When Alicia Maher was growing up in Santa Ana, El Salvador's second largest city, she probably never imagined that her love of her country's and her family's food and its traditions would one day take her across the world, all the way to China.
Yet that's exactly where Maher found herself in May of this year, when she was awarded Gourmand International's 2014 award for Best First Cookbook at the organization's annual Cookbook Fair, which was held in Beijing. Maher was the first Central American to receive the award, validation, it seemed, of Maher's belief that her cookbook, Delicious El Salvador, filled a void in food publishing. “I wrote and published Delicious El Salvador to rescue, protect, and preserve the true culinary traditions from El Salvador for the millions of Salvadoran descendants in the U.S. and the world, and for cooks everywhere,” she said.
Despite the growing number of Salvadoran immigrants in the U.S., (there are nearly two million who live here now and the growth rate outpaces that of most other Latin American immigrants) Salvadoran food remains relatively unknown for most Americans, even other Latin groups. Latin food lovers may know pupusas, El Salvador's national dish, but they'd likely be hard-pressed to name any other Salvadoran favorites.
Maher, who now lives in California, intends to change that, not only through her cookbook, but also through her blog and, eventually, her own Salvadoran restaurant, where, she says, she wants to serve “simple, fresh, and excellent food, just like my grandmother cooked for us.”
Maher's earliest memories are tied to that family matriarch and the kitchen over which she presided. “When I was six or seven,” she recalls, “I would wake up to the smell of homemade egg bread that my grandmother had baked in the brick oven.” That memory, and the sensory experiences of her childhood remain imprinted in Maher's consciousness and are what inspired her to share 75 recipes in her cookbook, as well as the recipes and stories she posts on her blog.j
Many of those memories involve holidays and food. “In El Salvador, like other parts of the world, food and holidays are intrinsically related to one another,” she says. “Torrejas is a dish that almost everyone associates with the celebration of the Easter holiday. After a week of praying and abstinence, people all over the country indulge in this sweet and delicious dessert.” The recipe for torrejas in sugar and cinnamon syrup is one of seven desserts featured in Delicious El Salvador.
Next, exploring El Salvador with Alicia Maher...