Sunday, October 12, 2008

La Curva: Pupusotas to make you Triste o Atarantada

Yesterday I found myself with my mom in a Pupuseria near Flushing Meadow Park. I didn't really want to go to the park, but she bribed me. If I hung out with her she said she would buy me pupusas. The offer was irresistible; I've had pupusas on the mind since the other day at Whole Foods and I don't get to eat them very often either. 

Unfortunately, my mom wanted to stop there before going to the park and I was not so hungry. She said, let's just have two each and then if we're hungry later we'll pick some up on the way back. That was an appealing proposition because then I'd have the opportunity to sample the greatest variety. 

When we sat down they were not on the menu and we had to ask, in Spanish, what kinds they had that day. They had: cheese, beans and cheese, revueltas (pork and cheese), and cheese and loroco (the exotic national flower of El Salvador). My mom and I, without discussing it first, ordered exactly the same. For a newbie, I think you would want to order just cheese, but the best are revueltas and de loroco, the flower has a unique taste that is difficult to compare. We also ordered orchata, a drink made of rice water and morro (roll the 'r' when you pronounce it. My mom yelled at me for saying 'moro'). 

After ordering, I had plenty of time to reflect on our surroundings. It took some time for them to bring us our food, although the drinks came quickly. The place was warm, but we skipped on water because they only sell bottled water, which I think is sort of lame. Outside of the restaurant were some older Chinese men hanging out. They were from the car repair shop next door. Yet, inside there were only men, all hispanic, probably all Salvadorean. I wanted to stare at them and look for some sort of family resemblance, but that seemed rude, so I refrained. They were all hanging out in groups or alone drinking Heinekens and Negro Modelo. I bet pupusas are good with beer, but I prefer orchata. If you're going all the way to a pupuseria you might as well get what you can only get there.

The decor was really basic and it had been decorated for Halloween. My mom was a big fan of the gaudy Salvadorean themed clock on the wall. They had two televisions hooked up showing an American movie dubbed in Spanish, which I almost thought my mom found more interesting than my witty banter. 

They ended up giving us cutlery, which is as undesirable for me as getting it in a Chinese restaurant. An authentic meal of pupusas requires clean hands only. The waitress also put down two bottles that looked like ketchup and mustard. I knew that the red bottle, however, was the mild, yet tasty tomato sauce served with pupusas and made out of stewed tomatoes. I was, though, wary of the yellow stuff in the other bottle. I'd never been served that before. I asked my mom what it was and she said it was mustard. I was like, 'really?' Given my reaction she investigated by opening it up and smelling it. It turned out that it was a chilli puree that ended up being so awesome on the pupusas. It had a vinegar flavor to it and a medium level of heat and was well rounded in flavor. When the pupusas came the waitress also brought the curtido, a cabbage relish somewhat similar to sauerkraut. It serves the same purpose as sauerkraut, but ought to be firmer and crisper in texture than the other cabbage relish. It is made of cabbage, onion, carrot, chillies, oregano, salt and pepper cured in white wine vinegar. Please note: put this on your pupusa. Not only is it essential for flavor but there's a gastronomic purpose. The relish aides in digestion. In a pupusa meal you're face to face with a good amount of cheese and spices, be mindful of how this will affect you later.

The pupusas that we ate were, oh, oh, oh, so good. The loroco and the pork came through in the overall flavor of the pupusas. There was the magical burnt cheese that had oozed out from the sides and the sauces and curtido were the perfect match. If you have never eaten a pupusa before, you should know that when you get it, you open it up to reveal both sides. A well made pupusa will have filling come apart on both sides. A poorly made one will have all the filling stick to one side. You then dress the fuller bottom part and start eating the top part that cools faster. Remember these are right off the grill and pipping hot, so be careful. The accompaniments help to cool the pupusa more quickly so you don't burn the roof of your mouth. 

My only complaint about them really is that the pupusas were too big. By the time that I was done with the first one I had no room for the second, but kept eating anyway. When I finished my mom asked, "Estas atarantada?," are you stupid-full? I was like, "yeah, how'd you know?" and she said "because I am too." Apparently that's more full than being triste, literally 'sad with fullness.' It took me the better part of the day to get over the bloating that decision cost me. I'm not just complaining for that reason though; I think that if they were smaller you could try more variations--and I love variety.

I did, however, like the bill: $12.00 for everything; that's nothing to sneeze at in our tough financial times. Anywho, I do recommend this place and I think that the perfect way to work off the heavy meal is to go to the park and play mini golf ($7 for adults). 

La Curva Restaurant
On College Point Boulevard between Stanford Avenue and Maple Avenue

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