I love going to markets. No matter which city I am visiting, I always want to see at least one of the local markets. I can’t place exactly why I have this fascination with markets, because it existed even before I became very avid about cooking and ingredients. Maybe my love of food is what drew me, or maybe it is because a busy market is typically a loud and lovely mass of humanity – people from all walks of life brushing against each other and examining produce, speaking different languages, unified in the purpose to do what we all must – EAT.
Bustling markets are varied these days, some with produce and wares from across the globe, some with plump fruits and veggies proudly carted and displayed by their local, hard-working farmers. The Grand Central Market in Los Angeles is a fascinating mixture of the two and has been serving Angelenos since 1917. Many of the neon signs scattered throughout the vast expanse of the market are historic, and the building itself once housed the office of Frank Lloyd Wright. The inside of the building has adapted to various demands in its eighty year history, but the beautiful exterior facade of the building remains the same. Food – history – architecture – I love this place.
los angeles grand central market
Grand Central is a traditional farmer’s market in the sense that stalls are rented and contain produce offerings from local area Farmers, but you will also find stalls offering meat, seafood, dried chiles, beans, spices, herbs, candies and ice cream. Scattered amidst these stalls are miniature restaurants churning out authentic cuisine from various parts of the globe. I am in danger of sensory overload as I wander through the maze of sights, sounds and delicious fragrances approaching from all directions, but my feet will always take me to Sarita’s Pupuseria.
HOLY PUPUSA – this place is unbelievable. Forget about all of the other fine Salvadoran delicacies that are on display for your selection and devourment – let’s just focus on the gorgeous little pupusa – pupusas so amazing that there is a constant, jostling crowd, pushing and shoving and waving money around, yelling at the poor soul taking orders and trying to keep up. The line at Sarita’s is very interesting and diverse; many locals of all shapes, sizes, colors, as well out of town visitors like me. My broken Spanish not only gives me a bit of street cred as I stand my ground in line but also allows me to understand that there are visitors on vacation from El Salvador and other Latin American countries in line with me. Their hosts explain how they will experience a true taste of home, right here in the center of Los Angeles. Muchas Gracias, Saritas.
Anyway, after ordering you round the corner to the other crowd of people watching and waiting as pupusas are expertly prepared by the pretty ladies at the grill. I’m nose to the glass as I think how do they DO that? Little balls of corn masa dough are scooped up, folded into a mysterious little pocket, and stuffed with cheese (several to choose from – I go with queso loroco – Salvadoran specialty prepared with indigenous “flowers”), beans (creamy, earthy), chicharron (pork), or a mixture of all three (pupusas mixtas). The dough mixture is then magically patted into a little ball and flattened into a thick “pancake” a little smaller than a tortilla. The pupusa goes on to the grill, and you continue to wait – fascinated – impatient – stomach growling. The very talented women at the grill prepare these pupusas so quickly, so expertly, and then somehow remember the type of each pupusa on the grill.
Finally, FINALLY, your number is called (in Spanish – be prepared and study before you go), everyone around you sighs in disappointment, and you leap joyfully to the counter to take your ridiculously fresh pupusas. Each little pancake is topped with a pickled cabbage mixture that provides a fresh and crisp acidity to the dense pupusa, and the entire thing is best topped with the mild, bright orange salsa that is offered as traditional accompaniment. Forget that it is very unlikely that you will grab a coveted seat at the counter of Sarita’s – no matter. Simply find a seat in the surrounding area of the market, which will allow you to watch the interesting crowd around you and the mayhem at the Pupuseria. Besides, it’s hard to think about much else when you are eating something this tasty, this sabrosito. The pupusa is pleasantly dense and chewy, the center filled with a happy marriage of melty cheese, beans and pork. Pupusa, cabbage and salsa together in one bite makes me very, very happy.
a rare moment of quiet at Sarita's
After my over-indulgence of Salvadoran goodness, I like to walk through the sawdust covered “streets” of the market to purchase chili covered mangos and my favorite Mexican candies, made of sweet and spicy tamarind paste. Maybe I will get an ice cream or purchase some dried New Mexico chiles for that recipe that I have been saving, but either way, I will be savoring the experience of this wonderful market and gleefully looking forward to my next chance to come back.
Grand Central Market
317 South Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013
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