El Salvador’s Most Mouth-Watering Culinary Experiences
You sit in the outdoor dining room of a centuries-old Spanish Colonial adobe, sipping a cup of rich coffee grown right here on the estate. Around you, orchids and bromeliads luxuriate in the misty altitude, framing a pastoral view of rivers and volcanoes.
Then it arrives—that most traditionally Salvadoran of breakfasts, plátanos con crema y frijoles. The thickly sliced, pan-fried plantains have a delicate, caramelized crunch and soft, sweet interior; the cream and refried beans cut the sweetness perfectly.
El Salvador serves up some of the best food in Central America, but it’s about more than just the flavors. Even in the most modest mercados, you’ll also find serious attention to detail. The focus is on fresh ingredients and complex recipes handed down through generations. Even better, you’ll often enjoy your meals in beautiful surroundings, with good music, lavish gardens, and other aesthetic extras.
But begin your culinary exploration with the simple yet delicious national dish: pupusas. These thick corn tortillas come stuffed with different fillings—usually beans, cheese, and/or pork–though you’ll also find shrimp, mushroom, loroco (a tasty flower), squash, chicken, and many other options, all of which you should try. This stack of deliciousness comes served with tomato sauce and curtido, a sort of spicy, pickled slaw. Eat with your hands.
Stands set up in alleys, beneath beach boardwalks, and almost anywhere that people gather, begin serving pupusas around 4pm. It’s been an El Salvador tradition for centuries.
Once you’ve indulged in this, the ultimate Salvadoran dining experience, it’s time to go further.
Mercado Municipal de Antiguo Cuscatlán
San Salvador is surprisingly sophisticated, and if you want to splurge on classic fine dining, you’ll find excellent, upscale restaurants serving almost any international cuisine. To truly experience San Salvador, however, head into its ancient heart (now housed in a fine modern building), Mercado Cuscatlán.
This sprawling market has almost everything imaginable on offer, from bawdy souvenirs to bouquets of fresh flowers. But you’re here for the food. Dozens of stands compete for your business with traditional Salvadoran cuisine and, at lunchtime, a side of live music. Indulge.
Fine Food With a View Atop San Salvador Volcano
El Salvador is in love with al fresco dining in the countryside, and the capital is no exception. On weekends, the classic getaway is a drive up Volcán San Salvador into the cool, clean, coffee-growing altitudes. The road to the top is lined with wonderful restaurants boasting spectacular gardens, small playgrounds for the kids, incredible views over San Salvador, and of course, amazing food—most of it traditionally Salvadoran.
You’ll also find charming outdoor restaurants along almost any scenic route, from the Ruta las Flores in the western highlands to Morazán Department in the east. These spots are designed to satisfy the soul as well as the appetite.
Rice Pupusas at Olocuitla
Most pupusas are made with corn. But the town of Olocuitla, conveniently located halfway between San Salvador and Costa del Sol, is famous for its delicate, rice-flour versions of the country’s favorite dish. Simply pull off the highway and you’ll immediately find dozens of pupuserías churning out hot stacks of tasty goodness. Most will take your order and bring the amazing snack right to your car.
Ceviche at La Libertad
You’ll find the freshest fish in El Salvador at the market on iconic La Libertad Pier. While you can buy the just-caught whole fish, an easier way to indulge your seafood desires is with colorful ceviche.
Simple stands lining La Libertad’s boardwalk serve delicious ceviche—made by marinating raw fish in lemon juice, onion, and spices—in a kaleidoscope of varieties, such as spicy, sour, shrimp, fish, and more. Some spots also cook up other seafood dishes (try the sopa de siete mares, a delicate seafood stew), and all of them serve cold beer.
Fería Gastronómica in Juayúa
The most classic gastronomic experience in El Salvador is the Juayúa Food Festival, held every weekend in this beautiful village along the Ruta las Flores. The central square is shut down to all traffic except for horseback rides and a tourist train, and scores of stands sell the finest in Salvadoran and international cuisine.
Don’t worry about your Spanish skills; savvy chefs cater to international tourists by displaying sample platters of their finest cuisine. You just need to point, pay, and eat—probably several times over the course of the weekend. Live music and other entertainment is all part of the fun.