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Loco for Loroco

The secret herb at Houston's pupuserias can drive you out of your mind

But the wacky joint has some great pupusas. I had the cheese and loroco. At $1.60, it was ten cents more than El Campero's, but it was really stuffed. The cheese seems to be mozzarella; long, gooey strings of it follow every bite, like I'm eating a homemade tortilla calzone. I get a little more of the loroco flavor by pulling out a whole bunch of buds and eating them together. Is there a chocolaty aroma? Does it taste like chocolate chard? What is this stuff?

I go to El Pupusadromo No. 1 6817 Bissonnet, (713)270-5030] and have another cheese and loroco pupusa ($1.50). The pupusas aren't quite as big, and the stuffing is thinner. Afterward, I go to the kitchen and ask to see the loroco. They pull out a bag of frozen greens and hand it to me. The stuff looks like a lot of evergreen buds, and the whole bag of it has a strong chocolate aroma. Xiomara Mendez tells me that in El Salvador people eat it fresh, but that here frozen is the only kind available. Fresh is much better, she says.


The secret to pupusas: Loroco looks like evergreen buds and smells like chocolate.
Troy Fields
The secret to pupusas: Loroco looks like evergreen buds and smells like chocolate.
The pupusa: The Salvadoran version of a grilled cheese sandwich.
Troy Fields
The pupusa: The Salvadoran version of a grilled cheese sandwich.

In the last few years, I've discovered that the wonder grain called amaranth comes from a weed you see by the side of the road all the time, and that epazote and chiles pequínessprout in vacant lots in much of Texas. Since loroco grows wild in Central America, I wonder if it has some North American equivalent. So I start searching the Internet. I see a picture of fresh loroco at www.botany.utexas.edu. It doesn't look familiar. I read several restaurant reviews in other cities where food writers refer to it as a flowering plant that is popular in pupusas, but I already knew that. An academic paper identifies it as a nutritive green that has been eaten with a corn-based diet in parts of Central America for many years. And somebody else trying to track down information on loroco has asked about it at the Cornell University nutrition Web site, usually a reliable source of food knowledge. The experts at Cornell incorrectly assume it is fiddlehead fern, but they point the way to better info.

The USDA Nutrient Composition Book of Latin America tells us that loroco is commonly called fernaldia in English, or "fiddle shape," named after the outline of its flowers. (That must be why the Cornell guys confused it with fiddleheads or fiddlehead ferns, which are the shoots of the ostrich fern, a specialty of New England.) Loroco's scientific name is Fernaldia pandurata, and a 100-gram portion contains 32 calories, 2.6 grams of protein, 0.2 grams of fat and 6.8 grams of carbohydrate, as well as fiber, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin A and vitamin C. I imagine "Eat your loroco" is a phrase that mothers in El Salvador utter often.

Loroco also appears on the list of foods under consideration by the USDA's Commodity and Biological Risk Analysis (COBRA) team, the group that examines fresh agricultural products for import into the United States. I love this list, which reads like a trailer of coming attractions for foodies. Loroco is right there with noni and maypop from Hawaii, rambutan from Australia, babáco from Ecuador and false coriander from Guatemala.

The good news for Houston pupusa lovers is that someday soon, we may be stopping by El Campero or El Venado for a cheese and loroco pupusa that will blow our minds. At this very moment, I am imagining the aromatic flower buds, fresh and crunchy, covered with gooey cheese in the middle of some chewy, hot fresh masa.

But for the time being, the lack of fresh loroco stands between me and the definitive, just-like-downtown-San Salvador total pupusa experience. So this is a public appeal: Somewhere in this megalopolis, somebody is sitting on a stash of fresh loroco. I don't need to know your name, and I don't care how you got it. You can blindfold me and take me to a secret location -- just let me have a little taste.

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2 comments
Harrison Wei
Harrison Wei

@Hannygrills, On the contrary I found the article to be well written, witty, and informative. Your comment on the other hand...

 
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