Pupusa. Just say it. “Pupusa”. I don’t know if onomatopoeia would quite qualify in this instance, but doesn’t the word “pupusa” just sound like something bursting with savory goodness? Indeed these Salvadorean treats rank up there with some of my favorite foods for a number of reasons. Basically they’re fat tortillas (corn usually) stuffed with any number of ingredients (beans, cheese, pork or chicken, a even flowers –loroco) and fried on a griddle so the outside becomes nicely browned and crisp while the inside corn meal and fillings remain soft and moist, like a tamale. The best part is when a bit of the cheesy insides ooze out onto the hot the griddle and add another layer of delicious crispy crust to the pupusa. They’re then served with a tomato-y hot sauce and a nice vinegary cabbage and carrot slaw, the acid of the sauce and salad perfectly complementing the rich savoriness of the pupusas. They are supremely satisfying both to the palate and the stomach. They will fill you up.
My first taste of pupusas was not in El Salvador but in Guatemala, when I was a young lad many many years ago doing the young lad backpacker thing down in Central America. I was studying Spanish in Quetzaltenango and one day I was searching for a late afternoon snack in the parque central . I sampled a pupusa (not even that fresh of the griddle) from one of the food venders who’d set up shop. Mind blown. And then when I crossed over into El Salvador and encountered more and different varieties of pupusas, what was left of my mind was blown further. Living in SF – still as a young lad – I was ecstatic to find that I could find fresh and delicious pupusas at such favorites as Panchitas and El Zocolo.
But eight years living in NYC, meant a long hiatus from great pupusas. Sure, I could occasionally get some good ones at the Red Hook Ball fields (at least before they became over run by hipster foodies), but there were few Salvadorean restaurants that I was aware of where I could indulge to my heart’s content. Then a few months ago, we moved back to the Bay Area and I’ve been reunited with delectible pupusas once again. We live in Oakland, just a stone’s throw away (or a nice bike ride) from Los Cocos, one of the sole Salvadorean restaurant in the Fruitvale district, a neighborhood where Mexican taquerias predominate (not a bad thing, just stating a fact). I first ate at Los Cocos years ago with my friend Matt and when we feasted on pupusas and incredibly flavorful caldo de pollo (chicken soup). So, it was a real joy to bring Shef and K to this spot a couple months ago when we were newly arrived to Oakland. It was just as I had remembered it – decorated with Salvadorean tchotchkes, the air inside hazy with cooking grease. In other words, perfect. K got her first taste of pupusas and it’s fair to say, she loved them.
Eating at Los Cocos (with Matt again) a few weeks later, I asked Rosa the cook and owner of the restaurant if I could make a short vid of her cooking pupusas process. She said, “sure!” So, this is the result. Please enjoy and go find pupusas near to you because this vid will make you hungry.
After Bombay, Shefali and I spent a few days days visiting her cousin who teaches at a school at an ashram about an hour’s drive outside Coimbature, Tamil Nadu. Spending time in an environment dedicated to the spiritual teachings of a single guru was “enlightening”, to say the least, but the communal eating part of the ashram, while enjoyable – like one enjoys school cafeterias – left me wanting. Specifically, I was wanting to eat meat. Fortunately, our next stop was Goa where we hoped to chill on the beach and eat delicious food. We were fifty percent successful in our plan. You see, while we knew traveling in India during the monsoon season would make for some rainy and wet weather, we did not quite anticipate how much the seasonal storms would affect the normally crystalline waters and tranquil beaches for which this Indian state is known. The ocean was rough and choppy, with dangerous riptides. So while there was a pseudo-romantic walk or two on the beach ( view more Goa pictures), there was no beach lounging or swimming. We had to drown our sorrows, by snacking a lot. We ate plenty of regular Indian fare or course. For example, we found the best kathi roll of the entire whole trip in Candolim at the only restaurant we could find open (it was surprising how many businesses were closed during the monsoon season). But as a former Portuguese colony, Goa has a rich culinary traditional blending the bold flavors and wine and vinegar marinades of Portuguese cooking with the spice of Indian cuisine. So we made a point to seek out Goan dishes and order them if we could. We didn’t always strike gold but that could have been due more to where we were eating (again, it was tough to find open places during the low season), but there were definitely some stand out fantastic dishes. Unfortunately I didn’t document them so well, but they were (in no particular order of preference: pork vindaloo, chicken cafreal, pork balchao. The high point was eating at Viva Panjim in Goa’s capital city of Paniji. It’s run by this wonderful woman named Linda D’Souza who retired from teaching in Bombay to open up her restaurant in her family home and based many of the dishes on family recipes. She was super cool. Please enjoy the photos below for more visual stimulation. Be sure to click on the thumbnails for full sized photos and more in depth descriptions.
Cow statue a the Ashram
Clarence tries to teach..
Lunch time at the Ashram
Amazingly, everyone did their parts by washing their own dishes.
Shefali enjoys a kingfisher beer at our first dinner in Goa
Shefali inhales some porky vindaloo
We also got some fish curry with the pork.
Goan sausage cooked in chilis and fried bhindi (okra)
Linda’s Viva Panjim Family Restaurant
Pork specialties. Need I say more?
Chicken curry (can’t remember which kind – it was okay) and pork balchao (awesome!)
Here’s my plate of food. Let me repeat, the pork balchao was freaking amazing.
Goan coconut pudding
Linda spends her time behind her big desk talking to customers and overseeing the action
I pose with Linda. I think maybe we’re related. At least our shirts are.
A carnitas taco with homemade tomatillo salsa. Bien rico!
Roast pork of any sort is the bee’s knees. And by bee’s knees, I mean one of the greatest developments in the history of food – if you dig on the pig. So the Mexican style roast pork known as carnitas – literally “little meats” in Spanish – with it’s tender and crunchy bits is like the bee’s knees on steroids. Because good burritos and tacos were always readily available back in California, I never really had any need to make carnitas myself. But then I moved to NYC where the Mexican food was sorely lacking. Things have changed in the last few years. There are better Mexican options and of course the Puerto Rican style pernil so prevalent in many of the Spanish American joints in NYCwill do in a pinch. But I’ve found that when I have the craving for the moist, yet crispy morsels of savory pork, the best solution is to do it myself. It’s so easy. All it takes is a bit of time. So without further ado, I present to you my version of carnitas. Enjoy!
3-4 lbs of pork shoulder meat (cut into 1-2 inch cubes)
1-2 tbsp of white vinegar
1-2 tsp of salt
1-2 tsp of cumin
1/4-1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp of paprika
1-2 tbsp of dried oregano
… and it grows up to become this salsa which will hurt you, but you’ll love it anyway – kind of like a dysfunctional relationship.
Alright, are you ready to have your mind blown? or your mouth? or your stomach? ok, your butt? Well, I guarantee you that this salsa will do at least one of these and hopefully just the first two. Like the tomatillo salsa, this one has become a staple in our household but unlike the tomatillo which you can slather liberally on just about anything, with this salsa, a little dab will do ya (bonus points to anyone who remembers that slogan). This stuff packs some serious heat so please exercise caution. But, you have my personal guarantee that with its sunny, bright, citrusy and peppery spice, you’ll have a hard time limiting yourself to just a little dab. It enlivens whatever you put it on. I dare say the word “picquant” is the perfect adjective to describe this salsa.
1/4 lbs of habañeros (roasted and seeded – you might want to wear rubber gloves when handling these peppers because the chili’s oils will actually start to burn your skin with prolonged exposure. Perhaps I should heed my own advice).
1-2 tbsp of white vinegar
juice of half a lime
1/4 tsp of salt
1/8 tsp of garlic powder
1/8 tsp of cumin powder (optional)
1/8 tsp of sugar
1-2 tbsp water (to thin out the sauce and mellow the spice – a little)
My attempt at plating. Anyway, you get the idea. Wings and drumettes with sauce.
Alright, I meant to put this up before the Super Bowl, but I got waylaid by Chinese New Year’s festivities (stay tuned for a future posting). So football season is now officially over. But really, who needs to watch grown men running around in skin tight pants, head butting each other in order to enjoy spicy and delicious chicken wings? I, for one, do not. And neither should you. It’s always the right time for hot wings.
Here’s the recipe (as usual, quantities are suggested):
8 oz chipotle peppers in adobo (or from 1/2 cup to 3/4 – depending on how spicy you want it)
2 – 3 tsp to of fish sauce
1-2 tsp of vinegar
1 tbsp of ginger
1-2 tsp of garlic
2-3 tbsp of plain yogurt
2 1/2 lbs of chicken wings