Jose Gabriel Delcid claims he introduced pupusas to Arlington, Va. At the very least, his bustling corner market has – pardon us – cornered the neighborhood market in sales of the Salvadoran staple.
When Delcid first came to the United States from El Salvador in 1978, hardly anyone knew what a pupusa was. Today, the cornmeal pockets filled with cheese or beans or meat can be found in family restaurants and on food trucks from Orlando, Fla., to Portland, Ore.
And though pupusas are not yet mainstream, they could very well go the way of the taco. Much like Delcid’s pupusas, Mexican food started life in America with homemade items such as tortillas, tamales and tacos in places with large Mexican populations, such as California. In the 1960s, Nordic Ware – famous for inventing the Bundt pan – created a Mexican food-making kit complete with a tortilla press, a taco fryer mold and a cookbook (read all about it in the Smithsonian exhibition, “Food”). Tacos, which may have been invented in the 18th century by Mexican silver miners, according to Jeffrey Pilcher, author of Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food (Oxford University Press), went mainstream when they were mass-marketed by Taco Bell. The word “pupusas” may not have that fast-food ring – Pupusa Bell? Pupusa King? — but like tacos, they are portable and filling, with a big dose of comfort that comes from the fat and the dough.
For now, we have Delcid and other homestyle cooks like him. Delcid opened La Union Grocery in February 1993, naming the store for his home state of La Union. The small store sells fresh and packaged items, including frozen chocolate-coated bananas that Delcid dips himself, and has a deli area where staff prepare pupusas, tamales, enchiladas, soups and more.
Delcid is a gregarious shopkeeper, generous with his time and information. But he won’t share a pupusa recipe: “What, you want to put me out of business?”