A Case of Pupusa Love


pupusa and curtido

Today I tasted my first pupusa and promptly fell in love. The national dish of El Salvador takes the shape of a thick corn tortilla stuffed with cheese, beans or pork. Corn turns up in many of my favorite foods as it exudes comforting homeyness. My friend Julie, who has lived in Richmond for 20 years, has been telling me about her little neighborhood gem,  La Bamba Taqueria, which has been there longer than she has, and I finally got her to take me there for lunch.

You might walk right past La Bamba – except that its screaming orange and yellow walls catch your eye.  The menu has other dishes that Julie says are quite good but we went straight for the Salvadoran Specialities and ordered one of each kind of pupusa: cheese, beans and pork and one with a combination of all three with loroco (the bud of an edible flower). ($2.30/each)

Pupusas’ history reaches back hundreds of years. Implements for making them were discovered in the archeological site Joya de Ceren (like a Salvadoran Pompeii) where around the year 600, a volcanic eruption buried a farming village. No human remains were found, so it seems that people were able to flee the lava in time, but they left behind utensils, ceramics and even half-eaten food.

One reason pupusas are so good at La Bamba is that they are made fresh right in front of you. You can watch the women patting the masa dough into a pancake, adding the filling, rolling it up in a ball and then patting it flat again. They throw the pupusas on the grill and heat each side till lightly browned.


The traditional accompaniment curtido, is a tangy mix of cabbage, carrots, onions, chilis and vinegar that is slightly fermented. The melty cheese oozing from a warm corn patty topped with cool crunchy slaw is a heavenly marriage of textures. And the best part: you eat pupusas with your hands.

About Anna Mindess

A sign language interpreter by day; a food writer by night. Endlessly fascinated by looking at the world through the eyes of different cultures -- and tasting its variety. Anna lives in Berkeley, California with her husband and daughter. Author of READING BETWEEN THE SIGNS and now a freelance writer for KQED's Bay Area Bites, Oakland Magazine and other publications.
This entry was posted in El Salvador, gluten-free food and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to A Case of Pupusa Love

  1. Ilana DeBare says:

    Oh, I love pupusas too. There’s a Salvadoran restaurant across from West Oakland BART and also one on Fruitvale that make them. But sadly, I tend to stay away from them for weight-watching reasons. There are all these delicious categories of food (fried chicken! burritos! dim sum!) that I ate wantonly when younger and now try to approach with caution. Sigh.

  2. Anna Mindess says:

    Ilana, you are a better woman than I am — in terms of self-control — especially with these quests to try new ethnic foods. Oh well, at least I have also fallen in love with Zumba dance classes. Maybe they balance out.

  3. Tara Potterveld says:

    These Pupusas look unbelievable good! I think a trip to Richmond is in order to give them a try. They also look like they would be Gluten-Free…an added bonus. Thanks for finding these and getting the word out.

    • Anna Mindess says:

      Thanks, Tara. Yes, these are gluten-free for sure. I realize that many of the ethnic foods I have highlighted on my blog are wheat/gluten free and I am going to go back and re-tag them as such. Having a wheat-sensitivity myself, I tend to gravitate to rice or corn based foods, which luckily seem to be widely represented in cuisines from other cultures. (If you wish, check out the posts on: jook, Burmese tea-leaf salad, Thai dishes, Japanese foods, and the wonderful Afghan quabli pallow.)

  4. Paul Lam says:

    I tried my first pupusa a few weeks ago at Restaurante El Salvador in Concord. I will now have to try Bamba Taqueria

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