Kirk still has tales of Southeast Asia. Cathy is roaming about looking for food in San Diego, but today ed (from Yuma) finishes his discussion about the best Salvadoran restaurant in Yuma.
*** I am saddened to write that Pupuseria Cabanas is no more. One of the few cases of a restaurant doomed by its success. At least as I have heard it, the landlord was getting complaints from the towing/repair shop next door that there was no place to park during the day because the pupuseria had too many customers. Lucia was not allowed to be open weekdays, and then on Nov. 1, the restaurant was empty with no sign about another location etc. I will update if (I hope, when) she has relocated *** :-(
When I walked into Cabañas for my second visit, my idea of Salvadoran food was pupusas and tamales. Okay, I'd also eaten some fried plantains at a couple of other Salvadoran places, but I didn't find those interesting enough to consider going out of my way to eat them again.
On that second visit, I was hoping to try some tamales, but it seems that the restaurant only has tamales on the weekend. After some linguistic misunderstandings, I ended up ordering soup - though I wasn't sure what kind of sopa it was going to be. When the soup arrived, accompanied by a hand made corn tortilla, it looked pretty much like most soups look:
With the first taste of the broth, I realized that this was very different. Rarely have I tasted a broth with such depth of flavor and width of complexity. Perhaps the original stock was a chicken flavor (perhaps), but all I could taste was the intense flavor of a multitude of vegetables with a hint of shrimp.
My first bites were of those tasty vegetables. There was onion, carrot, zucchini, potato, and some other squash like vegetable. All of them had contributed to the incredible broth. Hiding underneath the surface of vegetables were numerous fresh tasting pink shrimp:
The shrimp was perfectly cooked for shrimp in a soup - tender and juicy. Also, please notice the rich golden color of that broth. That deep color matched the deep flavors of the soup. I'm not making this up folks; this was ultimate soup.
Since that visit, the soups have become the main attraction of the restaurant for me. Each broth is intensely savory and complex. My culinary heritage tends to be west central Europe, and the standard vegetables that go into most of my traditional soups are onion, celery, and carrot (and cabbage when appropriate). At this restaurant, squashes (and/or squash like items) make a major contribution to the breadth and depth of the flavor. This makes some primal sense as squashes were the very first domesticated crop in the New World - around 10,000 years ago. So these Salvadoran soups have an ancient heritage as well as a great taste.
This is well illustrated by what they call "chicken soup." The soup itself is a rich chicken broth that tastes primarily of zucchini squash. The bowl is full of zucchinis cut into inch and a half slices. There is not a single piece of chicken in the bowl:
The nicely roasted chicken, along with rice and an undressed salad, is served on the side:
The leg and the thigh were mildly seasoned and have a nice crusty exterior. The insides of each piece were juicy and tender:
I advised Tina to dump her rice into the bowl with the stock and the zucchinis, as I usually do when I am served rice with a Mexican soup. The more I think about this dish, the more I believe that the chicken also could have been broken up and put into the soup. That would have intensified the chicken flavor of the stock (as if that broth needed any help) and added nicely flavored chicken bites to it. It also would have been a real chicken soup that avoided the boiled chicken texture and flavor that sometimes mars caldo de pollo.
The least wonderful of the four soups that I have tried at Cabañas was the beef rib soup. You have heard of damning with faint praise; this is praising with a faint damn. It was very good, but just not quite as good as the others.
When I asked about what soup was available that day , the young man said "beef rib soup," but then he had to turn and ask the cook a question, and I suspect that he was asking whether the soup was ready because he was answered with an affirmative and then he assured me that they had the soup.
My only complaint (and that is too strong a word, really) is that the soup would've been better with a little more cooking. The beef was tender, but not falling apart. My spoon couldn't break the two huge chunks up into bitesized pieces, so it became finger food. The stock had a nice beefy flavor, but it was the least intense of any of the soups I have had at the restaurant. Maybe another hour on the stove would have changed that.
One interesting note about that soup was the unusual vegetable that I found hiding in it:
Do you have any idea what this is? At first I thought it might be some sort of marrow bone since it had an obvious ring around it. Then I took a small bite and realized that this was indeed a vegetable of some sort, but I had never seen such a thing before (or so I thought). When I asked the young man what it was, he said it was a male banana - whatever that is. Perhaps he meant plantain. In any case, after I popped the piece into my mouth and started chewing, the flavor of savory banana was apparent. Nonetheless, I was totally amazed to have a chunk of banana, skin and all, in a beef rib soup. Another sign that this place is different from anywhere else I've ever eaten.
I have saved the best for last. One day they offered cow hoof soup. When I ordered it, I was warned that it had tripe as well as a cow hoof in it. Rather than deterring me, that excited me. As with many of their other soups, this one didn't immediately look at all strange (though in this pic it does look fuzzier than in real life):
Like their other soups, squashes and potatoes were evident throughout, but a major element in the flavor of the broth was tripe. And the bowl contained numerous pieces of flavorful and chewy cow stomach:
At first, I noticed that this was a different tripe from the little pillows of tender joy that I am used to in menudo. This had more chew - though it was by no means tough - and a good tripe flavor. But then I discovered that the great tender joy of this incredible soup was resting on the bottom of the bowl, a cow hoof:
Having never encountered such a thing before, I wasn't sure what to expect. What I found was a mass of bone covered with the most tender and delectable soft tendon. These gelatinous emanations were just at the edge of melting into soup. This is as close to a religious experience I can have while eating. The words that come to mind are etherial, ephemeral, diaphonous, luxurious, transubstantive. This is how the flesh of angels would taste. Oh my god, what a textural delight.
Up to this point I had not understood why the tripe was the chewy kind, but now I realized the essential contrast that underlies this wonderful bowl of joy. The mouth feel of the various vegetables, the chew of the tripe, and now this miraculous cow hoof covered a gigantic range of pleasurable textures. In my reverie, I involuntarily began the mmm-yoso dance, eyes closed, arms bent, swaying side to side in my seat.The only down side was that I had to explain the mmm-yoso dance to Tina, who was probably wondering if I was having some sort of a seizure.
It seems somehow appropriate to end this post which began with me searching for a tamale with a tamale. Since I have been so blown away by the soup at this restaurant, I have had only one of their tamales - a sweet corn tamal that made a perfect dessert for a meal:
As you can see from the picture, the masa is full of chunks and flecks of sweet corn. What you can't see from the picture is that the tamal came with wonderfully sour crema. With the balancing of sweet and sour, this was a perfect treat. Tina said that she had eaten similar things at fancy restaurants. Of course, she added, then they cost a lot more.
Someday I will have to try more of their tamales, but right now, it would be hard to go there and not order another bowl of soup, particularly if there was a cow foot in it.
Last Sunday, Tina and I pulled up and the place was CLOSED. I almost cried. I stopped by today, and they were open - just had some church festival last Sunday. Woo-hoo! Sometimes life is good.
Pupuseria y Taqueria Cabañas, 3405 8th St, Yuma AZ. Open every day except Thursdays and special days at church. Open for lunches and dinners.