At 7:20 pm on October 23, 2009, I sat on my bed all dressed up and waiting.
Anthony had called two hours before and haltingly asked if I would like to have dinner with him. I tried to play it cool, offering an upbeat but measured, “Sure.” But I was so excited I felt like my chest was going to explode. I hadn’t been on a real “first date” in years! In my excitement, I hadn’t really processed where he said he was taking me for dinner. Salvadoran food…that’s like Mexican, right?
As soon as I hung up the phone, I ran—it might have been more like danced—to the shower and used my best shampoo, exfoliating facewash, and even left my conditioner on for longer. I picked out an outfit that looked put together, but not like I tried too hard—skinny jeans, simple heels, and a smart sweater.
Anthony showed up, cute and confident, in a blazer and a beat-up gold minivan, and we were off. He’ll be mad if I tell you that we got lost, he still maintains that we just “didn’t go far enough.” But it was fine by me, more time for talking in the car.
When we finally got there, one step inside the place and I knew that even my little black heels were too much—and I loved it! There was hardly a soul in the place, save a small group of Salvadoran men in the back who were eating and watching TV. The perimeter was lined with shiny, red, plastic-covered booths and the walls were decorated with Salvadoran flags and brightly colored portraits of Mary and the saints. The menus were completely in Spanish, so I shrugged, smiled, and let Anthony order for both of us. I know, the feminist in me was horrified. (But the girl in me couldn’t help but swoon as he ordered in beautiful, fluent Spanish.)
I soon discovered that Salvadoran food is not like Mexican—or at least not the Mexican food I’ve had. From my limited experience, Salvadoran cuisine is not very spicy. It is simultaneously influenced by the Caribbean and by Latin American traditions, so they cook a lot with tropical fruits and plantains, but also with corn and beans. El Salvador is particularly known for its pupusas, which are essentially stuffed corn cakes that have been griddled to hot, pliable perfection. Traditionally, pupusas are served with mild salsa and a pickled cabbage slaw called curtido. The best part is, of course, that you eat them with your hands.
So, Anthony and I drank cheap beer, gingerly ate piping-hot pupusas stuffed with beans, cheese, and pulled pork, and talked and laughed until they all but kicked us out.
That was a year ago this weekend, and we’ve been eating, drinking, talking and laughing for the last 365 days, give or take a few.
This weekend, in honor of our one-year anniversary, Tony and I decided to make our own pupusas. This time I was clad in yoga pants and a t-shirt, my hair was in a ponytail, and I wasn’t wearing any make-up. And Tony definitely wasn’t wearing a blazer. But we downed cheap beers, ate our homemade pupusas (and salsa and curtido) fresh off the griddle, and had a blast. We probably didn’t look as beautiful as that first night, and I can guarantee you the pupusas didn’t. But I, for one, still felt just as giddy and excited…though perhaps without the nerves.