Just off I-85 near Westfield Eastridge Mall, you can get a taste of El Salvador.
Ever Cruz and his wife, Carmen, opened El Tamarindo in 2010, a combination grocery and eatery. They left San Vicente in the Salvadoran hills years ago to seek the American dream first in Maryland then in warmer North Carolina.
Their store, its sign bright blue and white like the Salvadoran flag, has become a hub for Latino newcomers hungry for home. Shelves hold familiar Latin American products: beans, tortillas, adobo seasoning, brightly colored Jaritos soft drinks.
In the freezer are yucca, fruit popsicles, green plantain leaves for making tamales. A CD rack offers accordion bands plus the newest stars from Univision TV. At a counter in the back, Ever Cruz can wire money home to your loved ones or sell you a ticket for three different bus lines that run from Gastonia all the way to the southern tip of Mexico.
It is in Carmen’s kitchen at the back of the store that home really happens. “Some customers come almost every day,” says son Ever N. Cruz, a Gaston College student. “They miss homestyle food, love my mom’s cooking.”
A hand-lettered whiteboard announces Carmen’s menu of the day. You’ll always find the traditional sub sandwiches called tortas, usually caldo de mariscos (seafood soup) and mojarra frito (fried whole tilapia).
Be sure to order pupusas, the Salvadoran national favorite – thick tortillas stuffed with beans or cheese or chicharrón (bits of pork). And ask for atol de elote, a warm drink made of corn with a hint of cinnamon. It’s like thick hot chocolate . . . without the chocolate. Perfect for late fall.
Tacos? Yes, since so many customers are from Mexico. “Coming from El Salvador, I didn’t eat tacos til I was 17, visiting some friends in California,” laughs young Ever.
Tom Hanchett is staff historian at Levine Museum of the New South: firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t miss the Food from Home section of the museum’s “Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers” exhibit.
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