• Kristina de Guzman

A tour of Paraiso

Updated: Oct 15, 2020

Latino food learning, pupusa-making, and drinks tasting

Paraiso South notes: Gela Cabrera Loa

Tour Giveaway guests at Paraiso North learn how to make pupusas
Photo: Gela Cabrera Loa

On Canada Day this year, Paraiso Tropical shared an opportunity via Facebook and Instagram to enter a contest and tag up to three guests who’ve never been to the Edmonton Latin food market. The giveaway goodie? A free guided tour to learn about Hispanic food products, dishes, culture, and more!

The lucky winners, who both heard of the contest through Instagram, were Tamara Vineberg, who invited her friends Urmela Scarlett and Shona Nelson to join her for an evening tour at Paraiso North on August 27th; and April Dawn, who invited her partner Rick and her son’s girlfriend Renae, for a late afternoon tour at Paraiso South on September 3rd. The latter group happened to be from Spruce Grove and – out of the two groups – only Vineberg had ever been to Paraiso Tropical. However, Vineberg admits that she’s only ordered take-out the handful of times that she’s visited the store and hasn’t yet tried shopping for other items.

The tour begins

Owner (and tour guide!) Jesus Gonzalez Rivas Jr. first asks each group what Hispanic food items they are familiar with. At Paraiso North, Vineberg shares that she’s tried empanadas. With her two guests, Gonzalez Rivas Jr. starts with the shelves facing the store entrance, which is filled with salsas and hot sauces and explains that most of them are based in Central America.

“A common misconception is that all Hispanic food is spicy – not necessarily the case,” says Gonzalez Rivas Jr. “Mainly [that’s in] Mexico, Central America, and Peru in South America. In Argentina, Colombia and Brazil, they’re not big on spicy foods, but you might find a [spicy] dish here or there.”
Paraiso Tropical Latin Food Market owner explains what a tomatillo is to visitors
Photo: Gela Cabrera Loa

Salsas include those with jalapeño peppers, chipotle peppers, guacamole, taquera, and green tomatillos, visitors learn. They are then asked if they know of the last in that list: tomatillo. No one is familiar with it. “Tomatillo is a green tomato, and it stays green. It’s used to make this type of salsa,” Gonzalez Rivas Jr. explains as he points out one particular brand made by a company in Leduc. “[This company] makes them really good.”

The group then proceeds to the dried chiles and spices section and snakes their way through the aisles towards the back as Gonzalez Rivas Jr. continues to talk about various products and how they can be used.

Learning how to make pupusas at Paraiso Tropical Latin Food Market
Photo: Rubén Contreras

Getting hands on with pupusas

The next part of the tour was – surprise! – a chance to learn how to make pupusas, El Salvador’s national dish, with two kinds of fillings: chicharrón (Paraiso’s brand, which is available to buy in store, has cooked pork, mozzarella, and loroco – a green flower native to El Salvador) and queso (with cheese and loroco). At Paraiso North, one of their cooks, Sonia Hernandez, guides the women with how to shape the tortilla flour with their hands. A week later at Paraiso South, one of the store's founders and Gonzalez Rivas Jr’s mother, Alba Gonzalez Rivas, explains how to use Paraiso’s chicharrón filling.

“We made [the chicharrón], and we freeze it right away,” Alba Gonzalez Rivas shares. “You can put it in the freezer the night before [you plan to use it]. But if you wanna use the microwave, you put it in for one minute.”

Back at Paraiso North, one of the guests notices something about the pupusa dough.

“It feels like Play-Doh," she says.

“Yes, it feels like Play-Doh!” her friend agrees.

Gonzalez Rivas Jr. assists in the demonstration and shows that once a ball is made with the dough,“In El Salvador, we call this ‘palmear', which means ‘to palm it on each end,’” he adds that it’s best to move the dough between one’s fingers.

Filling pupusas with chicharrón filling
Photo: Kristina de Guzman

The group then learns how to place their fillings in the middle of their flattened tortilla and wrap the tortilla all around the ball…

“You’re almost creating a volcano,” says co-owner Bruna Campos Gonzalez.

“Do you guys have these parties at home?” Scarlett asks, which causes laughter among the group.

The pupusa-making continues as the group learns to spread the meat filling evenly.

“This is a very hard dish to do, so you guys are all doing great,” says Gonzalez Rivas Jr. encouragingly. “I learned this as a little kid, and I still can’t get it.”

Once the group gets through making two kinds of pupusas, they get a chance to visit the kitchen and place their pupusas on the grill before Hernandez continues to cook them for three to four minutes on each side, using oil to prevent them from sticking.

Paraiso North cook, Sonia Hernandez, demonstrates how to flatten the pupas
Photo: Kristina de Guzman

Part three: a tasting