Dining with others in El Salvador is all about the company
and the socialization, not the food. Due to this meals tend to begin late and can
go on for quite some time. When you are meeting with locals for a meal, whether
at their house or a restaurant, be at least 30 minutes late; many locals will arrive
45 minutes late and meals won't be ready until at least this late. Also try
to dress well, but not necessarily formally; fashionable is more important than
Once you and others arrive you may begin the meal with drinks and the food may be
further delayed. If alcoholic drinks are involved, as they often are, don't
take your first sip until the host offers the standard first toast of "salud."
You may be asked to reciprocate the toast, if so, be sure to mention the great hospitality
in El Salvador as this is always very well received. If, during the course of the
meal you decide you have had enough to drink, simple leave you glass over half full
and it should not be refilled.
If you have not already, the seating will generally be pre-arranged so don't
find your own seat and don't sit until everyone is present and standing next
to or behind their chairs. You may be asked to stand as others leave or return to
the table as well, so follow the lead of others. Once the food is finally served
the guests will usually be the first served, but you are expected to wait to eat
until invited to do so with the words "Buen Provecho." Unlike
most Central American countries that eat some foods with their hands, foods in El
Salvador are almost exclusively eaten with a fork and knife. Fortunately, in most
settings the people care little for your dining style and won't take offense,
but in business meetings try to eat in the continental style (fork in the left hand,
knife in the right), and if you can easily do so, eat in this style in all situations.
If in a local's home you may well be offered a second helping and accepting
is a compliment to the host. Try every dish offered and finish those you enjoy.
Fortunately, if there is a dish you don't like, you are expected to leave a
small amount of food on the plate when you are finished eating so you may simply
leave the foods you don't enjoy, but try everything.
Once you're finished eating, be prepared to stay and socialize for at least
an additional hour. During this time you may be offered dessert or coffee, but accepting
these isn't as important as staying and enjoying your host's company.
If dining in a restaurant, the host or person who did the initial inviting is expected
to pay for everyone. All others should offer to pay, but expect to be turned down
and thank the host. To show your gratitude, later invite the host out for a meal.
If you are paying, check the bill for a service charge or tip. At some high end
restaurants and hotel restaurants a tip will be included; if dining in a restaurant
catered to foreigners, leave a tip of up to 10%. Local restaurants don't expect
tips, but rounding up is a nice gesture.
Celebrations & Events
Among the best times to try local celebratory foods is during holy weeks as the
country is overwhelmingly Catholic and each Christian holiday tends to have foods
to match the celebration. Holy Week, which lasts from Palm Sunday to Easter (the
dates shift from year to year, but are generally in March or April) requires a combination
of restraint and celebration as meat is forbidden some days, fasting is required
others, and on Easter candies and huge quantities of foods are consumed. However,
most people celebrate Holy Week with family only.
Perhaps a better celebration for the foreigner is Fiestas Agostinas, which
takes place every August in the capital city. Although this festival isn't centered
around food, food is a very integral part of the festival, as are sports, arts,
and performances. Numerous traditional foods are available in the capital during
the festival, all of which are local favorites.
Sodas and colas have taken over in El Salvador in recent
years, including many international brands, although the local cola "Kolachampan"
is made from sugarcane, which gives it a more distinct sweetness and flavor. Coffee
is also widely drunk, most of which is grown in the country. Juices are common in
the country, but they vary from simple juices to mixes. Lemon refrescos
(sweetened drinks) and pineapple ensalada (mixed with chopped fruits) are
local specialties, while their tamarind juice is generally served without alterations.
Atol shuco is another local specialty; this drink is made from purple corn
mixed with water or milk. Shaved ice drinks are ideal for a hot day, including minutas,
which is mixed with fruit syrup, horchata, which contains numerous spices,
and licuados, which are mixed with fruits. Coconut milk and is also a common
The locals usually reach for a beer when drinking alcohol in
El Salvador; most beers are imports, but the locally brewed "Suprema"
is also popular. For a contrast to the beer, chicha is fermented with corn,
but similar to beer. Nearly all other alcohols are available in El Salvador, but
not as common as beer. Of these other drinks, most are imported.
The tap water in El Salvador should not be consumed.
Be sure to also avoid anything with ice as it may have been made from the tap water.
Salads and fruits could have also been washed in the tap water so be careful with
those foods as well.