What in the World are Pupusas?

A Pupusa (from Pipil Pupusawa) is a traditional Salvadorean dish made of thick, hand-made corn tortilla. Pupusas, also known as Pupisio, were first created centuries ago by the Pipil tribes which dwelled in the territory now known as El Salvador. Cooking implements for their preparation have been excavated in Joya de Ceren, “El Salvador’s Pompeii”, site of a native village that was buried by ashes from a volcano explosion, and where foodstuffs were preserved as they were being cooked almost two thousand years ago. The instruments for their preparation have also been found in other archaeological sites in El Salvador. A popular variant of the Pupusa in El Salvador is the Pupusa de arroz. Rice flour is used to make the masa, as the name indicates, and they are usually stuffed only with chicharron (chopped pork) and cheese.  Pupusas aren’t meant to be eaten alone. They’re meant to be topped with a cabbage slaw, called curtido, and a runny tomato salsa. Curtido (pronounced coor-tee-tho) is a type of relish. In Salvadoran cuisine, it resembles sauerkraut and is usually made with pickled cabbage, onions, oregano, carrots, and sometimes lemon juice.

I like to try things I’ve never done before, so I like to try different food from different countries and different cuisines. Ethnic cuisines are often overlooked but they can provide a unique and delicious culinary adventure. So far, I have tried so many different styles of food, such as Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Mediterranean, Greek, African, Spanish, Caribbean, and Latin American.  Even though, countries like Canada and the United States, with immigrants from almost every area of the world, have such a varied cuisine that it can be impossible to say exactly what food is “typical”. Anyhow, the food is SO delicious!
Back to the Pupusas; Colombia has the Arepa.  Mexico has the Gordita, Venezuela has the Hallaca. Rural Pennsylvania has the deep-fried Twinkie. Various locales feature their own celebrated dishes which pack sustenance and regional style. El Salvador’s is the Pupusa. What can I say, I love Pupusas. As I said before,Pupusas were invented in Salvador and were brought to the US when many left their country to live here.  Pupusas are typically filled with cheese, beans, pork or all three.  I’ve also seen where people use shrimp, Loroco (a flower similar to a squash blossom), chicken, fish and even pumpkin or squash for vegan and vegetarian options.

The pupusas themselves are very soft and have a nice texture to them, which starts with the thick tortilla and leads to a hot, gooey center stuffed with your choice of filling. They are gluten free as the flour is made from corn treated with lime and can be made dairy free if you leave out the cheese. No state-of-the-art kitchen gadgets, recipes or plastic gloves required. Just the flutter of hands stretching dough, warming the masa, and gently pulling and patting Pupusas into imperfect circles. I have a friend who says she doesn’t like Pupusasbecause she claims they don’t have enough lard to be really greasy-juicy, and you have to get your Pupusa juice from the sauce and the pickled veggies that are served with it.  She would much prefer a dripping wet/greasy gordita. Some people might not like Pupusas because they are really greasy if you eat them the traditional way. The good news is that this rather tame dish is the cheapest venture in town, and it’s a hard dish to get wrong. I’ve had every Pupusa on the menu, and the one I keep going back for is the veggie version. I love that the veggies are shredded and there’s a perfect cheese-to-Veg ratio. One is a snack, two is a meal! This is what they look like!! Don’t they look soo good!!! The “salad” is called “Curtido”.

Puˈpusas  (recipe without  lard!) Ingredients

For the filling

2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes (optional)

2 tablespoons garlic powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon achiote powder


1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup coarsely chopped yellow onion

1 small green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into quarters

1 medium Roma tomato, seeded and coarsely chopped

1 head garlic, peeled and finely minced

8 cups shredded pepper jack cheese

For the curtido  
1 large Napa cabbage
 1 large carrot, peeled and trimmed  1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded

1 medium red onion

1 cup champagne vinegar

1/4 cup water, plus more as necessary

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon ground cumin

For the sauce

4 large Roma tomatoes

2 jalapeño chili peppers

1 yellow onion

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup water, or as needed


 For the dough

2 1/4 pounds masa harina (corn) flour

1 tablespoon Salt

Up to 3 quarts water



 For the filling: Season the cubes of pork with the spices and salt, rubbing them into the meat. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the pork and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the meat does not burn. Add the onion, bell pepper, tomato and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring to mix well; the consistency should be crisp and vegetables should have sweated and become somewhat caramelized. Transfer in batches to the bowl of a food processor along with evenly divided portions of the pepper jack cheese. Puree until somewhat smooth, with a slight texture. Set aside.

For the curtido (cabbage slaw): Cut the vegetables into very thin sticks (julienne), placing them in a large bowl as you work. Add the champagne vinegar, water, sugar and cumin and toss to combine. Set aside.

For the tomato sauce: Over an open flame, grill the tomatoes, jalapeno chili peppers and onion until they are charred. Cut the tomatoes in half, discard the jalapeno chili pepper stems and cut the onions into 1-inch slices.

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, until it shimmers. Add the grilled vegetable pieces, water and salt to taste. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, adding water as necessary. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth; taste and adjust seasonings. Set aside.

For the dough: Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. While kneading with your hands, slowly add water until a dough form that is easy to shape. If the dough is too hard and grainy, add water; if the dough is too watery, add flour.

To assemble: Have ready a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper or wax paper.

Using your hands, place 3 tablespoons of the Pupusa dough in 1 hand and create a well in the dough using your other hand. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the pork filling into the well and close up the dough tightly. Shape the dough into a 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch-thick disk that is 5 to 6 inches wide. Layer the Pupusas on the baking sheet.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Working in batches, sear the Pupusas for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or longer if you like them toasted. Stack the finished Pupusas on the lined baking sheet and tent loosely with aluminum foil. Place 3 pupusas on individual plates. Top them with the curtido and ladle the tomato sauce around the plate.

Serve warm.


Note: If you are not well practiced with the smack, smack smacking of tortilla formation, I recommend you use two pieces of plastic wrap and a flat round plastic lid to form them. Once you fill the Pupusa and close the dough around the filling, form it into a flattened disk by placing it between the plastic sheets and gently pressing on it with the plastic lid. Remove the top sheet of plastic, and with your finger, close all the cracked edges of the Pupusa. Recipe Source: From Ceiba chef de cuisine Victor Albisu.  

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About zoom50

“It’s amazing how people can get so excited about a rocket to the moon and not give a damn about smog, oil leaks, the devastation of the environment with pesticides, hunger, disease”
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7 Responses to What in the World are Pupusas?

  1. chorrof says:

    Excelente. Buenisimo article/blog

  2. Outstanding article and recipes. Thank you so much for sharing this 🙂

  3. Anonymous says:


  4. Gaby says:

    Informative article! I enjoyed learning about pupusas. However, I could have done without personal opinions. For instance, the “I like to try things I’ve never done before” paragraph. But overall, I liked the facts presented and the bonus recipe to try. Thanks!

  5. SWayand says:

    Everything sounds pretty authentic except the curtido has no sugar at all. Just salt. If you give a Salvadorean curtido with sugar he/she will not eat it!

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