an omelet, or a sandwich: cheese, queso con frijol (cheese and beans), chicharron (bacon rind), fish, pepperoni con queso, espinacas (spinach), or revuelta (turned-over pork and beans). Pupusas are just tortillas folded around pockets of flavor, which usually come out as kinda ironed-out stuffed burritos.

I go for a revuelta, and when it comes steaming on a plate, I want to jump straight in. Except this is not the Salvadoran way. What also comes is a bowl of…raw cabbage? I dip my fork into what looks like a vinegar-soaked German slaw. It’s spicy and it’s called curtido. It’s made of carrots, onions, spices, cabbage. The idea is that it’s a palate cleanser, so you come fresh to each pupusa. This particular pupusa has the tantalizing combo of chicharron, beans, and cheese. Except hold it! This ain’t no basic bacon rind. Turns out the Central American version of chicharrones uses seasoned pork meat, cooked and ground to a paste. Plus, they use a comal, the Mexican curved grilling dish. You can smell the smells from the kitchen and hear the scoop-scoop of a spatula hard at work behind the partial screen. It’s all action, and the flavors are fresh, so I’m hooked. And at around $5 per pupusa, you really can’t lose here.

Curtido, the fermented salad, is a mouth refresher for pupusa eaters.

There’s a nice tang to everything as I chomp in. And having the curtido as refresher really helps. Next time though, I want to go for the dish called the “Pupusa Loca.” It’s a grand collection of pupusa fillings, all on one mighty tortilla. The list includes chicken, mushroom, cheese, fish, shrimp, ham, and spinach. And my old doctor pal would be pleased to see this joint is strong on tropical plants and flowers in the pupusa, too. I’ve tried the pupusa calabasa (squash) or the pupusa nopal (cactus). Or, hey: you can eat El Salvador’s own loroco flower (aka “Flowers of Guatemala.”), which tastes like, well, hmm, earthy asparagus? Salsas help. And if you can’t make up your mind, the Pupusa Loca’s great to share as a feast with a couple of good buddies. Because basically, you get a lot, in terms of both quantity and flavors, plus the texture of the big tortilla. I see neighbors sharing the chomp. Oh man. How delicious and slightly crispy it looks. And the price tag of $20.75 is pretty reasonable for what amounts to seven different pupusas.

Revuelta pupusa is a savory masterpiece of pork, beans, and much more.

I sit, watching the sun set over Highland. Reminds me of spectacular sunsets over that Playa San Diego, the beach down in El Salvador, with its five-mile, white-sand beach, and with the capital, San Salvador, just twenty miles away. Of course the trouble, going to a place like San Salvador, is the history. On the one hand, this place has a fearsome legacy of bloodshed and cruelty. On the other, they certainly still create some of the healthier dishes to come out of Central America. And one fallout from the dirty war of the 1980s is that the Salvadorans who survived spread out to the U.S., Canada, and Australia, and took their food with them. Pupusas have become known anywhere Salvadorans settled. The country itself has even recognized the pupusa: it was made the official food of El Salvador in 2005. And on the Second Sunday in November, hey hey! National Pupusa Day. It’s an annual gathering in San Salvador where they create the world’s largest pupusa. In 2012, they created one 14 feet across. It fed a lot of people. Maybe 40 years ago, nobody had heard of pupusas. Today, specially if you live in the U.S. or Canada or Australia, pupusas are already a viable lunch option.

The Place: Pupuseria Silvia, 916 E. 8th Street, Suite 106, National City; phone 619-773-6009

Prices: Breakfast waffles, $5.99; Plantain, beans and cream, $10.25; casamientos with chorizo, $13.75; chicharrones pupusa, $5; loroco flower pupusa, $5; queso w/jalapeño pupusa, $5; cactus pupuseria, $5; pepperoni pupusa, $5; chicken pupusa, $5; breakfast burrito, $13.25; California burrito, $13.25; carne asada torta, $13.25; pollo asada torta, $13.25

Hours: 9:30am - 9pm, seven days

Buses: 929, 955, 968

Nearest Bus Stops: E 8th and Highland

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Young volcanoes of El Salvador feature on Silvia’s walls.
Young volcanoes of El Salvador feature on Silvia’s walls.

Aahh! San Diego pupusas. And I mean San Diego, the Central American beach twenty-six klicks south of San Salvador, capital of El Salvador. ’Twas there I first ate that country’s national food, the pupusa, introduced to me by a gun-toting doctor who showed me the ways of life in Central America: the good, the bad, the scary. After hours of searching for missing and sick survivors of the giant earthquake they had down there, he’d break off and say “Basta! Hasta La Playa!” And then he’d haul that supercharged wagon of his down the Carrito Puerto La Libertad highway and screech to a stop outside his favorite beach eatery. “My Pupuseria,” he’d say, and order up a bunch of cervezas, natch, plus a choice of pupusa. They’re fat little flying saucers of fried or grilled tortillas, stuffed with anything from edible plants to chicharrones — pork rinds — and then folded over. Anything goes in, from fried beans, cheese and squash flowers to meats like seasoned pork.

This busy crew is Mexican, but they know all the secrets to Salvadoran food.

“Of course,” my doc told me, “the meats came into pupusas only after Columbus. These ‘real’ plant-filled pupusas go wa-ay back beyond the Aztecs to the Mixtecs and the Mayans. They were healthy foods! Still are! Stuffed with yucca, plantain, the loroco plant — fantastic combinations.”

So since then, any time I want to scare up those memories, I head down here to National City, and Silvia’s, because Silvia has pupusas, what any Centro-Americano hankers for, as emotionally as a Brit would hanker for fish and chips, or an American would pine for a good burger. And Silvia’s pupuseria makes the kind that haven’t changed for as long as corn has been around (10,000 years, they reckon), for as long as people such as the Pipil have been turning tortillas into snack pockets. The promise of the “pupu-sawa”: a tortilla “swollen” with something nutritious.

Sponsored
Sponsored
Place

Silvia's Pupuseria

916 East 8th Street, National City

So here I am, at this little place in National City, near Highland Avenue. We’re inside a surprisingly roomy space dominated by a mural of a new, angry volcano ready to blow, in the middle of the tropical lushness that is El Salvador. Beautiful art, but it’s Pupusa Decision Time. Honestly, these choices for pupusa fillings are much like those you’d choose for an omelet, or a sandwich: cheese, queso con frijol (cheese and beans), chicharron (bacon rind), fish, pepperoni con queso, espinacas (spinach), or revuelta (turned-over pork and beans). Pupusas are just tortillas folded around pockets of flavor, which usually come out as kinda ironed-out stuffed burritos.

I go for a revuelta, and when it comes steaming on a plate, I want to jump straight in. Except this is not the Salvadoran way. What also comes is a bowl of…raw cabbage? I dip my fork into what looks like a vinegar-soaked German slaw. It’s spicy and it’s called curtido. It’s made of carrots, onions, spices, cabbage. The idea is that it’s a palate cleanser, so you come fresh to each pupusa. This particular pupusa has the tantalizing combo of chicharron, beans, and cheese. Except hold it! This ain’t no basic bacon rind. Turns out the Central American version of chicharrones uses seasoned pork meat, cooked and ground to a paste. Plus, they use a comal, the Mexican curved grilling dish. You can smell the smells from the kitchen and hear the scoop-scoop of a spatula hard at work behind the partial screen. It’s all action, and the flavors are fresh, so I’m hooked. And at around $5 per pupusa, you really can’t lose here.

Curtido, the fermented salad, is a mouth refresher for pupusa eaters.

There’s a nice tang to everything as I chomp in. And having the curtido as refresher really helps. Next time though, I want to go for the dish called the “Pupusa Loca.” It’s a grand collection of pupusa fillings, all on one mighty tortilla. The list includes chicken, mushroom, cheese, fish, shrimp, ham, and spinach. And my old doctor pal would be pleased to see this joint is strong on tropical plants and flowers in the pupusa, too. I’ve tried the pupusa calabasa (squash) or the pupusa nopal (cactus). Or, hey: you can eat El Salvador’s own loroco flower (aka “Flowers of Guatemala.”), which tastes like, well, hmm, earthy asparagus? Salsas help. And if you can’t make up your mind, the Pupusa Loca’s great to share as a feast with a couple of good buddies. Because basically, you get a lot, in terms of both quantity and flavors, plus the texture of the big tortilla. I see neighbors sharing the chomp. Oh man. How delicious and slightly crispy it looks. And the price tag of $20.75 is pretty reasonable for what amounts to seven different pupusas.

Revuelta pupusa is a savory masterpiece of pork, beans, and much more.

I sit, watching the sun set over Highland. Reminds me of spectacular sunsets over that Playa San Diego, the beach down in El Salvador, with its five-mile, white-sand beach, and with the capital, San Salvador, just twenty miles away. Of course the trouble, going to a place like San Salvador, is the history. On the one hand, this place has a fearsome legacy of bloodshed and cruelty. On the other, they certainly still create some of the healthier dishes to come out of Central America. And one fallout from the dirty war of the 1980s is that the Salvadorans who survived spread out to the U.S., Canada, and Australia, and took their food with them. Pupusas have become known anywhere Salvadorans settled. The country itself has even recognized the pupusa: it was made the official food of El Salvador in 2005. And on the Second Sunday in November, hey hey! National Pupusa Day. It’s an annual gathering in San Salvador where they create the world’s largest pupusa. In 2012, they created one 14 feet across. It fed a lot of people. Maybe 40 years ago, nobody had heard of pupusas. Today, specially if you live in the U.S. or Canada or Australia, pupusas are already a viable lunch option.

The Place: Pupuseria Silvia, 916 E. 8th Street, Suite 106, National City; phone 619-773-6009

Prices: Breakfast waffles, $5.99; Plantain, beans and cream, $10.25; casamientos with chorizo, $13.75; chicharrones pupusa, $5; loroco flower pupusa, $5; queso w/jalapeño pupusa, $5; cactus pupuseria, $5; pepperoni pupusa, $5; chicken pupusa, $5; breakfast burrito, $13.25; California burrito, $13.25; carne asada torta, $13.25; pollo asada torta, $13.25

Hours: 9:30am - 9pm, seven days

Buses: 929, 955, 968

Nearest Bus Stops: E 8th and Highland

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