I'm trying to figure out the holy Trinity.
For French, it's mirepoix
: onions, celery and carrots. For Mexican, it's onions, tomatoes and garlic. For Salvadoran food, maize (native grown corn) is certainly primary, but many other things fight for the spotlight: sweet, caramelized plantains; spicy, distinct red peppers; smooth and tangy black beans; curry.
Curry? At least at Los Jirasoles, the new Salvadoran restaurant on Lafayette. Well, it's much more familiar to American tongues than a somewhat similar Salvadoran dish called alguashte
, made of ground pumpkin seeds.
Los Jirasoles is the type of Lafayette Road eatery that helps even the score of our city's many multichain restaurants. There is no corporate mandated interior color scheme: Cheery yellow and green tables dot the cozy eatery. A single flatscreen TV, rigged to a small laptop, plays photos of El Salvador's lush terrain in between music videos of women writhing in bikinis.
Of course, I had to try the Salvadoran curry, so I ordered some camarones con pina a la curry
($8.95) from my young waitress with frosty eyeshadow. It was shrimp in a red curry sauce with pineapple. It tasted like decent Thai red curry, served with a bit of dried-out steamed white rice. Not bad, but not a reason to skip my favorite Thai place.
Luckily, I had also requested the house specialty, the pupusa
flower and cheese ($1.50). Loroco
is a small flower native to El Salvador, which, buried beneath all that stringy, tangy Mexican white cheese and pillowy rounds of thick corn masa, can barely be deciphered. They taste vegetal, perhaps even a bit bitter. Or maybe that's the sour little cabbage salad that's served in a ramkein
alongside. Either way, it's a new, savory experience. A welcome diversion toward authentic Central American food in a city full of mass-produced Mexican restaurants with canned salsa and ubiquitously dried out fajitas.
I finished the meal with cold horchata
($1.55), a cinnamony, sugary, milk-colored drink sometimes made with rice or, if more authentic, morro
seeds from gourds of Salvadoran trees. It is extremely difficult to find these seeds in anything but powdered form locally, so I assume this version made do with rice or something else.
So. I felt I had delved into the esoteric side -- horchata, loroco, pupusa
and the not-so-native Salvadoran curry -- and was ready to take on something a little more familiar. Eggs, beans and tortillas would do the trick for this native Texan.
Except, I daresay the Salvadorans are on to something we're not. Something like nuclear fusion happens when you combine the breakfast plate's ($7.50) silky black beans, salty scrambled eggs and sticky sweet plantains in a thick corn taco. It's a lot of intense softness. Then you eat the tied-off bit of chorizo
they give you, and you realize that if you died from all the heart-stopping grease making your plate and fingers slippery, you'd have had a grand last meal.