In praise of the pupusa in L.A.

Stacked pupusas by Delmy's Pupusas.
(Oscar Rodriguez Zapata / Pupusa Fest)

I’m generally a proponent of any kind of stuffed food — be it peppers, pierogi or Hot Pockets. There’s an inherent excitement in eating something that has a secret, that is more than meets the eye. It’s no wonder, then, that I love pupusas, the national dish of El Salvador, that sunny rinconcito of Central America that fully displayed its civic pride at Pupusa Fest in Frogtown on Sunday.

I’m Lucas Kwan Peterson, Food columnist, filling in this week for Bill Addison. And I’m here to say that the pupusa in Los Angeles is thriving, as made abundantly clear by the Pupusa Fest turnout.

The festival was organized by Salvies Who Lunch, an organization aimed at empowering and educating the Salvadoran community. The sold-out event welcomed around 300 people, including more than a dozen product and food vendors.


Three people, one in an apron and another in a chef's jacket, smile as they walk with arms linked.
Pupusa vendors were celebrated at the festival, which also highlighted apparel and cookbook vendors.
(Oscar Rodriguez Zapata / Pupusa Fest)

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“It’s very important to create these events for the Salvadoran American community because if we do not create these spaces, the culture is going to be forgotten,” said Cynthia Gonzalez, founder of Salvies Who Lunch. Gonzalez said she was inspired by what she viewed as an imbalanced portrayal of the Salvadoran community.

“All I see in the media is discussion on war and the gangs and so forth,” she said. Instead, Gonzalez wanted to focus on positive celebrations of Salvadoran culture.

A woman stands at a grill where flat breads are baking; two others prepare dishes at a table beside her.
Cooks preparing pupusas at the Pupusa Fest.
(Oscar Rodriguez Zapata / Pupusa Fest)

That includes food, naturally. The pupusa I ate from Delmy’s Pupusas, which was judged best pupusa of the festival, was a textbook example of what a good pupusa should be: perfectly sized, about the diameter of the lid on a takeout quart container; a searing-hot inside filled with beans, cheese and meat; a cold pickled slaw known as curtido and salsa plopped right on top.

Pupusas are, of course, more expensive now than when I lived in El Salvador in 2002-2003 (you could get two for 25 cents in the town where I lived). But the sense of community built around this simple dish hasn’t changed much. You would sit outside in the evening, usually in some sort of covered outdoor setting in case of a rain shower, and joke and chat with friends and neighbors over a plate of pupusas and communal containers of curtido and salsa. It provided a delicious coda to a long, hot day.

And so it’s great to see Gonzalez doing something similar in L.A.: using the pupusa to bring people together and create a sense of pride around the identity of Salvadorans, the second-largest Latin American subgroup in the city.

“This is the celebration of the beauty of who we are,” Gonzalez said.

Here are more highlights from this week:

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— To mark AAPI Heritage Month, AAPI LA curated nearly two dozen food and beverage vendors who’ll appear at the Smorgasburg festival on Sunday, writes Stephanie Breijo. Also: Filipino chain Jollibee is coming to downtown L.A., she notes.

— Food writer Clarissa Wei has this moving essay on why we should all be recording audio with our grandparents if we still have them.

— McDonald’s is selling off in Russia over the invasion of Ukraine.

— Never say you have no time for dinner.

— And finally, it’s time to look past the toll house cookie when considering the chocolate chip.