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Update: Everything We Know About LAUSD Serving Pupusas For Lunch

LA Salvis are truly having a moment. And now LAUSD is serving its students bean-and-cheese pupusas.

On Friday, September 29th, I got a text from my longtime homie, Christina Ramirez, whom I’ve known since we were 14 at L.A. High in Mid-wilshire. The text reads, “LAUSD musta heard about u,” with a photo of a half-eaten pupusa on a familiar tray.

I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. Is L.A. County serving up pupusas?

LA Salvis are truly having a moment. I had to know more, so I asked Christina, who is an Early Childhood Special Education Teacher, a few questions.

What’s your role/ occupation at LAUSD? 

Early Childhood Special Ed Teacher.

How long have you worked in your current role at LAUSD? 

Five years.

Did you get a heads-up about them serving pupusas? 

Kind of. My assistant, who picks up our lunches, told me that the cafeteria manager had told her that we would not be getting salad that day because it was a choking hazard, but that our chalupas would be warm. I was slightly confused but had tons to do, so I just moved on.

We were having chalupas for lunch. That was gonna be a win either way. I was surprised when we began to set up for lunch, and I saw what we were being served were actually pupusas! I also realized the disconnect between my Armenian assistant and lunch lady and their understanding of Latin foods. 

What was your initial impression of finding out the news?

Honestly, I was surprised and a bit hopeful. I couldn't wait to taste them, but I wished we had been served curtido, because they were looking pretty dry.

Are they being served for a particular event? 

Not to my knowledge.

Are they being served for Hispanic Heritage Month

Most likely! 

What percentage of the students are Salvadoran at your school, to your best estimate? 

If I had to judge by the population in my room alone, I’d say about 35%.

Is this being done at other schools that you’re aware of? 

Usually the menus across schools are similar or exactly the same. So I imagine that quite a few schools are doing this.

How did they look, and how did they taste? 

Pretty much a five. I was just impressed they were there, but they were definitely not made with love. 

They looked pretty dry, to be real. I like mine mad cheesy. These were not that. They tasted like we bought them from Trader Joe's and put them in the microwave. The beans needed salt, and the masa tasted like….maybe it was wheat? I don't know. I ate it though, lol.

Was curtido and salsa de tomate served? If so, how were they? 

After the kids had all settled down to eat, my assistant pulled out a little container of curtido from her purse. I was again confused for a moment, thinking, “How does this Armenian lady just have curtido on deck like that?”  before I realized that was the “salad” she was referring to earlier. “The cafeteria manager gave me a little bit,” she said. She had an extra one for me. She's like my work mom, no joke. I dont know what I would do without her there.

Would you like this to become a permanent addition to the school lunch menu? 

Sure. It would be nice to shift our school meals back to being made in-house though! Maybe reach out to the community to get some pointers on how to make them con amor. Or better yet, employ some folks who really know how to do this. I can imagine how at home and happy kids would feel to have something homemade like that from their school. 

How much were the pupusas and what varieties could you get? 

Only queso y frijol. They were free. All LAUSD kids qualify for free lunch. 

Did you ask any students or staff about the pupusas? If so, what did they say?  

I asked my assistant what she thought. She said she liked them. I mentioned that they make all kinds, and if she liked these, she needed to try a revuelta. She went Vincent Vega on me and said she doesn't eat pork. I replied that there were still lots of other kinds she could try, but revueltas were my fave. I asked the students if they liked them, and they seemed indifferent. They want to go outside and play, not talk to me.

Do you know if they were previously frozen or made in-house by a pupuseria? 

Most definitely not made in-house. Not much is made in house anymore. Most meals come prepackaged and only require warming in either the oven or microwave. 

I thanked Christina for her investigative reporting, and honestly I’m still taken aback. I guess some pupusas are better than no pupusas. Especially county ones. 

Update on October 6, 2023:

After this piece was published I got a DM from Adam Martinez who informed me that the pupusas had actually been on the menu for some time, and that he would know because he is a cafeteria manager at LAUSD. I had some follow up questions for him:

1. How long have you worked for LAUSD?

Just about 20 yrs

2. Where is your kitchen located in the city? 

Boyle Heights

3. How long have the pupusas been on the menu? When did they decide it would be permanent?

They've been on our menu off and on for a few years now.

4. Could you describe the process of making the pupusas?

As much as we would love to say they are hecho a mano, we receive them pre-made. They are baked instead of using a plancha (dont @ me , lol) contrary to popular belief we try to give our customers (the students) the best experience possible.

5. Where do you source your ingredients from? 

Various vendors that Food Services works closely with.

6. How did you revamp the curtido? 

We added a few fresh ingredients since we can't technically ferment the cabbage we added 2 types of vinegar to give it that flavor.  

7. Are there any Salvadoran chefs making pupusas for LAUSD?

Well we don't have any Chefs per se we have Food Service Workers so to answer your question yes we do have Salvadoran workers I have 2 Cafeteria Workers from El Salvador

8. What feedback have you heard from students / staff / faculty?

My students love them, We get positive feedback from the staff. 

9. Any plans on included salsa de tomate? 

You never know salsa de tomate might pop up one day

10. Any plans on expanding options like calabasa, chicarrón, loroco? Pupusas de arroz for those with gluten allergies?

On expanding the menu we have student new menu item tastings so new options are never out of the question 

11. How do you rate the pupusas? 

On a scale of 1-10 in my opinion they're a cool 7 .. My students love them. Grant it this is based on cafeteria food.

12. What changes would you like to see?

Changes .. I as a Manager would like to have a little more control of some of the menu items.

13. When are the pupusas served? 

Usually on Fridays

14. Any photos you can share ?

Unfortunately, I dont.

15.  What part of the city are you from? What’s your ethnic background and nationality?

I grew up in the Westlake Rampart District not too far from Mcarthur Park on Rampart Blvd. I'm Chicano.

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