This Hole-in-the-Wall Life
So a Mexican and a Guatemalan walk into this Salvadoran restaurant . . . No, I'm not joking! There we were: Me, a Mexican, eating lunch with a Guatemalan at the giant El Pupusódromo, a Salvadoran restaurant in Santa Ana, the most-Latino big city in America. The two of us were familiar with Salvadoran cuisine—or so we thought.
"Wow, pupusas de camarones!" I exclaimed upon opening the menu. I've enjoyed El Pupusódromo (roughly, "Pupusa Race Track," easily the strangest restaurant name ever) for many years, mainly for their cheap, delicious pupusas. It had been a couple of months since my last visit, though, and I had never heard of a pupusa stuffed with any type of seafood.
The Guatemalan laughed. They were common in the Bay Area. Unfazed, I ordered a shrimp pupusa and told the friendly owner I also wanted an ensalada to drink.
Now the Guatemalan looked puzzled. "I thought you ordered a salad to drink," she said when the owner returned with a giant cup of ensalada. This beverage is a salad in a way: chopped-up bits of red and green apples, oranges, pears, pineapple, mint, and a couple of other fruits poured on top of pineapple juice; it's so refreshing the rest of your day becomes a tropical holiday. But the Guatemalan—who earlier boasted that Guatemalan and Salvadoran cuisine was similar so she knew her Salvi stuff—had never heard of ensalada. Score one for me.
Despite the ensalada and shrimp pupusas, El Pupusódromo's menu is actually quite limited. There's a great crunchy version of pollo campero (Central America's answer to Colonel Sanders) along with a couple of soups and Mexican entrées. But the focus is on pupusas: cheesy without being greasy, griddled to a whisper of char, stuffed with veggies, meats or—yes—shrimp. Specials abound—the pupusa combo, two of the suckers along with a fried meat empanada, sets you back about 6 bucks.
But on to the afternoon's last culinary mystery: pan de chumpe. Pan, of course, means bread, but it's the Salvadoran term for what Mexicans call a torta. Chumpe, on the other hand, was another linguistic mystery to me. "It's turkey," the Guatemalan snorted—but she was excited, too. She had never seen a turkey torta in any stateside restaurant but was too stuffed with pupusas to try it. The Guatemalan did tell me the ingredients for a proper pan de chumpe—watercress and a nutty salsa—and urged me to try it another day. I did—muy bueno.
EL PUPUSÓDROMO, 819 S. MAIN ST., SANTA ANA, (714) 542-3001.
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