El Salvador – Comida (Part I)

A big part of the trip was of course, eating, and I ate as if making up for lost time, because I was.

You see, the first time I went to El Salvador in 1999, I really missed out on this aspect of the culture. Before our trip I had visited my doctor to see if I needed any shots and he had given me a long list of things not to eat while there, warning me of all kinds of illnesses I could get. This made me incredibly paranoid and I ended up surviving mostly on a box of Cheerios and pre-packaged Lido cakes. I did try pupusas de loroco, which at the time I hated, and I couldn’t be convinced to try much else. I cringe to think about what kind of impression this must have made on the family and other Salvadorans at the time.

This time was very different – I ate (almost!) everything. (One year old fermented nances and marañones were the only things I politely declined. From across the room they smelled like rubbing alcohol and I gagged watching Carlos eat them.)

I promised myself that this time I would make the most of the trip by eating all the things I can only daydream about at home – and guess what? I didn’t get sick from a single thing I ate. (Take THAT gringo doctor!)

Here were some of the highlights:

Okay, our first meal in El Salvador, sadly enough, was a hamburger. We invited friends to dinner and said we would take them wherever they wanted. They picked Tony (frigging) Roma’s. Our friends loved American food, (and American anything for that matter) – so I eventually had to break it to them gently that we have hamburgers at home and I really wanted to eat Salvadoran food… I also had to explain this sentiment regarding the malls. For the first few days they took us to every mall in San Salvador. They were very proud of the malls and were really surprised when I insisted I’d rather go to an open market.

While we’re on the topic of American food though – before I forget – let me remind you, if you order french fries in El Salvador, and you aren’t at a fast food chain – make sure you tell them you want them plain. Salvadoran restaurants love to cover french fries in ketchup and Parmesan cheese for you.

Anyway, one night, one of Carlos’s cousins kindly invited us to dinner. They suggested we go to… {wait for it}… Tony Roma’s. I guess they could tell I wasn’t enthused because they asked what kind of food we liked to eat. I said “Salvadoran” before Carlos could say “Chinese” and before the kids could ask for pizza.

We ended up at a place called Basilea in the Zona Rosa. At Basilea we ate outdoors in a beautiful garden, and even better, they had Pollo con Loroco y yuca frita on the menu. I took a big chance ordering it because, like I said, the one time I had tried loroco, I hated it. Thankfully, I absolutely loved it this time. Loroco tasted to me sort of like broccoli or artichoke.

Pollo con Loroco y Yuca Frita

As you may have noticed, many Salvadorans like to eat at American restaurants – and although they’re usually more expensive than establishments selling traditional food, there are an abundance of them, and somehow, they’re always busy. I didn’t mind eating at places like Pizza Hut and KFC once in awhile because the differences in the menu made it interesting. So, let’s talk about the fast food in El Salvador. Next post will be about traditional food.

For one thing, Pizza Hut in El Salvador serves breakfast. On the menu are various tropical drinks and horchata. For dessert, they don’t have cinnamon sticks – they have Pastel de Tres Leches.

The line for Pizza Hut breakfast at San Salvador's Pizza Hut in Metrocentro.

McDonald’s had various differences in the menu. They had sandwiches called “McTocino” and “McPollo.” They had Big Macs with 4 patties instead of 2 called “Big Mac doble” – and one of the McFlurry flavors included pieces of Chips Ahoy cookies. Also, (though not exactly on the menu), the McDonald’s employees at one location were making out at the front counter. (I won’t say which one because I don’t want to get the young lovebirds in trouble.)

I never actually ate at McDonald’s, though we did eat at Biggest, the Salvadoran fast food equivalent of Burger King. When we went in 1999, it was only burgers, but they’ve recently introduced pupusas to the menu.

The billboard announces that Biggest now has pupusas. The billboard in front of it is not as appetizing. Something about 'hongos' - fungal infections.

One day our older son was whining about how he missed American food so we went to Biggest.

A burger and fries from Biggest in El Salvador.

The burgers there were disgustingly huge. Luckily, I ordered the pupusas, which were surprisingly very good.

Pupusas de queso from Biggest.

In other fast food observations:

Most fast food places (including American restaurants) offer “servicio a domicilio” (home delivery.)

I got Chinese fried rice from a Chinese place in a mall food court. My rice had chopped hot dog in it.

The sodas use real sugar, not high fructose corn syrup.

I kept trying to order “Diet” soda, but was offered “Pepsi Light.” (Flashback to the 1980’s?)

It seems that copyright is not strictly enforced in El Salvador. On our way back from Chalatenango we were starving and decided to stop at the first restaurant we saw. We stopped at an establishment with a big sign that looked like this:

(Not what you think)

This “Wendy’s” was privately owned by a Salvadoran woman. On the menu? Steak, tacos and quesadilla. (In other words, it was not a real Wendy’s.)

(More food next post – and more of it will be traditional!)


  1. The breakfasts at Pizza Hut are actually quite good and you’ll find most places offer breakfast (like Pollo Campero and KFC).

    Did you ever get around to trying out Mister Donut?

  2. When we went on holidays to the coast this year, it was so frustrating to me that my family didn’t want to eat seafood morning, noon, and night. I DID! LOL! I kept saying “This is the freshest you will ever get it!” They just rolled their eyes and ordered what they wanted. Grrrr.

  3. I went to Salvador before I came to North America so I did notice a lot of fast-food and US franchises, but I really wasn’t sure what was Blockbuster, Wendy’s etc. at the time :lol:

    In Peru, they love salchipapas, fries with chopped hot dog on top. Ugh.

    Oh, and in most places around the world, the “diet” version of a soda is “light”. In France, it’s “Coca Light” etc. Same goes for most of Latin America.

  4. I have been waiting for this post! (All I ever think about is food! :P) Everything looks so good, especially the pollo and pupusas. How funny how different the menus at the fast food restaurants are from their U.S. counterparts. The only American fast food restaurant I’ve eaten at in my 10 years in Mexico is KFC, and I didn’t pay attention to the menu items. (Next time I visit the city!)

    Fried rice with hot dogs??? Too funny! Chopped hot dogs are a very popular pizza topping here in town. :P

    So glad you were able to enjoy the food this time and didn’t get sick! Can’t wait to read about the more traditional food. :)

  5. I love seeing how american fast food places change according to the location. In Spain you can have beer with your combo at any mcdonalds or BK… Also in Rome. I’ve only eaten at a Carls Jr. in Mexico and didn’t notice a difference. Until this day tho, the most delicious sushi I’ve had was in Mex at a restaurant owned by a Mexican. Also, I’ve eaten Chinese food in 6 different countries, all Chinese owned, and they’re all completely different!

  6. I was addicted to subway when I went last time and in El Salvador it’s a never again! The pizza at pizza hut tasted wayyy better to me. Did you find bottled water? I only found unas de bolsitas. Looking forward to your next blog :)

  7. Yuca frita con chicharon is my favorite thing to order when we go out for Salvadorean food (up the street:), I was surprised you didn’t have pollo campero pictures, whenever we go back home we always stop by the lady outside making tortillas ( a must according to my grandmother) and then go inside to get out chicken.

    I’ve never had much fast food in El Salvador but that hamburger and fries do look yummy ( :

    • Just made yuca frita last night. Love that dish too.

      No Pollo Campero photos because I’m saving them for something else :) We did eat there though.

    • Even though we ate at some chains, etc – I think I did pretty well to eat as much Salvadoran food as I could. I will have to announce my “rule” on the first day next time though so I can avoid Tony Roma’s :p

  8. Love the fact that I helped you change your mind about loroco! Dis de happen to se or have ‘chufles”? Those little things are what I consider Salvadoran Artichokes (I’ll share a pic with you). Yummy too.
    Wow, you guys DID go to fast food restaurants. Not my #1 choice but sometimes I do cave in.
    That Pollo con Loroco and Yuca from Basilea, looks good. Love that place; love the ambiance and the garden.
    Now, to the next post!

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