Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What we eat here...

I've been asked by a lot of people what we eat here. Many people are under the mistaken impression that the local cuisine is spicy and similar to Mexican food. In fact, the typical food here is quite bland compared to what we are used to from the States. Beans, rice, and tortillas are staple food items for the people here. To have meat with a meal is a rare thing and usually saved for special occasions.

One of the foods El Salvador is famous for is pupusas. A pupusa is a thick corn tortilla that has been stuffed and fried. Most of the time the ingredients they are stuffed with are beans or cheese or a combination of them. There are also various greens or edible flowers that they place inside of them or sometimes even various meats. They are served with a tomato sauce and 'curtido' (a pickled cabbage slaw) on the side and eaten with your hands. Our family loves pupusas and is blessed to have a standing invitation to the home of sister Reina every Sunday night for her marvelous pupusas.

Our family has our own variety of tortillas and beans and cheese that we eat on
a regular basis at home. We buy a brand of tortillas called "Rapiditas" which are thin flour tortillas that come with 10 in a package for $1.00. We also buy foil pouches of refried red beans and a white cheese called "quesillo" that is similar to mozzarella cheese. We spread a layer of beans on half of the tortilla, put a small slice of the quesillo on it, and roll up the tortilla. Then heat them in the microwave for a brief time and they are ready to go. Monte and Erin prefer theirs with a little bit of hot sauce (similar to Louisiana Red) and we also like them with a side of Latin cream (like sour cream but waaaaaay better!) to dip them in. Our family eats these as a meal at least 4 or 5 times a week. It's a convenient meal and economical as well. I have to say, I never thought my family would be happy with a meatless meal as often as we are, but we've found it to be very satisfying. And if we have some lettuce, onion or tomato handy we add it in as well.

I have found that we are much happier with our beef products if I buy them in San Salvador when we make trips there. The ground beef I have bought in La Palma would never turn brown no matter how long I cooked it. So now we buy it in San Salvador, baggie it into smaller portions, and freeze it.

We do have special occasions when I have fixed things like lasagna and poppy seed chicken but because the ingredients for these are more expensive, we limit how often we enjoy them. And then when we do get to indulge in them, we really appreciate and enjoy them.

My own personal cooking skills have had to expand and adapt to the environment. It's quite pricey to buy boneless skinless chicken breasts here so it's better to buy a whole chicken or a quartered chicken and do the work yourself. The chicken I bought to cook for Christmas came with a bit of a surprise.
I bought it from a lady in town selling chickens out of the back of her pickup. She sat on the curb with a notebook tracking sales and another lady was in the pickup with a large 50 gallon drum filled with a slurry of ice and freshly butchered chickens. I asked the lady with the notebook if the chickens were fresh and she said yes--they were killed that morning--and that they'd still be warm except she'd placed them in the ice. She had the lady in the pickup hold up a big one for me to see and said the smaller ones were $8 and the larger ones were $10. I told her I'd take a big one and she double bagged it for me and I headed home. I knew the chicken still had the neck on it but was surprised to find when I got ready to cook it that there was a little more than the neck still attached. Luckily I had Monte here to assist in removing the rest of the head prior to cooking the chicken. Then Monte also removed it from the bones so that I could make it into a casserole. This was one big chicken and the meat from it more than filled a 9x13 pan when Monte removed it. I will definitely buy more chicken from this lady if I see her selling them again.

There's a man who comes to town once a week to sell fresh seafood caught that morning at the coast. We've bought from him several times--shrimp or fish fillets--and he now will stop at our house if we don't come out and he'll make sure we don't want anything that week. His seafood is very good and he's very courteous and helpful. If we ask for two pounds of shrimp he'll bring the scale to two pounds and then usually throw another handful in for free. He usually comes on Saturdays but he came on Friday before Christmas because of the holiday. We wanted to buy a fish fillet and some shrimp to put in the freezer. As I went out to his truck with him, I took freshly baked cupcakes for him and the guys who work with him. In return, he gave me four whole fish--one for everyone in our family. One of the guys in the truck scaled it and gutted it and placed them in a bag for me. I wasn't sure how to cook them exactly but was able to google and come up with some answers.
We washed them, floured and salted them and placed garlic and onion in the cavity and then fried them. I made some 'typico' rice to go on the side and we had a delicious lunch. We will DEFINITELY buy these fish again and next time will make more of a 'salsa' to stuff them with using onions, garlic, green peppers, and tomatoes. But it was a fun cooking experiment and a delicious one as well.

We have all lost weight while living here. Partly because we walk nearly everywhere--and it really is usually uphill both ways! Partly because we are eating less food than we used to. And partly just because there is not as much of a variety of food available. No Braum's or Culver's here. No Babe's onion rings here. No Big Macs here. Our family plays a game sometimes when we're craving food from back home. We each imagine that we're back home and go through and choose our entire meal including appetizer, main course, sides, dessert, and beverage and they can all be from different places. Today I'd pick onion rings from Babe's (the one on North Main street cause they're the best) and an Asian Salad from Del Rio and a raspberry lemonade from Olive Garden. Dessert? Anything yummy and chocolatey will do. :)


tino said...

This was very interesting.....thanks for posting

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