A pupusa is a thick griddle cake or flatbread from El Salvador and Honduras,[1][2][3][4] made with cornmeal or rice flour, similar to the Colombian and Venezuelan arepa. In El Salvador, it has been declared the national dish and has a specific day to celebrate it. It is usually stuffed with one or more ingredients, which may include cheese (such as quesillo or cheese with loroco buds), chicharrón, squash, or refried beans. It is typically accompanied by curtido (a spicy fermented cabbage slaw) and tomato salsa, and is traditionally eaten by hand.

Alternative namesPupusawa
Place of originEl Salvador, Honduras[1][2]
Main ingredientsCorn masa flour
Fillings e.g. meat, fish, cheese, vegetables, beans
VariationsRice flour pupusa


There is no definite explanation for the origin of the word. The word for pupusa in one of El Salvador's native languages, Nawat, is kukumutzin. It is possible that the word stems from the verb pupusawa which means 'to puff up', but there is no known current or historical use of this word within the communities.


El Salvador and Honduras both claim to be the birthplace of the pupusa. Salvadoran archeologist Roberto Ordóñez attributed the creation of the pupusa to the Pipil people due to the name meaning 'swollen' in the Pipil language. Honduran etymologists say that since the Pipil language is so close to the Nahuatl language, the Nahuas of Honduras could have created the dish.[5] However, no direct links have been made to the community.

The topic of the pupusa's origin also came up during the negotiation for the CAFTA-DR. Both nations wanted to make the pupusa an exclusive export. After two days, the Honduran delegation ceded the right to El Salvador.[6]


Making pupusas in Las Chinamas, El Salvador
Traditional pupusas in El Salvador are cooked over wood fire, using a pottery griddle called a comal.

Pupusas have been linked to the Pipil tribes who inhabited the territory now known as El Salvador.

A version of the pre-Columbian pupusa was vegetarian and half-moon shaped. In the late 1940s, pupusas were still not widespread across El Salvador and were mostly localized in the central towns. They were documented previously in Guatemala and Honduras.[7] As the Salvadorian population began migrating to other areas in the 1960s, pupusa stands proliferated across the country. In Guatemala during the 1970s, pupusas had a half-moon shape. Pupusas served east of the Lempa River usually have a much larger diameter.

In the 1980s, the Salvadoran civil war forced a Salvadoran migration to other countries, mainly the United States, which made pupusas available elsewhere: Salvadoran immigrants brought the dish to most areas of the US, and they spread to Canada and Australia as well.[8][9] By the 1990s, they were common in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.[10][9] Pupusas have been popular in Washington, D.C., since the 1980s and in 2019, November 6 was declared the day of the pupusa.[11][12]

In April 2005, the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly declared pupusas as the national dish of El Salvador and every second Sunday of November would be National Pupusas Day.[13][14] A fair is typically held on the day in the capital and a few big cities. On 10 November 2007, in celebration of National Pupusa Day, the Secretary of Culture organized a fair in the capital park in which they would make the world's biggest pupusa. The pupusa was 3.15 meters (10.3 ft) in diameter and was made with 200 pounds (91 kg) of masa, 40 pounds (18 kg) of cheese, and 40 pounds of chicharrón. It fed 5,000 people. Five years later, the record was broken again with a pupusa 4.25 meters (13.9 ft) in diameter.[15] Guinness World Records lists the largest pupusa at 4.5 meters (15 ft), created in Olocuilta, El Salvador, on 8 November 2015.[16]

In 2011, The Guardian named pupusas that year's Best Street Food in New York.[17]

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. Author Carlos Cordova reports an ancient pre-Hispanic belief that it was sinful to cut tortillas with a knife; they must be cut with fingers as corn was believed to be a divine grain. This might be the reason why generation after generation has adhered to the rule of eating pupusas with the hands.[18]

Regional variations

A variant of the pupusa in El Salvador is the pupusa de arroz, originally hailing from the town of Olocuilta in the east of San Salvador. Rice flour is used to make the dough and they are usually stuffed with chopped pork, cheese, beans, zucchini, and other vegetables. Another regional variation, found in Alegría, is the pupusa de banano, which calls for the addition of plantain bananas to the pupusa.

Latin America

Pupusas are also found in neighboring Central American countries. Honduran versions use the local quesillo type of cheese for the filling. In Costa Rica, both "Salvadoran pupusas" and "pupusas" are available, the latter being a local version. There, they are a staple of the food stalls at regional carnivals known as fiestas.

A similar Mexican dish is called a gordita (literally, "little fatty"), but gorditas are usually open at one end. In Colombia and Venezuela, they make arepas. Colombian arepas are usually eaten without filling, or the filling is placed inside the dough before cooking. Venezuela has its own recipe for arepas, but, unlike Colombian arepas, the dough is cooked first, and then sliced in half and stuffed somewhat like a hamburger.

United States

Pupusas made in the United States are typically made with Maseca (brand) commercial corn flour-masa mix, instead of fresh masa. Some high-end pupuserías in the United States use rice flour and wheat flour versions. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, variations include using spinach, pepperoni, cheese, and green chile.

Taco Cabana, a Tex-Mex chain in Texas, created a dish called the pupusa that has no relation to the Salvadoran food.[19]

Economic impact

In spite of their low market price, pupusas represent an important element in the economy of El Salvador. Rising ingredient costs in 2022 have led to concerns about rising pupusa prices.[20]

In addition to whole pupusas, the individual ingredients are also exported; in 2005, for example, US$604,408 worth of loroco, sometimes used as a pupusa filling, was sold to the United States alone. Frozen pupusas can be found in the refrigerated section of many Hispanic and international supermarkets in the United States, especially those located in highly concentrated areas of Salvadorans such as Washington, D.C., and Long Island, New York.

Pupusa sales play a significant role in the Salvadoran economy. According to the Salvadoran Ministry of Economy between the years of 2001–2003, pupuserias generated $22 million. The export of ingredients such as loroco has also helped boost the economy.[21] As of 2005, 300,000 people made pupusas for a living, with a majority of them being women.

See also


  1. Univision Noticias: La Guerra de las Pupusas (in Spanish)
  2. (Council on Hemispheric Affairs). COHA Research: "Food Wars in Latin America". "El Salvador and Honduras dispute the ownership of pupusas"
  3. Leidy (13 May 2020). "Pupusa: a typical dish from El Salvador". Open Cultural Center. Retrieved 23 March 2021.
  4. Vasquez, Nelson (25 September 2020). "Salvadoran Food: Pupusas". ESL for Academic Purposes.
  5. "La Guerra de las Pupusas". losangeles.univision.com. 27 July 2011. Archived from the original on 16 July 2015.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  6. Gómez, Iván (8 December 2003). "Honduras Insists pupusas". Archived from the original on 31 October 2004.
  7. "La palabra pupusa no es pipil".
  8. "Pupusas and the Arepa" (PDF). Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  9. Kiniry, Laura; Kavanaugh, Daniel (11 July 2019). "For Salvadorans, pupusas mean comfort". BBC. Retrieved 14 May 2022.
  10. Hansen, Barbara (9 August 1990). "Pupusas". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 May 2022.
  11. Rodriguez, Carmen (19 August 2019). "National day of pupusas in Washington D. C." Voz del la Diaspora. Retrieved 14 May 2022.
  12. Barnes, Sophia; Patron, Mariela (8 November 2019). "Praising the Pupusa: DC's Love for an Iconic Salvadoran Dish". NBC4 Washington. Retrieved 14 May 2022.
  13. "Declárase Día Nacional de las Pupusasecreto Día Nacional de las Pupusas — Asamblea Legislativa". www.asamblea.gob.sv (in Spanish). Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  14. "Secultura invita al Día Nacional de la Pupusa". www.cultura.gob.sv (in Spanish). Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  15. "Historia de la Pupusa Salvadorena". redislam.net. January 2013. Archived from the original on 20 January 2020.
  16. "Largest pupusa". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
  17. Resnick, Perry (26 September 2011). "The best street food in New York". The Guardian.
  18. Cordova, Carlos B. “The Salvadoran Americans”. p 102. Westport, Conn. Greewood, 2005. Web
  19. Peralta, Eyder (27 July 2006). "Bona fide pupusas: Classic or clueless? Here's how to tell", Houston Chronicle Dining Guide, p. 4
  20. Alfaro, Karla (15 January 2022). "Pupusas increase in price in downtown San Salvador". CE Noticias Financieras English. Miami: ContentEngine LLC via ProQuest.
  21. "Las Pupusas: ícono culinario salvadoreño celebrará su día". El Periodista. 4 November 2014.

Further reading

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