A pupusa (Spanish pronunciation: [puˈpusa], from Pipil pupusaw) is a traditional Salvadoran dish made of a thick, handmade corn tortilla (made using masa de maíz, a cornmeal dough used in Latin American cuisine) that is usually filled with a blend of the following:
- cheese (queso) (usually a soft cheese called Quesillo found throughout Central America)
- cooked pork meat ground to a paste consistency
(called chicharrón, not to be confused with fried pork rind, which is also known as chicharrón in some other countries)
- refried beans (frijoles refritos), or queso con loroco (loroco is a vine flower bud from Central America).
The two most common pupusas are the pupusa de queso (cheese) and more popular pupusa revuelta with mixed ingredients of cheese, beans, and chicharrón. Pupusas are typically served with curtido (lightly fermented cabbage slaw with red chilies and vinegar) and a watery tomato salsa.
Pupusas are similar to the South American arepa. The main difference is the pupusa is made from nixtamal, whereas arepas are made from ordinary corn dough. Nixtamal is basically the same corn dough, but it has undergone a preparation process involving an alkaline solution before cooking, which contributes to the peeling of the grains, making valuable nutrients available. This process was developed in Mesoamerica around 1500–1200 BCE. Early Mesoamericans used quicklime or slaked lime and ashes as the alkaline solution. Dried nixtamal is now commercially available.
Pupusas were first created centuries ago by the Pipil tribes who inhabited the territory now known as El Salvador. Cooking implements for their preparation have been excavated in Joya de Cerén, "El Salvador's Pompeii", site of a native village that was buried by ashes from a volcano explosion, and where foodstuffs were preserved as they were being cooked almost 2000 years ago. The instruments for their preparation have also been found in other archaeological sites in El Salvador.
In the late 1940s, pupusas were still not widespread across El Salvador, and were mostly localized in the central towns, such as Quezaltepeque, and cities of the country. As the population began migrating to other areas in the 1960s, pupusa stands proliferated across the country and in neighboring areas of Honduras and Guatemala, sometimes with variations in shape, size or filling. In Guatemala during the 1970s, pupusas had a half-moon shape. The half-moon shape would be considered a half-eaten pupusa in the Chalatenango area; fish pupusas were uncommon, and pupusas served east of the Lempa River usually had a much larger diameter.
In the 1980s, the Salvadoran civil war forced a Salvadoran migration to other countries, mainly the United States. Therefore, pupusas became available outside the country wherever a Salvadoran community was found. Immigrants have brought the dish to most areas of the United States. One example is San Antonio, Texas, where there are now many pupuserías (where pupusas are made and sold). Pupuserías also may be found in many areas of Canada. In recent years, pupusas can even be found in some Latin American restaurants in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney in Australia.
Both at home and abroad, pupusas are traditionally served with curtido (a pickled cabbage relish, analogous to German Sauerkraut and Korean kimchi that comes in mild and spicy varieties) and tomato sauce, and are traditionally eaten by hand.
Many local folklore tales surround the dish; they often tell of diverse origins or effects of pupusas on people.