La Pupuseria is a new food truck that is imprinting the culture of El Salvador on the people of Olney one pupusa at a time. Located just north of Duncannon Avenue on North 5th Street, La Pupuseria is serving up both Hispanic and American favorites with a little unique flavor from Central America’s smallest country.
So, what is a pupusa exactly? A pupusa is a corn flour tortilla which is heated on a stove combined with either cheese or a combination of meat and cheese. The dish is typically served with chicken and cheese, although La Pupuseria does offer it with beans and cheese or steak and cheese. It may sound similar to many other Hispanic dishes but the corn tortilla is thicker and more dough-like than other tortillas.
La Pupuseria’s partial owner and manager Elisseth Maya could easily explain what a pupusa is but she would rather have her customers just taste one and find out. Maya, originally from San Miguel, El Salvador, has been working almost everyday since La Pupuseria opened in early March 2014.
Her passion for cooking is the thing that has kept her on a fast pace ever since the truck opened.
“I like everything about cooking,” said Maya. “I have been doing it ever since I was a little girl when my mom started to teach me. My whole family cooks – my mom and all my sisters.”
Before moving to Philadelphia, Maya lived in Maryland, where her sister also operates a food truck. While working side-by-side with her sister for two years, Maya started to make a plan to open her own food truck. Maya was also helped by her mother, who also owns and runs a food truck in Washington D.C.
While El Salvador may not be the most recognizable country out of the seven countries that make up Central America, Maya is hoping to make up for what El Salvador may lack in size with flavor.
“I hope when people try my food they like it,” said Maya. “This is the food of my home and many people do not know about El Salvador or pupusa.”
If someone were to ask you what country comes to your mind when you think about Hispanic food in the Centro de Oro corridor of 5th Street, your answer is not necessarily going to be El Salvador. Why would it be?
The stores and homes that line the 5th Street corridor are dominated by the presence of Puerto Rican and Mexican flags. They occupy the north side of Roosevelt Boulevard upward through Godfrey Avenue. With all the red and green there doesn’t seem like there’s room for the blue and white of Central America’s smallest country.
But the Salvadoran population has actually been on the rise in Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, according to an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer. The article states that the official number of Salvadorans in Philadelphia is low due to many of them being without citizenship. The real number of Salvadorans living in the Philadelphia area is estimated to be more than 10,000.
Being overlooked is a subject that is on the mind of Elisseth Maya. When deciding where to park the food truck, a lot more planning went into it than one would think. While the mobility of a food truck can be seen as a positive, constant relocating could hinder a food truck’s ability to develop a loyal following.
Maya recognized the importance of customer loyalty and decided to choose a location that La Pupuseria could settle and stay more permanently.
“I picked this block because it is a busy street,” said Maya. “There are a lot of cars all day and people walking. There are a lot of Hispanic people here too so that was a big reason.”
While Maya knew there were a lot of Hispanics living near where she parked she probably doesn’t really know just how good of a spot she chose.
According to the 2010 Census, Olney’s population is 26.3 percent Hispanic or Latino, which is the second largest demographic behind African Americans, which make up 49.5 percent of the population. According to data obtained from City Data, the block group that La Pupuseria operates in is 44.4 percent Hispanic or Latino, nearly twice the average for the neighborhood.
The area in which La Pupuseria operates is the most densely populated Hispanic population in the neighborhood. La Pupuseria’s block group and the five other block groups that border it have an average Hispanic or Latino population of 40.4 percent. That average is the highest of any six block group combination in the neighborhood. Out of more than 30 block groups in Olney, La Pupuseria’s block group had the sixth highest Hispanic or Latino population while sharing a border with four out of the five top highest.
La Pupuseria has the unique twist on the familiar flavors of Hispanic cuisine. It has the right exposure in the heart of Olney. It has found its sweet spot amongst a densely Hispanic population. Now it just needs hungry stomachs to complete their mission.
– Text and images by Clayton Hoffstein.