From sewing music scores in the preservation lab to categorizing and identifying menus in the menu collection, working in the Special Collections and Archives division of the UNLV University Libraries has enriched my knowledge. This summer, I have been working on the menu project with four other undergraduate students. Coming across menus from old Las Vegas casinos such as the Stardust or the Desert Inn, as well as menus with elaborate designs and food items from different states, has sparked my curiosity about the evolution of gastronomy. Seeing menus from a diverse array of countries including France, Australia, Benin, and even Kuwait has been amazing, but I never expected to come across a restaurant guide from El Salvador, my home country!
I was born in El Salvador and moved to the United States when I was only six years old. El Salvador is a country with rich culture and incredibly kind people. It has a population of 6.2 million in a land that is 14 times smaller than Nevada. El Salvador has lush tropical forests and black sand beaches; the food is inspired by the life of the campesinos, and life is based on rich family values. The restaurant guide I came across in UNLV’s menu collection was filled with restaurants such as La Pampa Argentina, El Rosal, El Nico, and Chez Balta, which many Salvadorians recognize. The guide contains a list of platos tipicos, or typical dishes ranging from pupusas, our best known dish made of a cornmeal tortilla with fillings, to yuca con chicharrones, cassava with fried pork belly. The guide was produced by the Salvadoran Institute of Tourism and was dated 1971, nine years before the civil war started.
The restaurant that stood out the most to me on the guide was El Café de Don Pedro, otherwise known as Don Pedro. It is easily the most recognizable name on the list as it is one of the most famous restaurants in San Salvador. Established in 1959, it was one of the first drive-in restaurants in the country, even providing trays that would hang off the car door where waitresses with brightly colored dresses would place the food. By the 1970s, it had become the most famous hangout place for college students who parked next to each other and listened to the troubadours singing romantic songs. It is now a sit down restaurant specializing in club sandwiches, burgers, and meringue cakes, but is still successful and celebrated after 60 years.
I never expected to feel nostalgic about things that happened before I was born, but hearing stories from my parents about the restaurants that were mentioned on the guide made me remember how proud I am to be Salvadoran. I am even happier to be able to come across something from my home country all the way in Nevada. I hope others have similar moments of connection when they look at the menus in this collection.