Day 89: El Salvador
I’ve been excited about El Salvadorian food for a while, and luckily, my new food buddy Jeff (who also pens the very cool Los Angeles outpost of Thrillist) has an El Salvadorean girlfriend, Claudia. The two of them have joined the ranks of the Man Bites World eating crew, adding to the amazing, friend-collecting trend of this project. We are all meeting up to a eat at a restaurant called San Salvador, but when we arrive at our destination on Vermont Avenue, just north of Washington Boulevard, Claudia realizes that this may very well be the wrong San Salvador. She puts a phone call in to her aunt, who describes another destination, so we head there, can’t find it, but stumble upon yet another El Salvadorean restaurant which looks promising in its own right. Should we try it? Well, let’s give it the old ethnic L.A. food checklist. Is it in a strip mall? Check. Are there people who look like they may be from that country eating inside? Check. Are they confused by seeing a large group of white people standing outside their restaurant? Check. Alright, let’s do it.
Our group of eight squishes into a side room table at Los Molcajetes as the ordering is taken care of by Claudia and our new Man Bites World foodventurer, Jon Shook (the caterer, cook book author and restaurateur of the Fairfax hot-spot Animal). The table is cramped like crazy as we power through the tasty Salvadorean beer Regia, which come in giant brown bottles reminiscent of cartoon booze jugs marked “XXX”. Pupusas (hand made thick corn tortillas stuffed with something delicious) are a big part of El Salvadorean cuisine, so appropriately, we start there. Cramped in tightly with all these new friends, we reach across the table with familial comfort, sharing food, forks, spoons, glasses and straws, eating like a pack of vultures that stumbled upon forty five freshly killed cows with no other living animals in sight. I tear a piece from the pork and bean pupusa, top it with the thin, red sauce and acidic cabbage, then pop the hot, cheesy, fried and crispy hunk in my mouth. The result, obviously, is something quite positive. The plates rotate in quick succession, like some post apocalyptic, human powered kaiten pupusa machine, as I bite my way through fillings that include bean, bean and cheese, and cheese with some kind of El Salvadorean flower.
But before we can even finish our pupusas, more food arrives and we’re running dangerously low on table space. We have an extremely soft chicken tamale, wonderfully balanced fried plantains served with pureed beans and refreshing crema, chilled salpicon (a sort of minced meat salad) and chicken soup, to which which Jeff says “If you told me my Jewish mom made it for me, I wouldn’t be surprised. Actually, I would. Let me rephrase: if you told me my Jewish mom picked this up for me at Solley’s, I wouldn’t be surprised…” The plates keep rotating in amazingly fast succession as we are brought carne asada, delicious eggs scrambled up with meaty machaca, some delightfully juicy and citric shrimp, crispy skinned chicken and crispy chicken with onions.
We’re also brought some empanadas— but not the savory kind you’re probably used to from Argentinian cuisine. They’re certainly still fried golden brown, but it’s a fluffy yellow dough and has a sweet whipped cream inside, with the whole thing tasting like something you’d find at some kind of South American county fair. Lastly, we pass around two different types of atole, a hot, thick cornstarch based based beverage which tastes a little like watered down grits. “I remember people in my family drinking this as a meal sometimes,” says Claudia, just as Jeff adds, “This reminds me of the bowls of soy milk we had on China Day. And by that I mean, I don’t like it.”
All of a sudden, we’re all very full. It seems like we were only eating for about twenty minutes, but did so at such a frenzied pace that we’re all just staring at the remaining food in total disbelief and bewilderment. Did that whole meal just happen? I ask Claudia what people do in El Salvador if they want a light meal, and she says “Oh, they don’t do that.” After that, Jon starts telling me about how they prepare their family meals at Animal (what the staff eats between service rushes) and I’m happy to say, having worked in a restaurant which treated their staff meals like an afterthought, Animal does it right—even going so far as to have some of their meals require two days of prep. But as he’s saying this, I glance briefly around the table and am amazed at the group that’s joined me today. Not only are they all great people, but with the exception of GirlfriendBites, I didn’t really know any of them before this project started. I had briefly met super food blogger Tannaz, but only in being told she was someone I should get in touch with to help with the planning of Man Bites World. I met “Danielle”, literally, on Day 9: Serbia. I met Jeff just a few weeks ago at a food related function, and Claudia just after that. Meg is a friend of Jeff’s who I just met recently, and Jon Shook I met tonight. So that means that I’m able to go out to dinner for this Personal Food Project in Blog Form, on a Monday night, with a table of eight, and other than my girlfriend, none of them are people I knew when this whole thing started. The food I’ve eaten has obviously been on the forefront of this daily journey, but the people, I have to say, have been pretty damn spectacular as well— and once again, I feel really, really lucky.
695 S Hoover St
Los Angeles, CA 90005
Food Breakdown: 4 alcoholic beverages, 3 non-alcoholic beverages, a boat load of pupusas, 11 other assorted dishes
Distance From My House: 8.7 miles