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Praising the Pupusa: DC's Love for an Iconic Salvadoran Dish

"It encompasses everything your palate loves"

The pupusa has travelled a long journey to the ranks of D.C.'s favorite iconic foods.

The dish made its way from El Salvador in the 1980s, brought in by an influx of people leaving amid civil war in the country. Many of the city's first pupuserias sprung up in Adams Morgan — but Salvadoran entrepreneurs weren't always sure that the cheese and pork-stuffed pocket would catch on.

La Casita Pupuseria now hawks pupusas in none other than Nationals Park, as well as Silver Spring, Gaithersburg, Germantown and Northeast D.C.

Culinary Director Iris Jimenez, daughter of the original founders, says that at first, her mom wasn't sure if the pupusa would catch on.

"She was like, 'well let's see if people are gonna like it,'" Jimenez said.

Jimenez said they sold out in minutes.

The DMV boasts the second-largest Salvadoran population in the country, according to Pew Research. More than 320,000 Salvadorans call the D.C. Metro region home. Since the 1980s, Washingtonians of Salvadoran descent have fueled and fed the city's hunger for pupusas.

A traditional pupusa is corn dough filled with melted gooey white cheese and pork. They're served with a side of tomato-based salsa and curtido — a fermented cabbage mix comparable to sauerkraut — that adds a fresh zing to the dish.

"Ironically, the pupusa hasn't been recognized as a national dish in El Slavador until after it gained a lot of popularity and recognition in the diaspora, in cities like Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles," said historian José Centeno-Meléndez.

Today, you can find pupusas all over the District. Of course, each pupuseria has its own special flair. 

Ana Reyes, the owner of restaurant El Tamarindo (1785 Florida Ave NW), says nailing the ratios is essential to a good pupusa.

Reyes, whose parents founded the restaurant in the 1980s, says getting the spices in the pupusa is essential — and so is getting the flavors of the salsa and curtido that traditionally accompany them.

Gio Silva, owner of the food truck Savor Salvadoreño, also has a certain special sauce.

A good curtido is essential, Silva said. "Tomato sauce is also really important — if not more important," he said. "You get the curtido just right, you get the tomato sauce just right, the pupusas are even better that way."

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