The Girl Who Ate Everything

Blogging about food and whatever since 2004.

On the Way to The Cloisters, A Bucket of Curtido

omg bucket.
La Cabana Salvadorena
La Cabana Salvadorena

"Oh my god, the curtido comes in a bucket," I marveled to myself during lunch two Saturdays ago, although Rebecca probably overhead me because she was sitting across the table.

If there's one way for a restaurant to win my heart over, it's to have something I love deemed so essential to the meal that an excessive supply of it is part of the default table setting. La Cabana Salvadorena in Washington Heights instantly won major awesome points for providing a bucket of curtido—a mix of shredded pickled cabbage, onion, and carrots—on every table. (I haven't been to enough Salvadoran restaurants to know whether or not all-you-can-eat curtido is commonplace. I hope it is.)

Okay, maybe the receptacle is more of a "large plastic jar" than a "bucket," but I really like the word "bucket." It's also fairly large for a table-side condiment; compared to the weeny salt and pepper shakers, standard Heinz ketchup bottle, and bottles of salad dressing (yes, two bottles; so much variety!), the curtido was most bucket-esque.

What were Rebecca and I doing in Washington Heights? I had been interested in visiting The Cloisters for a long time, but never made the trek because it's way, way up there (only about 30 minutes by subway from Penn Station I found out, but still) and I'm lazy. Since Rebecca only had a week to go to a bunch of cool places in New York City, it was a good excuse for us to cross into the 200-something Street territory. As for figuring out where to eat near the Cloisters, I looked up Salvadoran restaurants after remembering that Olia (who lives in the area) had mentioned the presence of Salvadoran food in her neighborhood. I didn't investigate any other possibilities; I just wanted pupusas.

Rebbie has horchata
Rebecca + horchata

But first, horchata. Didn't I just talk about horchata? Mm...yes. I have to order it whenever I get the chance. Cabana's version was pretty different from the one I had at Yola's Cafe. The color was a brown-gray-ish off-white for one thing, and it had this extra flavor I couldn't pin down—malty, perhaps. I asked the waitress what the horchata was made of, but as she didn't list any unusual ingredients (rice, milk, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla), the flavor remains a mystery. (Of course, I welcome all suggestions.)


And now, the accompaniment to the curtido (or vice versa): bean, cheese and loroco, and pork pupusas. The first thing I noticed was that the outer corn dough layer was thinner than in other pupusas I've had. I'm not sure what the correct thickness of pupusa skin should be, but I prefer thicker than thinner. Because I'm a glutton. Not that the thickness made much of a dent in the pupusas' levels of tastiness. You can't go too wrong with a flattened patty of corn dough filled with a layer of mashed beans, cheesy loroco, or ground pork, accompanied by forkfuls of crunchy curtido. Cabana's version wasn't as tart as I prefer, but that that didn't stop me from eating shizzloads of it.

fried taco filled with beefies

The fried beef taco, or a taquito according to Rebecca, came in the form of a crunchy, cigar-shaped, rolled-up taco shell topped with cheese and filled with juicy beef shreds. Now I know I prefer tacos in rolled-up form more than non-rolled-up.

chicken enchilada
Chicken enchilada

The chicken enchilada wasn't what we had in mind, never having seen a Salvadoran-style enchilada before. It's more like an open-faced enchilada or tostada; a fried, flattened tortilla topped with shredded chicken soaked in some kind of tasty sauce I can't identify, curtido, and possibly other things I can't recall (helpful description, eh?). It's a bit messy to eat, but worth trying. I loved the crunchy base of fried goodness the most, although the chicken was also good, acting as a meatsponge of...desirable flavors.

sweet corn tamale
Sweet corn tamale

I loved the sweet corn tamale. Every morsel of the compressed sweet corn kernel log was a burst of sweet corny goodness and nothing else. Dipped into the accompanying sour cream and I had myself...sour cream-flavored corn. Why does this work? I dunno; it just does. The mildly sweet-creamy combo puts this dish somewhere between dessert and non-dessert.

After polishing off all the dishes and decreasing the level of the curtido bucket by an inch or two, we were happily stuffed for about $10 per person. Mm, inexpensive satisfaction.

CLOISTERS, over there.
We're almost there!

Walking to the Cloisters through the windy paths of Fort Tryon Park provided an opportunity to burn some calories. Maybe 10 of them. My calories stubbornly refuse to leave my body.


As someone who knows about a little less than nothing about the art of the European Middle Ages, I'd rate the Cloisters as "pretty cool." It's hard for me to get excited about art if I don't know anything about it, and I unfortunately never took art history in college (the year-long commitment during freshman year kind of scared me). I did like the building, though. Oh, and the narwhal tusk in the unicorn room was a nice touch. I'm proud to say that that's what I got from going to the Cloisters: an up-close look at a narwhal tusk.

Although we each paid $10 to get into the museum, I'm pretty sure entrance to the Metropolitan Museum is by suggested donation (something that most people probably don't know). If you're broke, they'll still let you in; if you have enough money and don't pay up, you'll just look like a douche. The suggested donation isn't unreasonable, but if you want to save a few bucks, that's one way to go.

Mister Softee

In return for a successful early-afternoon of culturally significant activities, we rewarded ourselves with creamy vanilla-flavored splodges in crunchy stryrofoam-textured cups from Mister Softee!!! It deserves three exclamation marks for triple the excitement!!!
It's like "ice cream"!

Does the real thing look like the display on the side of the truck?

Mr. Softee, wee!
Oo, sprinkles

Yes, pretty much. I love sprinkles. They don't add much flavor, but they look pretty and increase the happiness-inducing qualities of whatever they decorate by an inordinate amount. This is one of those instances where I think it's okay to eat something just because it's rainbow-colored and cute.


And here's an adorable photo of Rebecca clutching our two cones because AWWW, SO KYOOT!!

I don't think that Mister Softee tastes any better than other soft serve (which to me always tastes pretty awesome, assuming it's firm enough)—it's superiority comes from being conveniently sold from trucks that happen to be positioned just in the right place when a soft serve craving kicks in.

Also, they have that annoying twinkly jingle.

Charlottesville, Day 3: Mexican, Hot Chocolate Break, and Vietnamese
Last Weekend: Part 2: Pupusas, Dumplings, Jumping, Tea, and Breakfast
Getting Fat in Red Hook: Part 1


La Cabana Salvadorena
4384 Broadway
New York, NY 10040

The Cloisters
Fort Tryon Park (Just keep walking until you see it. Yup.)

Mister Softee
EVERYWHERE IN NYC, but in this case just outside the entrance of Fort Tryon Park.


Julie / April 1, 2008 3:47 AM

Pupusas! It's my new Cubano, in that every time you blog about them, I want one. I know of only one place in Phoenix that sells them--Eliana's on 24th St. and McDowell. One day, I'll get over there to finally try them.

The one bad thing about taquitos is of they're not well made or well plated, they can get soggy in whatever juice/sauce they're sitting in. Sadness is a chewy taquito. =\

Kathryn / April 1, 2008 3:57 AM

I love the Cloisters! Haha, I've never been to Cabana, so I can't say anything about it, but I do know that the Cloisters are definitely worth the trip; the Unicorn tapestries alone are worth the trip, I think (and I know about as much about art history as you do!).

I can't wait to get home and have some awesome Mister Softee. Gelato is wonderful, but sometimes you just want some mass-produced soft-serve. XD

Steph / April 1, 2008 9:59 AM

I totally would've attempted to pocket that bucket in my purse before leaving the restaurant. I get it from my mom, who likes to take hotel glassware home with her.
- S

Kathy / April 1, 2008 10:23 AM

ZOMG - Shann feels the exact same way about sprinkles...I'll never understand it's appeal, it does taste like anything, color overload!...::weep::

sarah / April 1, 2008 10:36 AM

OMG Mr.Softee looks just like Mr.Tastee the ice cream guy from the Adventures of Pete and Pete!! Does anyone remember that show or know what I'm talking about?
Anyways there is a Salvadoran restaurant in my town, and after this post, Robyn you have convinced me to try it!!

redrhino / April 1, 2008 2:37 PM

Mister Softee? More like Mister taste like I threw up in my mouthee. That stuff was Disgust'O (the opposite of Rachel Rays Yumm'O). I had a chocolate dipped cone last year and it hit the trash can faster than a Reggie Miller 3 pointer. I had seen those trucks all over the city and decided to give it a try. I don't know if the ice cream was rancid or what but, it was so bad I don't want another one. I ended up buying copious amounts of Jamba Juice Smoothies instead. Hmmmm, Jamba Juice!


roboppy / April 1, 2008 3:09 PM

Julie: Eeuh, chewy taquito? That does sound crappy. My taco was all crunch! MMM!!

Kathryn: Those unicorns were pretty funny. ...Probably not the intended effect. They looked like old men. In the bodies of unicorns. And they were bad-ass.

Yeah, Mister Softee hits a spot that gelato misses. ;)


Kathy: It tastes like happy! (When combined with ice cream, at least.)

Sarah: I never watched that show growing up, although I know it (I didn't have cable). What a deprived childhood I had.. :(

I hope you like the restaurant!


redrhino: Aw, I had a feeling your comment would be about something...not so good. That's too bad that you had such a crappy Mister Softee experience. That's not how it's supposed to be!

Graeme / April 1, 2008 7:20 PM

Amazing. Tantilizing. Mesmerising!

The honesty and subtlty of that sweet corn Tamale, just makes me want it even more.

Oh, and we have a UK equivalent to 'Mister Softee' in 'Mr. Whippy'. As kids, we always assumed that the guy driving, was indeed THE Mr. Whippy.

Jesse / April 1, 2008 7:33 PM

WHYWHYWHY have I not come across a pupusa place in Los Angeles?? I KNOW there has to be one somewhere, but WHERE?? Direct me to Pupusa-happy-place Robyn!

Jamie / April 1, 2008 10:16 PM

If it's Salvadoran horchata it might use morro amongst other things. I've had the brown kind at Pollo Campero it does taste a bit nutty. I prefer the Mexican style. Mmm...

roboppy / April 1, 2008 11:43 PM

Graeme: Mr. Whippy?! ...Interesting name. Good to know. I think I like "Softee" more though. ;)


...Uh, not that I know where. Never really eaten in LA. :( Sure the INTERNET can help!..

The Great Pupusa Roundup (LA)

Jamie: Thanks for the info! Nutty is a good word. I don't have a horchata preference yet; I just drink it all. ;_;

Jamie / April 2, 2008 7:38 AM

Argh... the word morro was supposed to link to the wikipedia article for horchata -
There's tons of other styles like the one with chufa (tiger nuts) from Spain. Lots of places make theirs from mix, because you have to grind all the ingredients.

Mila / April 2, 2008 8:24 PM

Curtido looks suspiciously like our version of pickles, which we call "achara/atchara" - pickled green papaya with other pickled vegies, which we eat with mostly grilled meat (pork!). Do you think there could be a pickled vegie restaurant, global stuff, like all sorts of kimchees, curtidos, dill pickles, atcharas, and stuff that we don't even know about? Not sure if people can live on pickles alone, but my fantasy menu would be choose one grilled meat, and up to three choices of pickles from around the world, and something starchy.

roboppy / April 3, 2008 12:07 AM

Jamie: I corrected the link! A little HTML bug. :)

Mila: PICKLE WORLD?!!? I'd check that out. NYC has a Pickle Festival every year, but I've never gone. Maybe I should try for this year...

santos. / April 3, 2008 12:34 AM

the are dozens of pupusas places in los angeles--my favourites are the ayalas on venice near military, and el carrusel bakery in the valley. a lot of the farmers' markets also have pupusas trucks.

also, please settle this for me. why is it that when i direct people to fort tryon to get to the cloisters everyone says i'm spelling it wrong--yeah, me and every gov't agency in the state of new york. does everyone pronounce it "tyron" and is that the correct pronunciation? is everyone just saying it wrong?

roboppy / April 3, 2008 12:41 AM

Santos: OH MY GOD, I've been spelling it wrong this whole time. Thanks for pointing that out. Funnily, I never head anyone actually say the name of the park; I just called it "the park." So I can't say whether or not people are saying it wrong (if they're as dumb as I am, they are), but I definitely spelled it wrong.

santos. / April 4, 2008 1:36 AM

it's not just you, it's everybody i know who lives there who gets all "just go back to la/guam/the rock you've crawled out from under" when i ask. so yay for you for not being mean about it :)

roboppy / April 5, 2008 1:48 AM

Big Boys Oven: It probably looks better than it tastes, but..hey, it's cheap, and it hits the spot. And it looks nice. :)

santos: EVERYONE IS CRAZY! You are much smarter than them. I still feel stupid for getting the name wrong!

Snipe / October 16, 2008 1:06 AM

I have to say, those pupusas don't look as tasty as the ones you can get back here at El Salvador. Those look a little too thin and crispy. The thing is, the technique to make them is a bit complicated to master. (:

The Horchata is made from morro (they use the seeds, I think). There is also a different variety of Horchata around here, they use coconut on it, although I'm not so sure.

roboppy / October 17, 2008 1:12 AM

Snipe: They were really flat.. :( But still tasty. Just not nearly as tasty as what you're eating. SIIIGH!!

Thanks for the info about the drink!

Claudia / July 30, 2010 3:16 PM

As many mentioned, the different taste in the horchata had to be the morro! I don't even know WHAT that is, but it gives is a distinct flavor that separates it from mexican horchata!!! Alot of people hate it but I personally love it :)

@Snipe - I am a Salvadoran (full blood, first generation) and pupusas are my favorite food and my mom makes THE BEST PUPUSAS EVER (no lie)... BUUUUUT... as excited as I was to try pupusas @ El Salvador when I went 2 years ago... I hated them. Their cheese is so different there. Couldn't stand it :(

Claudia / July 30, 2010 3:19 PM

@roboppy - They do look a bit flat! And a little on the dry side. But that's just judging from a pic. I think generally, though, pupusas are a bit thicker! I gotta photograph some of my mom's!

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