at the Gateway International Food and Music Festival
Pupusas are the official national dish of El Salvador. What is a pupusa? Think of pupusas as corn-flour pancakes stuffed with a savory mixture of cheese and meat or vegetables. I can’t take you to El Salvador, but I can show you a bit of the Gateway International Food and Music Festival. As festivals go this annual event each September in Norcross, Georgia, USA, is certainly not one of the larger ones. For years, however, it has been one of my favorite festivals.
You might think with the word “International” in its name it brings acts from countries far and wide. Not so. All the singers, vendors, dancers, musicians, artists, cooks, and other participants are from local communities. These are groups that keep cultural and national traditions alive with dedication and great enthusiasm. “Food” comes first in the title, but let me delay that here for just a bit and give you a glimpse of the color, the spirit, the sheer enjoyment of the event. The first group here are spirited Salvadoran dancers in their wonderful blue and white dresses.
The festival ground is ringed with booths of artists and artisans, but the important ones are the food vendors. Here a wide variety of delicacies are prepared and consumed. I will visit just one of the “pupusarias” and show you how pupusas, these delightful edibles are prepared.
It takes experienced and talented hands to bring the corn flour dough to the right consistency. The cook grabs just the right amount and flattens it out. A savory filling, consisting of mainly pork and cheese, is pressed into the center. The dough if formed around it and rolled into a ball first, then into a thick disk. Ninety five seconds for one pupusa. This is not mass production but careful, loving cooking.
Don’t let the Italian apron fool you, this is genuine Salvadoran cooking. The pupusa is friend on both sides like a pancake and served with a traditional curtida slaw and salsa roja. That’s it. No recipe here, I could not see anything being measured. It is a learned tradition, handed down in each family.
Allow me just one more comment. As you can see from the pictures, this event brings people together from many cultures of the world. From places where hatred and strive cause hardships and much suffering. Yet here, at this festival, in in this country, people of different backgrounds, different cultures, can live as friends and enjoy the crafts and traditions of one another. This is the quilt that is the real America. I only wish there were not so many tears and holes in that quilt.
First published in Our Arts Magazine on October 8, 2017