Ok, let’s say it together “why-ooh-ah”. That’s how you pronounce the name of this mountain town on El Salvador’s Ruta de Flores.
During the week Juayúa is a sleepy place where the locals get on with everyday life. Growing coffee on their fincas, fresh produce and trading at the local market.
Come the weekend, the numbers of this generally sleepy locale increase somewhat. The normally quiet streets by Parque Central are abuzz with La Feria Gastronomica, or The Food Festival.
Plastic tables and chairs line the top of the park and sweep up 1st Avenue, all covered with awnings as the weather can be unpredictable around here.
Running alongside the seating is where the action’s at. Many vendors, side by side, strike up their grills and tempt you with their wares.
Much of it is a tad same-same – grilled beef, chicken, maybe some local chorizo; plus the usual sides of gallo pinto, tortillas and some kind of salad.
Keep walking and you’ll notice combination plates, where you can try a variety of proteins with all the sides. Some vendors will even hand out samples for you to try. I settled for the conejo adobado (5), a lump of grilled rabbit with rice, salad and charred spring onions.
Head one block east of Parque Central and you’ll find a variety of vendors selling plantain chips and some more traditional Salvadoran street snacks.
Piled on squares of banana leaf are freshly grilled riguas – tortilla-like pancakes made from sweet corn masa that are stuffed with either cheese or coconut. You’ll also see tortitas de elote bubbling away in hot oil, which are essentially sweetcorn fritters, piping hot and oh-so addictive.
Sugar fiends can fill up on fluffy cakes and local deserts like torta de queso (cheesecake) and El Salvador’s version of quesadilla, which is actually butter cake. If you want to cool down, grab a pincho de fruta – skewers of frozen banana, watermelon and strawberry that are dipped in chocolate and crusted in ground nuts or a confetti of sprinkles.
There’s plenty to drink, as well, from the usual local beers and soft drinks to the piña loca, a hollowed-out pineapple filled with a cocktail of booze.
Courtyard at Casa Mazeta, where we stayed
For a bit of a local market scene, there’s the daily produce and household goods market by the cathedral. The best time to visit is in the morning when it’s in full swing, and be sure to check out the cooked food section. It’s local food through and through!
Western style breakfasts are a little hard to come by in Juayúa, so your best bet is to drop into La Cafeta just up from Parque Central. This is the closest you’ll get to a hipster cafe in town, as well.
The coffee is grown locally and can be enjoyed as espresso, Aeropress, French and drip and the limited menu covers things like baguettes, a típico breakfast of eggs, plantain, frijol and bread (2.25) and French toast (2) with strawberries and wild raspberries.
For a true Salvadoran breakfast, head up to Comedor y Pupusería Tita. $3.50 bought the two of us a local breakfast each and cup of coffee each. Head back during the day and you can tuck into more substantial typical fare and pupusas.
If you’re after something a little more hearty for breakfast, the very friendly El Comal can fill you up with carne a la plancha (5) – steak, sausage, gallo pinto, tomato, cheese and tortillas. It was all kinds of delicious, believe me!
Comedor y Pupusería Tita
Comedor y Pupusería El Comal
El Cadejo Café
There was only one place for afternoon drinks, as far as we were concerned, and that was El Cadejo Café. Yes, they have an amazing array of nibbles, pizza, burgers and grilled meats, plus coffee and desserts, but we only hung around for mojitos, vino and beer.
That complimentary plate of tortilla chips, celery sticks, crema and their own chilli sauces is a very nice touch. Man, those sauces! Seven of them, all with varying degrees of heat. The one in the dropper bottle was the killer!
The highest rating eatery in town goes to Restaurante R&R, known for its incredibly tender and juicy steaks. I swooned over the lomito queso (7), a petite 200g steak with shredded cheese, tortilla and baked rice. You even get a complimentary salad, to start. Don’t miss the castilla al elstilo (8), the most divine pork ribs we tried for quite some time.
For a hit on those ubiquitous pupusas, be sure to visit Pupusería La Esmerelda. Try to ignore the dude guarding the place on the other side of the street, firmly clutching a shotgun, and focus on those wonderful pupusas. Go for the pupusa loca (2.50), a plate-sized beauty filled with chicharron, cheese, chicken, beans, ayote (squash) and papalillo – a native shrub similar to silverbeet.
Alternatively, grab a seat at the ever-popular Sugey. Everyone comes for the pupusas, which offer the usual gamut of fillings plus things like mora (local herb) and papelillo. For $7.25 we had four pupusas plus four beers.
Try the sandwiches too, freshly assembled by a lovely lady just outside the restaurant. They’re much like a Vietnamese banh mi and so popular that people stop their cars outside, grab a sandwich and drive off.
Flag down the Sonsonate-bound bus #287 on the highway in El Tunco (check map for location). It comes through twice daily – around 6am and 2pm. Ours arrived at 6.20am and arrived at Sonsonate Terminal at 8.45am. Cost is $3 per person, tickets bought onboard.
From Sonsonate Terminal get the Juayúa bound bus #249. It’ll arrive in the bay where the longest queue of people is, so join it. Cost is 50¢ per person and takes 1 hour. Grab your tickets onboard.