My dad is from El Salvador, but my mom is not. My brother is from El Salvador, but my sister and I are not. We grew up in the US, speaking English, practicing an American religion, learning American culture from our American schools, eating mostly American foods. We learned a lot about our father’s culture, but now as I’m getting older, I understand how much I missed when my dad or abuelita would tell us stories, cook traditional foods, and sing us old songs.
Growing up Salvadoran-American has provided me an interesting if not unique outlook. I was raised eating foods my friends couldn’t pronounce, with a last name people couldn’t read, with a family whose stories took place in what seemed like a completely different world. We didn’t have boogeymen or monsters in the closet (save for a literal vinyl mask my brother hid in a linen closet to scare me) – we had el cucuy and la chupacabra (the latter of which my brother convinced me ate children, too – my brother liked to pick on me a lot). We grew up with dual-vocabulary, though not bilingual.
And of course, we grew up with the understanding that spending the night at Abuelita’s meant guisquil relleno, that every Christmas we’d enjoy pan con pavo, and that when we went back home, it would be with a bag full of tamales.
As my grandmother has grown older, her health has waned, and now at family gatherings, my Tias (aunts), primos (cousins), and I are charged with preparing meals and carrying forward traditions. We each have our own stories, our own songs, but the foods are still passed on from my Abuelita.
I’ve taken joy in documenting the days I spend learning from her. Learning about foods that are native to wear she’s from, learning techniques and tricks to bring out the flavors of herbs and spices, learning how to create the signature flavors we love so well (like toasting herbs to enhance and intensify their flavors). One of the cores of our family’s favorite dishes is the salsa sabrosa (savory sauce) that we use to cook meats, and I’m so pleased to share this recipe with you. Except I’ve left out the secret ingredient, because every family has their little tricks.