El Salvador's Kimchi: Curtido

By Stephanie Lemus

Imagine a side dish that’s juicy, sour, and spicy. The smell can be overwhelming, but it gets your mouth watering. It goes with just about anything, especially traditional dishes. What do you think it is? Depending on where you’re from, your answers could vary tremendously. Today’s topic is one that is very near and dear to me, Salvadoran food. You may be wondering how two complete opposites in food can possibly have anything to do with the other? If you look a bit closer you’ll be able to see some similarities in dishes from these two countries…

Curtido is a slightly fermented mixture of onions, carrots, and cabbage. It’s a staple of the Salvadoran cuisine. In fact, pupusas and curtido is the national dish this country is known for. Pupusas are tortilla filled with things like cheese, chorizo (pork), and many other things. At first glance, you can see how a pupusa looks quite similar to a sweet Korean pancake.

In English, curtido is called pickled coleslaw or sauerkraut in countries like Germany. On some occasions, it's called Spanish Kimchi. Curtido can vary from the region it comes from but it won't vary widely unless it's curtido from Belize. When it comes to taste it's sour like kimchi but not as spicy, in fact, it can lean more towards the sweet-side depending on who makes it. If you’re looking for something more spicier you can simply do so by adding jalapenos. If you want to try making it, most recipes online are fairly accurate. 196 Flavor’s website has an easy recipe that also comes with more nutritional facts. Though, if cooking isn’t your style, try a local Salvadoran restaurant! They’ll definitely have some curtido.

It wouldn’t be a comparison if kimchi isn’t being talked about. So, let’s get into it! Kimchi is a traditional dish made from fermented cabbage and sometimes radishes; however, kimchi can be made from other ingredients, such as the bae fruit. Much like curtido, kimchi is widely eaten by almost all who live in Korea or simply love Korean food. Doesn’t it look delicious!

It is popular in terms of global cuisine and is most people’s first introduction to Korean side dishes or food in general. Spicy, crisp, and sour is what many think of when they here the word “kimchi.” It is also used to cook other iconic dishes such as kimchi fried rice or army base soup. If you want to try making kimchi at home, Maangchi has a video on how to make a savory traditional kimchi!

Kimchi’s and curtido’s history can’t be compared due to the lack of historical records when it comes to curtido. The only thing that can be said about the two is that the introduction of cabbage and chili became an essential part of both cultures down the line. Salt is also essential for both dishes since that’s what gives them their powers of preservation. Cabbage is a staple part of both recipes but in curtido, the cabbage is cut into smaller pieces and mixed in with other vegetables. But, who said their similarities have to end with the ingredients?

In terms of popularity, curtido and kimchi are a source of pride for their home countries. They are probably the first thing that pops up in the minds of others when both countries are mentioned. They are both respectively considered their nation’s national dishes and can be used in various dishes or can just be eaten on its own. Maybe it’s the fact that they are both fermented or that they are both made of cabbage. Either way, these dishes are here to stay!

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