I married a man from El Salvador. He had lived in Mexico for 5 years before migrating to Australia, where his mother learnt the best of Mexican cooking, and brought many food traditions across the ocean with them. His parents’ story was one that was shared amongst almost every immigrant in the 70’s and 80’s, a story of working hard, being resourceful and not wasting. Through this time, they managed to retain much of their food culture by connecting with other immigrants from their country who had also made that plane flight across the ocean, and sharing their recipes together.
Papousas, or stuffed tortillas, can be bought on many street corners in El Salvador, and would certainly be considered a classic comfort food. When women are sick of cooking on Sundays, they will go out to have papousas and relax with friends. Subsequently, my mother in law never learnt how to make them while in El Salvador, and only learnt the recipe while sharing recipes with fellow Salvandorian women once she came to Australia.
Papousas on Sundays is now one of our favourite traditions. They must also be topped off with Grandma’s chilli sauce, made with tomatillo tomatoes and chipotle chilli. Ingredients are simple, and there is no recipe, as Grandma makes it all with an ‘eye’. The process of filling them can be a bit tricky and takes some practice, just as it takes practice to get the dough right. My son Eli has been diligently practicing, and now has the hang of it. And at some stage, it will become our tradition that we will pass on to our grandchildren.
Whenever Grandmas asks my children what they want her to cook for them, they instantly say papousas, no questions asked. This tradition has brought us all together for Sunday lunches, brings a sense of purpose and predictability, consistency and identity. At the time, kids might not always how important those traditions are in shaping their identity and sense of self. It makes all the difference in shaping who we are through generations of time.
General Recipe for Papousas
Dough: 5 cups of masalista or tortilla flour, (usually purchased from a Mexican food store) mixed with approximately 1.75 litres of water
Fillings: fillings can vary, from refried beans, cheese, or pulled pork, or a combination of all three. The cheese filling can be a combination of fetta, cheddar, ricotta and/or mozzarella.
- The papousas are cooked on a hotplate, so prepare this before you start rolling your ingredients.
- Take a small palm-size amount of dough, flatten it out on your palm, and then grab a spoonful of filling ingredients and place it in the middle of the flattened out dough on your palm.
- Fold up the dough parcel like you are going to close a coin purse, and roll it into a ball, taking care to keep the ingredients inside the parcel.
- Once you have flattened it to about 1 cm, place it on the hotplate. Cook it on one side until you can see cheese oozing out or it starts to puff up as the ingredients start to heat up inside, and turn it over, until its browned on both sides.
- Serve with chilli sauce or salsa.