What did I learn: EL SALVADOR

My first month of this project has wrapped up – I really enjoyed setting aside time to learn more about another country, especially as it was one I knew almost nothing about when I started!

I learned a lot of Salvadoran history this month, particularly how tied up its history has been with the United States – American support going to a brutal but anti-Communist government in the Cold War, overflowing into an incredibly brutal civil war, and the refugees fleeing to the States to get caught up in gangs, only to be deported back to El Salvador and continue the violence there.

So yes, it is a country where the legacy and present of violence and crime factors into day to day life deeply, and it’s something that affects Salvadorans – both those living there and those abroad. However, there is also way way more to it than just the negatives that we normally see in the media, this is a country with its own traditions, art, culture and food – and people with a deep pride in their identity. I definitely enjoyed finding new, young artists – Gabriela Triste and Lincktendo are now in my shuffle permanently.

I also really enjoyed the food – I’m going to be returning to La Cabaña to try more dishes, and now I know where to get good frozen pupusas in Ottawa, and that wickedly good caramel corn.

I can’t wait to see what country next month brings!

EL SALVADOR: Ensalada de pollo

Some comfort food from a Spanish-language Salvadoran recipe site – chicken salad! While it doesn’t strike you immediately as a Latin American recipe, it’s very popular all across the region, particularly with added veggies (carrots, peas, and corn in addition to the standard chicken, egg, and potato mix).

I google translated the recipe, which actually worked pretty well since it’s a straightforward recipe. (Also, did you know Worcestershire sauce is called “English sauce” in Spanish?) The chicken is boiled in broth with garlic to give it extra flavour before shredding it.

This turned out fantastic – adding lemon juice, Worcestershire, and chicken broth to the mayonnaise made this a much richer and more complex dish. This is going to be my new potluck recipe – it seems like it can be scaled up easily too!

EL SALVADOR: More snacks

Found a few more snacks from El Salvador at La Tiendita! First set of Salvadoran snacks at this link.

Diana Lime Cornbits – A third flavour of corn nuts / elotitos! Strong, slightly artificial lime taste off the bat – kinda like a savoury version of lime Froot Loops? Pretty tasty, I like lime being used in all these savoury snacks and dishes!

Diana Alboroto Caramel Corn – “Alboroto” means something like “rampage” or “chaos”, and is also the name of a type of snack of puffed sorghum and caramel rolled into balls. This version instead is (maybe hominy?) corn kernels, dark red, and slightly (but not excessively) sweet. These are absolutely delicious, I’m trying to not eat the whole bag in one sitting.

Dangerously good caramel corn

EL SALVADOR: One Day of Life by Manlio Argueta

Banned books, especially works of fiction, always pique my interest. One Day of Life by Manlio Argueta, published in 1980 and shortly banned in El Salvador, is set in the years leading up to the Salvadoran Civil War (the 60s or 70s). Argueta was in exile from El Salvador when One Day of Life was published, as his leftist activities brought him into sharp conflict with the American-backed right wing government.

One Day of Life follows Lupe, a middle-aged peasant grandmother in rural El Salvador. Poor and illiterate, it follows her attempts to feed and protect her family as the “authorities” (the ORDEN paramilitary) increasingly crack down on real and suspected Communist and revolutionary activity – in which her husband and granddaughter have been involved.

I will not spoil it, but it is a quick and powerful read, punchy in the same way One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is. There is a tenseness of waiting in the heat for something terrible to happen – much like how it must have felt for those living then as the civil war was growing on the horizon.

EL SALVADOR: La Bala, an unlikely Christmas hit

Christmas in El Salvador has a couple neat distinctive twists, on top of the food, family, and gifts that you see in other countries. One is that everyone wears a new piece of clothing (El Estreno) for festivities on Christmas Eve, and the other is a distinctly non-Christmas song has become a holiday staple – La Bala, with the most popular version recorded by Los Hermanos Flores.

El Salvador Perspectives has an interesting writeup on why a song called “the bullet” has become a popular holiday song, and it’s likely a combination of nostalgia and lighthearted dance elements that resonate with family gatherings – kinda like how the Macarena is reserved for wedding receptions here in Canada.

Happy Christmas all!

EL SALVADOR: El Rosario Church

This has to be one of the most stunning modern churches I’ve seen. El Rosario Church in San Salvador is absolutely unique in design – brutalist on the outside, and a naturally-lit rainbow on the inside.

The church is the resting place of José Matías Delgado, one of the most prominent leaders of El Salvador’s independence. The current church was built in the 1971, and the design at the time proved so controversial that the Vatican had to approve it over the heads of local Catholic authorities. I personally think it’s absolutely stunning – you would never guess what’s inside from the outside:

Source: Gone for Long


I went on the lookout for Salvadoran snacks and ended up at La Tiendita, a great little Latin grocery shop here in Ottawa – they’ve got products from all over Latin America, and are connected to a Salvadoran restaurant next door. Most of the snacks from El Salvador are Diana brand, which seems to be the main snack company that exports, plus a pop that makes it very clear where it’s from!

Diana Nachos Tortilla Chips – In the same vein as Doritos, but a bit thicker and more natural-looking. They’re more earthy, with a much more realistic cheese flavour – kind of a Parmesan tang (ingredients list confirms that it’s both cheddar and Parmesan). The cheese fades quickly to a strong corn flavour from the chip itself, you can tell these were made with actual corn flour and baked. They taste almost homemade.

Diana BBQ Cornbits – Toasty corn nuts (elotitos) with a mild BBQ taste. They’re not overly salty, and they have quite a firm crunch. The BBQ flavour is very subtle initially, but it builds into something a bit richer and smoky the more you eat.

La Cascada Kolashanpan – Bright orange pop that tastes strongly of artificial bubblegum flavour, like a pop version of bubblegum ice cream. (I would say also like cream soda but I’m aware Canadian cream soda tastes more like bubblegum than the vanilla type you get in other countries.) Very sweet and artificial by my tastes.

Diana Pachanga Mix – A snack mix of nachos, cheesies, corn and yucca chips. I always pick the cheesies out of these mixes to eat first, and these ones are pretty tasty. The corn chips have a bit of a BBQ flavour, and both the chips and the nachos have that strong real corn taste – I assume the yucca chips are the ones without that taste. I’d like a bag of just the round rings on their own – like extra cheesy puffy cheesies.

Diana Spicy Cheese Cornbits – Just as hard as the BBQ corn nuts (enough that I’m a bit concerned for a crown in my mouth!), again with the subtle flavour that builds in the aftertaste. They’re not initially spicy, but the heat does build a bit after a few – though never to a really “spicy” level. I really like the flavour – these would make a great garnish on a salad or noodles.

EL SALVADOR: Salvadoran radio

I listen to music while I work, and I love using Radio Garden because it lets you use Google Maps to listen to live radio from anywhere in the world. I put on a few Salvadoran radio stations – since my Spanish is non-existent, I’m mainly looking for music. Here are a few fun ones I found:

The tower of San Vicente (source)

La Pregonera SV – La Pregonera (literally “the street hawker”) is a community radio station from the pretty little town of San Vicente. Their morning programming has a lot of upbeat and original remixes, including mixing beats and riffs from Top 40 songs with new vocals in Spanish (there was some Nirvana mixed into a pop-dance tune that I loved) or traditional Salvadoran music with dance beats. I had it on the background all morning while I worked. Listen live here.

Nixapa Club Radio – Midday programming on this online station based out of San Salvador is a skilfully DJ’d dance mix – no interruptions or ads as far as I can tell. There’s Latin, EDM, 90s, and Top 40 incorporated into the jam. Listen live here.

Progreso 90.5 – I don’t normally listen to Christian rock but this station caught my ear because despite everything being in Spanish, I could immediately tell it was Christian rock. It actually got me down a rabbit hole of why Christian rock is so distinctive sounding, no matter what language or country – turns out that the whole genre universally relies heavily on a specific chord progression (I, V, VI, IV) that is often meant to convey feelings of hope or optimism. Listen live here.

Agape Radio – A station with a wide variety of programming, including a lot of folk, ballads, and traditional music, interspersed with Catholic programs. This station has a neat history – Agape was founded in 1990 by a Catholic priest to help bring peace, education, and healthy outlets as the country began to recover from the Civil War. Listen live here.