Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Going Shopping! Comparing prices, U.S. versus El Salvador   Leave a comment

Here is another cost of living article, noting differences between El Salvador and the U.S.

I’m taking you with me on a “Tour du Store”.  We’ll walk through the aisles together, and I’ll point out things I bought, and saw, and tell you how it compares to  products and pricing in El Salvador.

Our shopping trip takes place in the Market Basket, a fantastic grocery chain in New England, famous for its low prices and international product selection.  They beat the pants off the stupid Publix my mom goes to in Florida, that store would never have my business.  Pics are from late September, 2012.

Mmmm BUTTER. In E.S. it’s $1 (a dollar) a stick,
usually sold a stick at a time.   67 cents a stick in
U.S.   Are Dairy Subsidies helping this?
EGGS.  Same or More $ in El Salvador.
Package of 15 about 2 bucks or 2.25+ in E.S.
Farm fresh at mom-in-laws 8 for a dollar – exact price
as seen here.

There’s a “weird” egg thing I finally figured out in El Salvador.  Eggs are sold in stores at room temperature, which I always thought was, especially when the air temp is 80 or higher in most places there.   Here’s WHY:   if you refrigerate eggs and then stop refrigerating them, they spoil fast.  People in El Salvador usually have smaller fridges or no fridge at all, so stores sell them at room temp to accommodate this.   Eggs will also spoil fast if you get them wet, according to my husband.

Here are the CHICKENS that laid those eggs.   Based on this grocery trip, chicken in El Salvador costs MORE.   At Super Selectos grocery stores in El Salvador, as of August of 2012 and long before that, the cheapest price for “leg quarters” I could find was 1.49 or so.   The picture above shows that here in the U.S. I find them for 20 cents cheaper.    Now, you CAN find cheaper chicken at the MARKET in El Salvador – look for the “Pollo Indio” there, for probably 1.25 or 1.30, so that is one option.  MARKET food in El Salvador is lots cheaper than the grocery store, so make use of it when you can.

I mentioned the Chicken pricing difference to my husband, and he reminded me that in El Salvador the price of chicken feed is probably more, comparatively.    Corn is a big component of chicken feed, and most people know about the corn subsidies we have in the U.S.   Also, farmers in general get a lot of assistance from the government in the U.S.

Personally, I think mega farm factories need not have so many subsidies, but that’s a discussion that belongs on someone elses blog, so I’ll stop there. Ya’ll can watch Food, Inc. and Forks over Knives on your own time.

YOGURT – same price in El Salvador.   It’s not quite mainstream in El Salvador, and I’m not sure it’s produced there if at all, so the Yoplait yogurt pictured here has an exact same price and quality corollary in E.S. called ‘Yes’.   Say yes to yes if you like yogurt, it’s good.    TUNA – wow, what a great price the U.S. has – on sale for 80 cents a can.  I NEVER found Tuna for less than $1 a can, and almost always 1.25 or 1.50, and often “mixed with vegetables” at that price.   The poor man’s best protein option in El Salvador is still, by far, BEANS.

Let’s make a sandwich and have a snack.    PACKAGED HAM  – about the SAME prices as El Salvador.   I used to buy packs of ham down there for around 3 bucks each, and they were ‘higher end’.  “DANI'” brand ham, which is not as good as this Market Basket kind, was 2 dollars and change, about the same as this 8 oz bag of ham, $2.29 at MB.   CHEESES of European or American Style kind, as in hard or sharp tasting, cost MORE there.   This Muenster cheese seen here is cheaper > in E.S. and you’re also getting the “store” brand discount, $2.99 for 10 oz, so about 5 bucks a pound.  El Salvador?  $7-9 a pound, much MORE for Muenster cheese.   Because it’s not made there far as I know so you’re paying for an imported product.   Hard sliceable style cheeses are hardly ever made there, and when so, a niche product.  There’s a store called “Greif” or something like that which makes cheeses and specialty packaged meats.  European food, and European style prices.   The cake on the far right is more of an American-style sweet, I found cakes the same size for around $2.50 or $3.00 in El Salvador.   Most Salvadorans eat “pan dulce” which are bakery-fresh cookies sold at the grocer or often on the back of trucks or bicycled around the neighborhood.

Onions and Potatoes.  SAME price in El Salvador.  American price =  about the same as the “veggie” truck in El Salvador.  Market price in El Salvador would be slightly less.    I was surprised to see I was getting about the same amount of vegetable’s worth for a $1 as I would back in El Salvador.

Bathroom needs.  El Salvador’s pricing is EXACTLY or ALMOST the same!   Shampoo and other GROOMING products offer no 3rd world discount, so be prepared.   Colgate – manufactured in Latin America, and maybe right there in good old Salvy-land, is sold for pretty much the same price as here – I don’t remember seeing regular size tubes of toothpaste for < $1 in El Salvador.    TP – the “Nevax” brand I bought in El Salvador was somewhere between the Quilted Northern and Angel Soft brands here in terms of quality, and cost about $2.50 – 2.70 or so, depending on the store in El Salvador.  Sometimes I’d catch a sale at $2.25 a package, and would buy extra .

And now for the GOOD NEWS:   El Salvador beats the United States HANDS DOWN with tropical fruits and veggies.   I would hope so!

These PLANTAINS at 3 for a buck in Market Basket are much smaller  > their Salvadoran counterparts.   Plantains are about 5 for a dollar in El Salvador, and way bigger.   If you go to the market you get an even better deal > the veggie truck.  AVOCADOS are either 3 for a dollar or 2 for a dollar at the most down there.   Since I was in the great Market Basket food haven, these avocados are a buck each, but in other stores would be $1.29 or 1.50 apiece.   Avocados are considered a pricier vegetable in El Salvador, and not always available, but often grow on people’s trees, along with bananas, oranges and mangos.

This PAPAYA in the U.S. is about $3.25 after weighing it in.   I selected one the same size as I’d find down there for anywhere from $1 to $1.50 total.  Nice to see they’re less than half the cost in El Salvador.

Gee, CABBAGE heads are a wee bit SMALL in the United States.   They grow cabbage in the mountains of El Salvador, way up in places like La Palma, or Las Pilas, or El Pital or San Fernando de Morazan, all mountainous areas of Chalatenango.     We drove by patches around there.    Cabbage heads in el Salvador are MONDO sized compared to the ones here, and cost about $1 each, maybe $1.50, $2 tops for super big mondo size.     This head in the U.S. is about half the size, maybe 2/3 tops of what you’d find down there and cost a total of $1.20.      So like the papaya, the cost for cabbage in El Salvador is half or less > the U.S.

BEANS and SUGAR:   El Salvador wins.  Heck, they better, stuff is grown there, right?   When we left El Salvador, beans were .60-.75 a pound.   They’re about $1.50 a pound here.  I cannot remember the exact price for sugar down there, but it feels like we’re paying twice as much here.  No problem,we make lots more, right?

COFFEE  – a mixed bag.   Coffee SHOULD be cheaper down in El Salvador, but I did not observe that while we were there.  Bags of coffee for a coffee machine range anywhere from $4-$7 a bag there, about the same as here, I think.   Instant coffee seems more expensive here > in El Salvador, and that’s a good thing, bc most poor people I know drink Nescafe Cafe Listo down there – a product you don’t find here.

MANGOS.   El Salvador WINS the mango prize.  In El Salvador, during season, mangos are ubiquitous, and there  a dozen or more varieties.

This type of mango pictured above sells for 3 for $1, sometimes 5 for a dollar in El Salvador in the market and via street vendors.  Super Selectos might be as high as 60-70 cents a mango if not mid-season, but you always pay more for produce there > at the market.   Even so, mangos are half or less than what they cost here.

What’s more, in many places in El Salvador, mangos are FREE!  They grow all over the place so people are picking them off of trees everywhere, and selling them on the roadside, you almost cant get rid of them.

A good mango story for you:  When my husband and his friends get together and talk about hard times between the two countries, they almost always mention mangos.  “Yeah,” one will say, “When I’m out of work in the U.S. I’ve still gotta pay rent, insurance, the whole bit.  But back home I can always live free with family, and if I’m hungry, I can ALWAYS EAT MANGOS OFF THE TREES.”   There’s no free fruits and veggies growing wild (or considered common property) over here.   Prices are cheaper in the U.S., but like they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch!


Two other Cost of Living in El Salvador (versus the U.S.) that may interest you:

Sticker shock going both ways for a Thanksgiving tribute to American consumerism, and
Some Stuff Costs Less, Some Costs more  with lots of details to help expats living in El Salvador

Toasted Maize Coffee / Café de Maize Tostado – Café de Palo – Café Pusungo   10 comments

Here is a treat I got to see  recently – someone grinding Salvadoran-style “coffee” made of toasted maize, also called “cafe de palo,” or as my mother in law terms it, “cafe pusungo”.    Our neighbors in Chalatenango, Lupita and her brother Cristian, came by my mother-in-law’s house to borrow her “molino” or grinder, to finish making a batch.  Lupita says her mother likes to drink it because “no le hace dano” (it isn’t bad for her health).

She had a bucket full of toasted maize kernels, blackened on the comal/griddle, and was grinding away.  Her arm was getting tired, so Cristian jumped in and started winding the grinder like it was a kid’s toy – he did it like a pro.  Take a look at the results:   doesn’t it look like coffee?   I had to sample it, of course  – didn’t taste much like coffee, or anything I’d want to drink, but then, coffee is an acquired taste.

Café de maize tostado is a traditional drink in El Salvador, and other parts of Latin America.   It was consumed much more in the ‘old days’, but as we see by this example, still consumed by some to this day.   Looking into the history of this beverage, I cannot yet determine if it was a traditional indigenous drink before the America’s were colonized or not, but it has been an economic surrogate for coffee.   According to this 2001 article in the Diario de Hoy (translation, with original text, following),

“At one time, don Lito, the price of coffee was so high, that the poor, not having the resources to drink good coffee, would instead drink coffee of toasted maize, which they sometimes mixed with avocado seed and coffee casings [the shells containing the grains] to give it some flavor.   Nowadays, 100 pounds of maize is worth more than 100 pounds of coffee, even though it only takes four months to produce that 100 pounds of maize, and four years for the same amount of coffee!”

“-En un tiempo, don Lito, el precio del café era tan alto, que los pobres, para variar, no tenían capacidad de tomar buen café y tomaban café de maíz tostado, que a veces lo revolvían con semilla de aguacate y algunas cascaritas de café cereza, para darle sabor. Ahora, un quintal de maíz en plaza vale más que un quintal de café, aunque para producir un quintal de maíz sólo se tarda cuatro meses, igualito que el café, sólo que ¡cuatro años! ”  – link to article by Lito Moltalvo, in Diario de Hoy

Jicama – the real pomme de terre   2 comments

Bite into a potato.  Now bite into a Jicama.

You’ll see for yourself, which one is the real “pomme de terre”.    They are bland in flavor with a slightly sweet taste, and a texture similar to crunchy apple.   Brought to you by El Salvador.  It’s Jicama season.   Buy one, try one, enjoy yourself.

I had no idea how to prepare this thing, but ate it once in a salad at a restaurant.  No cooking needed.  Just peel and eat.   I squeezed lime, and dashed hot sauce into a bowl to “marinate” them a bit.  Then took them out and sprinkled “alguashte” over them.    Pretty good.

Don’t heat Cashew Shells on the Stove / No cocine Pepas por la Estufa   2 comments

My husband had a cooking adventure today.  But not the kind he was looking for.  We have a bag of hard-as-a-rock shells from the Marañon fruit, which have cashew nuts inside of them.  In order to eat the cashew, you have to heat up the shell to the point where its slightly charred, so you can crack it open and get the cashew out from the inside.

You cannot heat the Pepa (shell) too much or you’ll char the cashew inside of it.  It’s something you learn with time.

So today, instead of putting the Pepas into a little fire in the bowl of the grill, my husband decided he’d cook them on the stove, in a plate made out of ‘barra’ which is a type of earthenware made in El Salvador.

All began well, but within moments a haze began to develop in the kitchen.  The haze grew into a cloud, with a nasty aroma that makes you cough.  I exited the kitchen.   The smoke became so thick I had to move around the corner, as the patio outside the kitchen became engulfed in the toxic fumes.

I peeked around the corner just in time to see flames coming off the barra plate (they ignited!), which my husband quickly doused with water.   In the end, it still turned out well, and we had a couple of tasty handfuls of freshly toasted cashew.  Yum yum.

Giggling, after dousing the fire

Smoke everywhere, Pepas smoldering

Posted August 1, 2011 by El Salvador from the Inside in Food, ODD

Fresh Cream from the Farmer’s Dairy   2 comments

Until coming here, my idea of cream was the kind you find in the mini-size milk carton in the dairy section of the supermarket.  One of three varieties:  regular, cream, and ‘half and half’ which people use for coffee.  The color of all those creams is a presentable off-white.

Many creams in the supers here are also that same color.  Like the ‘Salud’ brand I use as sour cream because it ‘turns’ quick and tastes exactly like sour cream back home.

This is the good stuff.

One great thing about being in El Salvador is that you are often within a 10 minute walk or drive from a dairy that sells fresh cream and Salvadoran style cheeses from local farms. People eat cream here with fried plantains (platanos), and with beans.

Now, I want you all to take a look at fresh cream as it comes from a dairy, or Lacteo, as we call it here.  The bag of cream to the right was liquid when we bought it, and after a few days it began to slowly solidify, while still keeping its fresh taste.  Can you see how yellow and buttery the color is?  This is what REAL cream looks like.

Below is a video showing how thick the cream is.  (apologies for sideways, can’t get ‘rotate’ in YouTube working…)

The Lean Mean Salvadoran Cooking Machine (my mother-in-law)   Leave a comment

It was a regular day in our neighborhood and house today.  After morning coffee I charged full speed ahead on a two hour cleaning whirlwind.  After sweeping every floor in the house, ‘our’ side and the in-laws side, I mopped our front ceramic patio, then dug out some items for the laundry, when I was firmly interrupted by my mother in law.  She reminded me to “eat now,” the work will be there later, and directed me to the table for a welcoming bowl of fresh chicken soup.

Irene making Tamales, 2010

After cohabitating for 6 months, I’ve settled into my role of mega-cleaner, as Irene is most definitely the house cook, and not a big fan of house cleaning.  She won’t let me get away with skipping meals, and I take her generosity with a pang of guilt, eating from a poor woman’s table, but I make it up to her as often as I can.

Irene feeds everyone and everything in her midst.  Starting with the chickens first thing in the morning to the mid-morning second breakfast of ‘beans with tortillas” (and cheese if there is some).  Breakfast number one is coffee and a sweet bread sold by one of the major snack vendors in El Salvador.  Midday a warm almuerzo (lunch) is usually made – or at least every other day, often a soup or “Guisado”,which is a saucy chicken or meat dish.

As afternoon progresses, it’s time for cooking maize and pupusa preparation.  The maize is cooked daily, whether or not pupusas are made, as it’s also used to make tortillas, which accompany every meal.  The maize is boiled in a big pot over firewood, then washed thoroughly and ground up in a molina – a large electric grinder.  There is always at least one person in a neighborhood with a “molina” and they charge 25cents or more to grind a small batch of maize into corn meal.

The pupusa preparation consists of heating the tomatoes for the sauce, and cutting cabbage and carrots for the curtido (marinated cabbage eaten with the pupusas), which is done every 2 days.   My mother in law prepares the pupusa filling once a week, sometimes twice, by grinding up cooked red beans and fatty pork meat (chicharron) with tomatoes, onions and spices.

Finally, sometime around 5:30pm, this 69 year old veteran makes her daily trip across the street to cook the pupusas on a hot griddle for two to three hours, feeding a clientele ranging from teenage neighborhood boys, many of her regulars, to various women from the caserio (hamlet) who aren’t cooking that day or, blessed with American remittances, have the luxury of eating take-out often.   Just before closing, Irene makes the biggest pupusa of all, a small pizza sized one made especially for our family dog, Oso (which means bear in English).

Parakeet gets lucky, Irene gives him Mamay fruit (1/2009)

Throughout the day the parakeet is treated with various fruity delights and crackers, Irene often cutting mangos for herself and handing pieces to him.  Children of all ages eat fruits and sweets at various hours, and last but not least are the cockroaches and flies whose very existence at our house might not happen if it werent for the constant cooking, wafting of food aromas, and scraps forgotten on tabletops or dropped on the floor.   Our uninvited insect friends take advantage of Irene’s ‘hide it for later’ technique of squirreling food for future use and often find it before she does – a pot on a shelf with melted panela to sweeten something later, or the coveted piece of cheese meant for an afternoon treat wrapped in newspaper (Irene has spent most of her life without a refrigerator so hasn’t gotten the hang of when to use it yet).

There is not a creature within a ten minute walk of our house who hasn’t received a meal by my mother-in-law.  She is the lean, mean, Salvadoran cooking machine.

Taken from Diary entry, April 6, 2010

Pollo Campero and American Chains in El Salvador   7 comments

Pictured here is a receipt from Pollo Robero, as I like to call them, tongue in cheek.

I must admit it is damn good tasting chicken. But I try limiting purchases to either a) special occasions, like this visit to the in-laws to treat them to something nice, or b) there’s nothing else to eat and I’m starvin’.

As an American and person of privileged means in El Salvador, I find it  distasteful, pun intended, that numerous fast food and restaurant chains set up shop here and charge nearly the SAME prices as in the U.S.

I do my best to near BOYCOTT them, and here’s why:

1) Food purchased here (chicken, beef, etc.) should be obviously cheaper. If BK is shipping patties here from the U.S. I’ll eat my hat.

2) Labor is R-I-D-C-U-L-O-U-S-L-Y cheap here: $6 a DAY. That’s not a typo. But let’s be generous and say they pay a whopping $7 or $8 a day.

So when I walk up to the counter of a BK, Wendys, Pollo Campero (originated in El Salvador btw), or other international joint, and see the SAME PRICES as I would in the U.S., its enough to make my stomach turn.

Yes, they are providing ‘jobs’ in El Salvador, but are we really beholden to them? I don’t see what grand favor they are doing for the people of El Salvador by paying workers an El Salvador minimum-wage while pocketing the American-priced profits.

You wanna help the Salvadoran People?   AVOID American or International Chains whenEVER possible.   I know this is hard, especially when traveling and missing “foods from home.”  But resist.

Listed below are Alternative Safe Food Options for Where to Eat in El Salvador, that actually help the People HERE, who could really use your money, not the big fat restaurant chain:

– Pupusa Stands
– Small Restaurants that are obviously “local”
– French Fry, Plaintain or Yucca chip stands
– Atol “chucho” stands ( a corn drink made from purple maize – yummy)
– I’ll add more to the list as they come along….

Fruit sold in its own “package” like Oranges, Bananas, Pineapple, Papaya, etc. is safe, once you wash it or peel it.

%d bloggers like this: