Q: Despite the growing number of Central Americans in Tijuana, there aren't a lot of Central American or Salvadoran restaurants here. How did you feel when you first found the pupusería?
A: It feels good because you get to have a little piece of home again, something from our country. It’s not easy to be in a foreign country, but in my case, I adapted quickly. Well, I think you can adapt if you want to. You can eat Salvadoran style or the style of your country, if you want. Because if you look for things, you find them. They may not be here, but if they have a friend or acquaintance who travels to the United States who can bring something, well they can, you know what I mean? But Mexican food is also good. Spicy, but good.
Q: It seems risky to start your own business during a pandemic. Did you try looking for work elsewhere before you started selling pupusas?
A: Yes. In fact, I did look for other work. I looked for work at Soriana (a supermarket chain in Mexico). It caught my attention because it has good benefits, but the issue was that I couldn't because I am a foreigner. They told me they were a 100 percent Mexican-only business and that they didn’t hire foreigners. So, the lady told me to apply because I already had experience, but that unfortunately I couldn't work with them.
They also told me that I could look for work at Calimax, but I started to do the numbers and the pay wasn’t enough. Aside from the fact that I can’t just leave my daughter with whoever. I can't leave her like that. I started to calculate the cost for transportation, food, paying a babysitter per month, the expenses at home, and it would not be enough. A friend of mine works there and he makes 1,200 pesos a week (approximately $60 USD) and well, that doesn't cover my expenses.
Q: How or when did you decided to start selling pupusas?
A: Well, I had already been without work for about a month. In fact, my boss was the one who gave me the idea because I didn’t have anything. He told me, "I might not be able to continue supporting you, but what we can do is make a list of the things you need, and little by little you start. Here’s a griddle you can use. We just have to fix it, but I'm going to help you. I’ll get the supplies, and well, that's where you start, and then whatever you start selling is yours.” And that's how I started making pupusas. Around there, like in May was when I started.
(Wendy sets aside a few pieces of chicharrón to prepare another dish, yuca frita con chicharrón (fried yucca, or cassava root, with pork). She's been thinking about offering other traditional Salvadoran dishes besides pupusas.)
Q: What are some of the other traditional dishes or food you’re thinking about?
A: Well, the most common, that’s traditional, that people make over there in El Salvador are pupusas. We also make fried yucca. The "typical" street food, as we say: pastelitos, nuegados de yuca, empanadas de platano, canoas. In regard to Salvadoran food, we’re talking about pollo guisado, we are talking about sopa de pata as we say, our version of sopa de res. Also, sopa de pollo or sopa de frijoles blancos con hueso de cerdo (white bean soup with pork bone). In other words, there is a lot of Salvadoran food that can be prepared.
Q: What’s next for you? What are your plans for the new year, or the future?
A: Well, God willing, this pandemic will be over. For it to be over and look for a place and start a business. Start with pupusas and little by little make (other) Salvadoran food. And hopefully this can be a means to provide employment for one or two people. It doesn't matter where they come from, whether they’re from El Salvador, or from Honduras, from Guatemala or even from Mexico. The person who wants to work learns quickly. That's the idea. Give opportunities to other people and work hard. And God willing, I do get the opportunity to do it.
Wendy smiles while talking to her parents and daughter in Costa Rica on a video call.