On The Range: Pupusas

On The Range is a weekly exploration of the history and lore of Texas menu items.

If Cole Porter, world-famous composer, musical philosopher and inspiration for the Jonas Brothers...yeah, right...were alive today and writing about food instead of music, he might term El Salvador's love affair with pupusas this way:

"Birds eat them/Bees eat them/Even educated fleas eat them."

And in El Salvador, make no mistake, El Presidente himself partakes of the humble street food. So beloved are the hand-made corn flatbreads that November 13th has been declared National Pupusa Day in that country.

Basically, pupusas are created by shaping masa harina or fresh masa into flat corn cakes, preferably by slapping them from hand to hand much like a tortilla--although using a tortilla press is also acceptable. After shaping the masa mix into small balls, pupusas are stuffed with a filling and are fried in a griddle or skillet until done. Ground or shredded pork and shredded cheese are commonly employed as fillings, along with onions, garlic, jalapenos, chopped tomato and tomato broth, cumin and salt.

Whatever ends up inside, the finished cakes should be served with curtido, a pickled slaw-like salad that helps bring out the flavor. In her article, "Bona Fide Pupusas/Classic or Clueless? Here's How To Tell," Houston Chronicle writer Eyder Peralta confirms this practice and describes her experience with genuine pupusas this way:

"Before you eat a pupusa, it's tradition to sprinkle it with curtido, a pickled salad made with cabbage and carrots. I took a bite. The cheese had melted. The salty pork mixed well with the tart vinegar. And the tortilla, moist and just slightly sweet, complemented it all just like a perfect crust compliments a pizza."

At the time she wrote the article (2006), Peralta was concerned because Taco Cabanas in the Houston area were advertising pupusas. Three years later, the trend seems to have died a natural death: there's no trace of pupusas on Cabana's online menu.

Peralta also notes that pupusas are traditionally made from corn flour, but that here in the states, Maseca, a corn-masa hybrid, is often employed instead. She adds that high-end Salvadoran restaurants will use rice flour, as well as wheat flour for the carb-conscious.

A quick survey of establishments on Belt Line Road in Carrollton reveals little mom-and-pop places serving pupusas, in case you're suitably adventurous. But say that your significant other is overly timid and will not eat anything Hispanic except for Tex-Mex. What then? Luckily, Glorias Restaurant has eight locations in Texas, including several right here in the DFW area. You can chow down on pupusas, platanos fritos (fried bananas), and other "Salvatex" dishes, or you can play it safe with burritos, chimichangas, and the like.

Glorias serves pupusas with black beans, rice and curtido, and you can choose from pork or cheese. Be sure to sprinkle the curtido on top.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chris Meesey