Central America is most famous for its colorful, eclectic, and flavorful cuisine.
While El Salvador might be known for its dramatic volcanic landscapes, the country is filled with fantastic foods inspired by Indigenous peoples and Hispanic cultures.
Due to the location and cultural significance of El Salvador, the country’s cuisine is an eclectic range of spices and complex flavors reminiscent of popular Mexican dishes.
So, you might recognize some of these iconic foods!
Whether you want to delve into your ancestry with food or if you’re looking to expand your culinary knowledge, here are 23 traditional Salvadoran foods and recipes!
Pupusas, also known simply as stuffed tortillas, are the national dish of El Salvador. While on the surface they might look like plain tortillas, pupusas are stuffed with a creamy and spicy mixture of cheese, squash, and jalapeños.
They are traditionally eaten with a topping of pickled cabbage slaw or salsa.
In most cases, pupusas are sold as street food or made for a snack throughout the day. They can also come stuffed with meat and beans alongside the cheese. It’s also traditional to eat these with your hands!
2. Carne Asada
If you love steak, you have to make carne asada. Carne asada is a type of marinade consisting of olive oil, cilantro, orange juice, soy sauce, lime juice, jalapeño, cumin, garlic, and pepper.
The steak of choice is left to marinade in this concoction for at least 4 hours, before being patted dry and grilled to perfection.
Nothing quite beats a sumptuous, tender, and juicy steak, especially when the steak is filled with flavor. Perfect for impressing your guests at the next barbecue!
Beans are a huge part of Central American cuisine, especially when they’re made into a hearty and creamy soup.
This Salvadoran bean soup recipe is packed with protein and other nutrients, thanks to the main ingredient of dried red beans.
When combined into a soup with garlic, coriander, onions, and chilies, this becomes a comforting and warming meal that is ideal for fall and winter.
The recipe also includes instructions for dumplings, which make for a lovely addition to the soup.
Also known as Salvadoran empanadas, pastelitos Salvadores are fried stuffed turnovers made from a corn flour dough and filled with a range of meats and vegetables.
This is a popular street food item commonly eaten as a snack, and they are nothing short of delicious.
While empanadas can be found in various forms across the world, Salvadoran empanadas are deep-fried, allowing for a crispy and oh-so-yummy outer shell.
They are traditionally sold with some type of tomato sauce, salsa, or curtido.
While you might assume that tamales are a Mexican dish, they’re actually a Mesoamerican food that can be found across Central America.
In El Salvador, it’s traditional to follow a family recipe of tamales to serve for special occasions (or even just a regular Tuesday!). They might take a while to cook, but the results are definitely worth the wait.
This recipe takes you through how to make every part of a tamale, from the masa to the sauce and boiled chicken filling, and how to present them.
Sopa de camarones, otherwise known as shrimp soup, is a Salvadoran specialty. It’s a bit of an underrated Salvadoran food, but if you love seafood, then you’ll love this soup.
This is a broth-based, creamy soup featuring shrimp, potatoes, onions, carrots, and tomatoes, making for a healthy and warming bowl of deliciousness.
The best part about this soup is that it’s easy to make and alter, so if you want to add a bit of spice, you can always add chilies.
7. Sopa De Pata
Another popular Salvadoran soup is sopa de pata, which is a healthy and hearty cow’s feet and tripe soup.
While the meat might sound off-putting, this is a great way to use up pieces of an animal that are often forgotten about in Western cuisine.
The meat is accompanied by local and seasonal vegetables, including corn, chayote, tomatoes, chili, and cassava.
This soup is all about the flavor. The savory meat works beautifully with the refreshing vegetables, matched with a hint of spice from the chili and a zesty bitterness of lime juice.
When you hear enchiladas, you probably think of a stuffed tortilla drizzled in sauce and cheese.
Salvadoran enchiladas are slightly different from regular enchiladas, as they consist of an open enchilada tortilla topped with a range of foods, including meats, vegetables, beans, and more.
These enchiladas are quick to make and ideal for a delicious lunch or easy dinner. While they might not be particularly easy to eat without a knife and fork, it’s best to eat this dish with your hands for the full experience.
9. Lomo Relleno
Lomo relleno is a traditional Salvadoran meat dish consisting of a beef or pork tenderloin that is cut open and stuffed with a filling.
The filling varies depending on what’s available, but it typically includes carrots, onions, green beans, potatoes, peppers, eggplants, mushrooms, garlic, boiled eggs, bacon or ham, and a range of herbs and spices.
After being stuffed, the meat is then browned and baked to create an effortlessly flavorful chunk of meat. Serve with a range of sides, such as potatoes, rice, and salad.
10. Loco Elote
Loco elote is the hallmark of Salvadoran summer street food.
Translation to grilled corn, this tasty dish is often served as a side dish, snack, or lunchtime meal.
It consists of fresh corn on the cob covered in a batter-like paste, consisting of cotija cheese, cilantro, cayenne pepper, garlic, lemon, and mayonnaise.
When grilled, you’re left with a crispy yet juicy and highly flavorful corn on the cob. You can also add more spices to make the topping spicy and more flavorsome.
A popular breakfast item in Salvadoran cuisine is casamiento, which is a delicious combination of rice and beans.
This is actually a common breakfast dish across Central America, just with different names depending on the area. Casamiento is simple but effective, making for a filling and healthy start to the day.
This dish is accompanied by scrambled eggs (with onions and peppers), plantains, tortillas, or fried bread. It’s also served for dinner, just without the scrambled eggs.
Yuca con chicharrón is one of the most popular Salvadoran dishes, and for good reason.
This dish consists of yuca (also known as cassava), raw cabbage with lemon, chicharrones, hot sauce, and a dressing called mojo.
The chicharrón is the second-most important ingredient in this dish, which is a deliciously fried pork belly.
This is a colorful and flavorful dish that is built up on contrasting textures and flavors, so it’s clear why it’s a favorite amongst Salvadoran families.
Sancocho de gallina might be the national dish of Panama (see also ‘Top 23 Panamanian Foods To Try Today‘), but it’s also popular in other Central American countries, including Columbia and El Salvador.
This is a traditional soup also known as “hen’s stew”, featuring hen (or chicken if hen isn’t available), chunky vegetables, and a range of herbs and seasonings.
This is a great way to use up leftover vegetables and feature seasonal veggies, including onions, leeks, corn, pumpkin, yucca, potatoes, carrots, and more.
Not only is it delicious, but this is a highly nutritious soup!
Chirimol is basically the Salvadoran version of Mexican pico de gallo. This side dish consists of diced tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, cilantro, lime, and various seasonings.
It is highly flavorful and full of goodness, and typically goes with a range of Salvadoran dishes, including enchiladas, pupusas, grilled meat, and a plethora of fried food.
While it’s not exactly traditional, it’s really nice to add diced jalapeños to this side dish to add a spicy kick. Make sure to allow this to rest for 20 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to shine.
Also known simply as steak and onions, bistec encebollado is a great dish for lovers of meat.
This dish consists of a flavorful and hearty skillet-fried steak, which is first marinated in a mixture of salt, pepper, mustard, and onions. Everything is sautéed and then served with a side of vegetables, such as potatoes and green beans.
This is one of the most simple Salvadoran meals to make at home, and is ideal for a quick weeknight meal after a busy day at work.
Rice is arguably one of the most popular side dishes in Salvadoran cuisine, so if you want to make a dish to accompany another meal on this list, try this recipe.
This carrot rice dish is simple yet effective, and a great way to use up stray carrots. It consists of (you guessed it) rice, carrots, onions, green pepper, garlic, and chicken bouillon.
Sometimes this dish is served as a side dish, others it’s eaten for breakfast alongside vegetables.
17. Pollo En Pinol
Pollo en pinol is arguably one of the most popular dishes served during feasts and festivals in El Salvador.
This is a stewed chicken dish, featuring sumptuous chicken breast, onions, potatoes, cilantro, green peppers, and ground corn flour. It’s a truly delicious and hearty meal, one that is treasured by Salvadorans across the globe.
Pollo en pinol is traditionally served with white rice, but you can also mop up the stew with tortillas.
Horchata de morro is a popular drink consumed across the country.
This is a plant-based drink consisting of ground morro seeds, white rice, sesame seeds, squash seeds, cocoa beans, peanuts, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, and allspice.
It is comforting, sweet, and really tasty – especially when accompanied by Salvadoran foods.
While it might take a bit of practice to make this drink, the results are definitely worth it. Plus, as it’s vegan, everyone can enjoy it! Although, you can replace the milk with dairy if preferred.
Torrejas are a popular Salvadoran dessert, and basically the equivalent of French toast. While it’s most commonly consumed during Easter, this dessert can be enjoyed throughout the year.
This dessert consists of bread soaked in an egg-based mix, including sugar, cloves, milk, and cinnamon sticks.
The bread is then fried and served with a hefty drizzle of syrup over the top. You can also have this dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
20. Nuegados De Yuca
Nuegados de yuca are basically El Salvador’s version of donuts, most traditionally served during Easter.
They are often called just “nuegados” as they can be made with a range of ingredients, including eggs, corn flour, and bananas.
This recipe, however, features yuca or cassava, which is a highly versatile vegetable found in most Salvadoran dishes.
The donuts are served with a panela syrup, consisting of panela (an unrefined whole cane sugar), cinnamon, and cloves. This is certainly a dessert for those with a sweet tooth.
Translated as the “three milk cake”, pastel de tres leches is a fluffy cake believed to have originated in Nicaragua, but it is found across Central America, including El Salvador.
This cake exacts fluffiness thanks to the three kinds of milk – whole milk (or coconut milk), sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk.
What’s interesting is that the cake requires chilling for 6-8 hours while the milk mixture seeps into the sponge, making for a supremely moist cake.
Charamuscas, or topogigio, is a frozen drink served in the heat of Salvadoran summers. Whether you’re visiting El Salvador or if it’s simply a hot day and you wish to cool down, you need to make charamuscas.
The drink – typically fruit or milk-based – is poured into bags and frozen, and basically served like a popsicle without a stick.
It’s quite common to see kids eat charamuscas in El Salvador to cool down and rehydrate in the heat of summer.
23. Arroz Con Leche
Rice is prevalent in most Salvadoran dishes, including dessert! Arroz con leche is the Spanish version of rice pudding, and it’s nothing short of delicious.
This rice pudding consists of silky rice, milk, sugar, cinnamon, and an array of other comforting ingredients.
Every household has their own way of cooking arroz con leche, so you can experiment with different flavors and the consistency of the rice to your preference.
So, there you have it! El Salvador might be most well-known for its dramatic landscapes and fascinating cultural history, but now you know that the country should also be known for its food, too. Happy cooking!
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The National Dish Of El Salvador?
The national dish of El Salvador is pupusas, which are thick tortillas stuffed with a mixture of meats, cheese, squash, beans, or other vegetables.
They can be found in virtually any street vendor or restaurant, and are served with a pickled cabbage slaw and tomato sauce.
Is Salvadoran Food Healthy?
Salvadoran food is considered very healthy thanks to the prominence of protein in the meat and bean-based foods.
The vast majority of Salvadoran dishes include a range of local and seasonal vegetables, which adds a plethora of vitamins and minerals to each meal.
The only reason it’s often considered unhealthy is due to the amount of fried food in the cuisine.