The Coming Pupusa War
A Tongue in Cheek Story by Bill McMichael
When in San Pedro, we frequently make a point of dining at one or both of the Pupusarias on Middle Street. For those that do not know what pupusas are, Wikipedia describes pupusas as follows: A pupusa (Spanish pronunciation: pu’pusa, from Pipil pupusaw) is a traditional Salvadoran dish made of a thick, handmade corn tortilla made using masa de maÃz, a cornmeal dough used in Mesoamerican 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 chicharrÃ³n, not to be confused with fried pork rind, which is also known as chicharrÃ³n in some other countries)
- refried beans (frijoles refritos), or queso con loroco (loroco i s a vine flower bud from Central America).
How Pupusas are Made
Pupusas in San Pedro are prepared on gas fires, flat-top griddles located in front of the restaurants by expert pupusa chefs at two very similar restaurants directly across the street from each other. Waruguma and Pupusaria El Salvador have very similar ambiance, menus and pricing. When we started going to San Pedro, Waruguma was the one that was praised on Tripadvisor.com so on the trip when we finally ventured off the beach, we dined there. The food was fabulous at a price point that was so low it almost made us uncomfortable.
So for several years, we would eat there because it began to seem familiar. While noshing on pupusas, we would see the woman preparing the pupusas along the street for Waruguma. 25ft beyond her was the rival pupusa maker from Pupusaria SalvadoreÃ±o making her succulent, savory, Central American pancakes. Then one day it happened. We gathered the courage to venture across the street to sample the “other” pupusaria. You know what? It was good, very good. The service was also very good. It might have even been a few degrees cooler on that hot August night. The menu was incredibly similar to that of Waruguma. We enjoyed our shared lobster burrito and pupusas like we had in the past at Waruguma. The Cokes and Belikins were cold. The service was very quick. It was a very good experience.
And so it continued for a few of our Ambergris Caye visits. When the pupusa cravings would start, we would sometimes eat at Waruguma and sometimes eat at Pupusaria SalvadoreÃ±o. We enjoyed both places almost equally. Both serve great food at an extreme value with great service.
This past visit, we noticed that something had changed along that stretch of Middle Street. Whatever it was, it was not obvious. Even though we were welcomed back with literally opened arms at Pupusaria SalvadoreÃ±o, I could tell there was tension in the air. There seemed to be a flash of aggression in the eyes of the formerly cheerful dueling pupusa makers. They stared over their flat tops in silence at each other like the gunfighters at the OK Corral waiting for someone to make a move. Nothing was overt, but a certain passive-aggressiveness could be sensed. We did not realize what was going on. Both restaurants had always seemed symbiotic in the past in drawing Salvadoran food enthusiasts to their stretch of Middle Street. We returned to our condo puzzled.
On a subsequent night, we were only slightly hungry and tired from a long day of fishing, so we hobbled up the beach to town and went to “Pupusaria Row.” We once again were welcomed with literally opened arms at Pupusaria Tipico. It was almost closing time so we just ordered a couple of pupusas and Belikins. Since we were the last patrons in the restaurant, the owner sat down with us to chat. This had never happened in the past, probably because the place had always been busy.
The staff flittered about readying the restaurant for closing as the owner began to speak. He pointed out the previously unnoticed new banner on Waruguma across the street. It read “Pupusaria Salvadorena”. It took a second for me to realize what was going on. He explained that he thought that the resorts had been recommending his establishment to their guests over Waruguma and that Waruguma’s management had decided that the other Pupusaria was winning. They put up a banner hoping to draw in some of those tourists that had been directed to Pupusaria SalvadoreÃ±o. He was bewildered. The previously cold war had erupted into a hot war. He began to explain that they were stealing his name. I now realized what that glint of aggression was in the eyes of the previously passive pupusa preparing ladies. It was contempt! I tried to assuage his fears. We realized that we had come to enjoy the slightly faster service and slightly lower prices on the western side of the street. Doesn’t the better business usually win? Still he was concerned. Inside I had a chuckle, not believing that he could be upset by something that seemed so trivial as a temporary banner.
And so we returned to our home outside Philadelphia in the USA not realizing that change was coming to Middle Street. On March 1st, Pupuseria SalvadoreÃ±o updated their Facebook page with the following message:
SPECIAL NOTICE TO OUR VALUED CUSTOMERS~ NAME CHANGE ANNOUNCEMENT WE ARE NOW KNOWN AS~ ORIGINAL # 1 PUPUSERIA SALVADOREÃ‘O. Our Business Name has changed due to another business registering their restaurant in the same name we have used for years. As a result we were forced to change our name for proper registration purposes. So we complied and are now known as: ORIGINAL #1 PUPUSERIA SALVADOREÃ‘O- Same family owned, same great food, same location and look forward to continuing serving up the best menu choices with uninterrupted service. Many thanks to our customers and community support.
And so it continues. The pupuseria on the west side of Middle Street is now named Original #1 Pupuseria SalvadoreÃ±o. Did they really need to change their name? Will Waruguma also change their name? It all seems like a lot of drama. Can’t the different pupusaria factions get along? Will a new pupusaria open up near Waruguma on Back Street? Will I be able to get the same delicious lobster burritos (during lobster season) and papusas? Inquiring minds want to know.
Update, September 2015:
Waruguma has moved to Angel Coral, (Back St.) but there are still two restaurants that serve pupusas on Pescador Dr. (Middle St.). Waruguma’s sister restaurant (east side of the street) is now called Pupuseria Hati. Both are managed by Cari Alcala Monforte. 2016 Update: Pupuseria Hati was lost in the June 2016 Pescador Dr. Fire. My article is on Ways to Help Fire Survivors.