EL SALVADOR: Salvadoran quesadilla

Heads up if you’re ever in El Salvador – a quesadilla in El Salvador has exactly one thing in common with other Latin quesadillas… there’s cheese in it. That’s it.

A Salvadoran quesadilla is a sweet pound cake, often eaten for breakfast, with queso fresco and Salvadoran crema in it. It’s usually made with rice flour but wheat can also do – there’s as many variations as families that make it.

I made it from this recipe provided by Tropical, though I made a few tweaks. I cut the sugar in half (personal preference), and used rice flour instead of wheat for more authenticity. I also only had black sesame seeds handy instead of white ones, but that seems like it’ll be mainly an aesthetic choice.

The results are really, really good. It’s light and fluffy, slightly sweet with a perfectly browned crust – using a heavy hand with the sesame seeds added to the roastiness. There’s a bit of an eggy-cheesiness there that’s noticeable in a good way. This was a super easy recipe and I’m definitely going to make this again! Yum!

EL SALVADOR: Sopa de pata, yuca frita con chicharron

I stopped by a Salvadoran restaurant here in Ottawa, La Cabaña, to pick up some good Salvadoran specialties. This restaurant has been open for about 25 years – the owners used to drive to Montreal to go to Salvadoran restaurants, and decided to fix the lack of access to Salvadoran food in Ottawa themselves.

While I’ve had pupusas from this restaurant before (and they’re really good!), I wanted to try some other dishes from El Salvador – sopa de pata and yuca frita con chicharron.

Sopa de pata is a traditional rustic soup that uses the meat from a cow’s foot. Everything in this soup is cut into big chunks (I kinda needed a fork) and simmered in a salty broth. There were big chunks of on-the-bone ankle meat, strips of tripe, and thick cut carrots, zucchini, and chayote. The broth is a bit citrusy, with some coriander and achiote. Very warm for a cold winter’s day here in Ottawa!

I also picked up yuca frita con chicharron – deep fried yuca (cassava) and pork belly. This is a dangerously good snack – enough for a whole meal on it’s own, especially since it comes with thick tortillas and curdito! The yuca is satisfyingly carby, a bit softer than fried potato. The chicharron is tender and deeply flavourful. They’re served mixed together, and topping them with the included lime absolutely knocks them out of the park.

EL SALVADOR: History of art / MARTE

I was looking for some details on the history of art in El Salvador, and I came across this really interesting article about from 2014 about the MARTE (El Museo de Arte de El Salvador), the country’s national gallery. Art journalist Laura C. Mallonee takes a tour of MARTE and covers the progression of Salvadoran art from the 19th century to the present day as shown in the gallery.

The article, Creating a National Art in El Salvador, gives a clear-eyed overview of Salvadoran art and how it has responded and evolved to the (often unstable) national situation. The two biggest tensions that seem to run though Salvadoran art are balancing the influence of large countries on art styles, and how to process, understand, and heal from the violence that has affected the country for most of the last century.

I wanted to see some of these art pieces myself, and thankfully, MARTE has a useful website (only in Spanish, though) that lets you look though their catalogues and go on 3D panoramas of the gallery. I’d suggest looking through the 50 Artistas – 50 Obras (50 Artists, 50 Works) catalogue, and checking out the powerful flayed, reaching man in the Pasillo 1 panorama.


Cumbia is a traditional dance music popular in El Salvador – it originated in Colombia, but has variations all over Latin America. The above album is alternating songs from two huge Salvadoran cumbia bands – Hermanos Flores vs. Orquesta San Vicente. Had a sway in my hips all morning listening to this!

Oh shoot, here’s another great mix of other Salvadoran cumbia bands:

EL SALVADOR: The Hollywood Kid by Óscar and Juan José Martínez

While there’s far more to El Salvador than gangs, gangs play a significant and serious part of El Salvador’s reality, giving the country the dubious honour of the deadliest peacetime country. I picked up The Hollywood Kid: The Violent Life and Violent Death of an MS-13 Hitman by brothers Óscar and Juan José Martínez, a recent non-fiction work tracing the history to El Salvador’s most infamous and dangerous gangs – MS-13 and Barrio 18 – as well as the life story of one individual gang member.

The Martinez brothers (a investigative journalist and an anthropologist) have studied gangs for years, and in the early 2010s were able to hold a series of interviews with Miguel Ángel Tobar, aka the Hollywood Kid, a former MS-13 hitman who was in police protection in exchange for information.

The book pieces together the story of how Salvadoran gangs were born out of El Salvador’s complicated history with the United States. The civil war in the 80s of American-backed anti-communist government vs leftist popular uprising led to waves of refugees ending up in LA, where many with few options got starts in Mexican gangs, eventually creating their own – including the infamous MS-13. The United States deported many of these gang members back to El Salvador, where the gangs took root in the aftermath of the war.

The Hollywood Kid intersperses this macro story with the life of Miguel Ángel Tobar, “the Kid”, who came from a desperately poor and violent background which led to joining MS-13, his murders and eventual turning against the gang, and the weakness of the justice system that he was feeding information into. A few months after the Martinez brothers last speak with him, he is murdered by his old gang in an act of reprisal.

This is a brutally clear-eyed book about how easily things can spiral out of control and lead down dark paths, both for individual life choices, and the decisions of governments and nations. Importantly for books or documentaries on MS-13, this one is written by Salvadoran authors who understand more intimately how these gangs affect their country, and are less prone to sensationalism than American offerings on the subject.

EL SALVADOR: The Silent Strength of the Skirt

A short documentary about the traditional skirts of the Pipil indigenous people that tackles culture death. The indigenous people of El Salvador were decimated in the government reprisals following the peasant uprising of 1932, and now the remaining Pipil are coping with the slow die-out of the remaining elements of their culture, such as these traditional women’s skirts.

(Warning – video shows a bull being slaughtered)