“My country has three main exports: street gangs, cheap labour, and pupusas,” explained my Salvadoran friend. “I used to think pupusas were the only good export until I went back to El Salvador for a year and gained 30 pounds.”
To be fair, pupusas are probably healthier than poutine as a national staple, but they are still a trashy fatty high-carb food. Think fried cornmeal cakes stuffed with beans, deep-fried pig skin, and cheese. They are a close cousin to the Venezuelan Arepa or the Mexican Gordita.
However, what makes pupusas different (and better) is the curtido: a mild lemony-sweet sauerkraut made of carrots, cabbage and onions. Curtido is smothered on top of the pupusa, which is then covered in salsa. The result is a heavenly blend of crunchy, sweet, salty, spicy and melty cheese goodness.
Thankfully, pupusas have been available in Quebec since the mass migration of Salvadorans in the 1980s. Montreal has more pupuserias opening up every year, particularly in Little Italy, Villeray, and Saint Michel. I’ve tried several, and the standouts are El Chalateco (which is often closed) and La Carreta (pictured). Both are located near Beaubien metro. Quebec City has a few places that serve pupusas but, as with most ethnic food in the provincial capital, standards are lower and prices are higher than in Montreal. I have tried them all and would not recommend any of them.
Pupusas are wonderfully cheap. They usually cost around $2-$3 each, and that includes unlimited salsa and curtido. Although they look small, two are generally enough for a meal (three if you’re famished).
This is a bargain compared to other latino corn-based concoctions. Montreal’s decent taquerias charge the same price for a taco, but you’ll be done in about two bites (though the taste of a decent taco al pastor is admittedly more refined). Areperas in town charge at least twice as much for a similar product, which makes me wonder how they can stay in business.
La Carreta. 350, rue Saint-Zotique E., corner Drolet.
El Chalateco. 520 Rue Beaubien E., in front of Beaubien metro.