May 12, 2021

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Central American fried hen express flies again

Norma Ramirez stepped off Delta flight 1903 from Guatemala Metropolis with a backpack, a blue neck pillow and an fragrant have-on: hen.

Plenty and lots of fried chicken.

Norma Ramirez, 54, arrived at Los Angeles Intercontinental Airport in late March soon after traveling to her husband’s family in Izabal, Guatemala. As she does almost each individual time she goes, she introduced again packing containers of chicken from Pollo Campero, a Guatemalan chain.

(Brittny Mejia / Los Angeles Occasions)

This 12 months, in late March, the 54-calendar year-previous came again to Los Angeles just after paying out two weeks with her husband’s family members. As she does practically each individual time she leaves her home nation of Guatemala, Ramirez carried containers of Pollo Campero.

Her spouse had returned with a 12-piece box just after a vacation in December, and now it was her flip to honor the ritual. This time, she was joined on the five-hour flight by 30 wings and an 8-piece combo.

“It reminds me of my childhood,” stated Ramirez, as she wheeled three suitcases and her cherished cargo on a baggage cart by Los Angeles Global Airport.

For yrs, individuals have flown from Central The usa to the U.S. bearing Pollo Campero. Aircraft cabins turn out to be infused with the distinctive scent of deep-fried hen. Relatives who normally prevent the snarl of the 405 and 105 freeways at hurry hour abruptly brave a trip to LAX to decide on up their chicken-carrying kin.

Can Moments staffers Brittny Mejia, Cindy Carcamo and Ruben Vives explain to the variance concerning the U.S. and Central American variations of Pollo Campero?

The COVID-19 pandemic quickly halted Procedure Hen Airlift immediately after the intercontinental airports in El Salvador and Guatemala shut down a yr back. But now — with the airport restaurant areas open at the time extra — the rooster express is back in business.

Not that there is a shortage of Pollo Campero places to eat in the U.S. They amount pretty much 100 nationwide, such as 17 in California. A company spokeswoman insists that the U.S. outlets “use the exact very same recipe and marination method as our Guatemalan partners.”

But for quite a few Guatemalans and Salvadorans, the American rooster lacks a crucial component: property.

Exactly where nostalgia goes, flavor buds abide by. Folks fly Zabar’s bagels from New York to California and In-N-Out burgers to the East Coastline. But Pollo Campero’s route north is distinct — it follows contrails of war and heartbreak.

The initial Pollo Campero opened its doors in Guatemala in 1971, and the chain quickly unfold across Central The us. Before long soon after, civil wars erupted in El Salvador and Guatemala, and hundreds of 1000’s of immigrants left guiding the folks, spots and issues they liked to shift to the U.S. Several settled in L.A., which as of 2018 had far more than fifty percent a million citizens of Central American origin.

Right before Pollo Campero distribute its wings throughout the U.S., the chain approximated that it sold far more than 3 million to-go orders yearly by shops at La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala and San Salvador Intercontinental Airport in El Salvador.

A worker packs a bag at Pollo Compero.

Pollo Campero at La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala Metropolis.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Moments)

For several years, the joke went: If you never provide back again Pollo Campero, did you even go to Central The us?

When news came of the opening of a Pollo Campero in the U.S. — in 2002 in the Pico-Union neighborhood of L.A. — there ended up additional than 900 job programs. Patrons waited in line for six to 8 hours. That outlet, which hit $1 million in sales in about a month, is now a single of the chain’s finest-advertising eating places around the world. The corporation — which has 130 areas in Guatemala and about 70 in El Salvador — strategies to open 30 additional places to eat in California in the following 5 years.

In advance of the pandemic strike, to-go orders at the two Central American airports stood at almost 400,000 every year, business executives stated. Even though a dramatic drop, that was even now a lot of pollo traveling mentor to the U.S.

“It’s a way of remembering culturally what is provided in the nation of origin,” said Douglas Carranza, chair of the division of Central American reports at Cal Point out Northridge. “That doesn’t indicate that Pollo Campero is everything. But it’s a little piece.”

“I never think that the rooster is amazing, but what receives me each individual time is just that experience of dwelling. When you miss property, you skip every thing about it.”

Cesar Valencia

Cesar Valencia is aware of Pollo Campero originated in Guatemala a year just before it came to El Salvador, in which he was born, but claims Salvadorans have “adopted the chain as our individual.”

Valencia immigrated to the U.S. when he was 5, and it grew to become a tradition to ask family members users to provide Pollo Campero when they frequented. Choosing up a box in the airport, he said, “is the quite very last matter you can do to really feel related to El Salvador.”

“It’s the just one issue, following to pupusas, that we all can relate to,” the San Fernando Valley resident claimed. “Even next-generation Salvadorans connect with it.”

When his mothers and fathers introduced again a compact purchase from Pollo Campero right after a monthlong vacation to El Salvador, they heated up the hen, but Valencia didn’t wait around and ate it out of the box chilly.

“I don’t think that the chicken is awesome, but what gets me each time is just that experience of household,” he reported. “When you pass up home, you miss out on everything about it.”

A plate of fried chicken and french fries.

A Pollo Campero plate at La Aurora Intercontinental Airport in Guatemala Town.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Across social media, through a torrent of memes, tweets and YouTube videos, taste comparisons endeavor to solution a person concern: Does Pollo Campero truly taste distinct in Central The usa than in the U.S.?

For example, two sisters made a movie of them selves striving Pollo Campero in the U.S. for the first time, in Katy, Texas.

“I sense like I’m in El Salvador,” Julianna Morgan stated, breaking out in a smile as she held a chicken breast to her nose and took a huge whiff.

Morgan, who was lifted in El Salvador, was impressed to make the online video following her grandmother advised her Pollo Campero “wasn’t as well poor in the States.”

But just after a bite, Morgan concluded that the taste was not as potent. The hen in Central The usa “is a whole lot much more normal, and you can genuinely taste the distinction.”

There is just one way in which Pollo Campero chicken is really distinct in Central The united states. Like a hulking 1990s Major League Baseball slugger pumped on steroids, the American rooster has an great breast as opposed with that of a Central American hen.

Even so, Luis Javier Rodas, managing director and main operating officer at Campero Usa, said, “the system, the solution, the system — anything is accurately the same. There is no variance.”

But Antonio Cabrera, who returned to the U.S. from Guatemala in February with a 20-piece box, proclaimed: “It’s the similar recipe, but not automatically the exact rooster. The Guatemalan rooster is certainly much more natural and organic than the chicken here.”

A bag from Pollo Campero at airport baggage claim.

Pollo Campero eating places are all around Los Angeles and other pieces of the U.S., but individuals still provide the hen again from Central The united states.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Moments)

So it was with an air of celebration that he informed Tekandi Paniagua, his good friend and Guatemala’s consul normal in L.A., that he had brought him some Pollo Campero from residence.

“Va, Ok, está bien,” Paniagua responded. He didn’t get any that time, but he did this previous Saturday, soon after Cabrera’s brother introduced a box.

“I grew up with Pollo Campero, but I don’t die for it,” Paniagua explained. But other folks? “People die for that chicken.”

Just one afternoon, before COVID-19 constraints had been in position, a lot more than a dozen men and women crammed booths and tables inside of the Pico-Union Pollo Campero.

“Pollo, pollo, pollo!” a 5-year-old boy shouted from his desk, which, like each other 1, experienced a bottle each of Cholula sizzling sauce and Heinz ketchup. The boy’s father, Balmore Diaz, carrying a blue-and-white “El Salvador” shirt, had turn out to be a U.S. citizen earlier that day, and this was their celebratory meal.

Like numerous of his countrymen, Diaz has brought back again Pollo Campero on flights.

Allá, es first,” he claimed, with a smile. “Over there, it is original.”

A different diner, Veronica Calderon, agreed.

“It’s not the identical. They tried using to do it, but … ” she trailed off, shaking her head. The aroma is superior, but nowhere in the vicinity of as robust as it is at Pollo Camperos in Guatemala. Again there, she mentioned, you could odor the rooster two blocks absent.

Calderon is persuaded that the U.S. retailers experimented with to acquire the recipe but did not triumph.

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A younger Pollo Campero employee seated exterior was less certain. The teenager, wearing a black hairnet, had arrived from Guatemala five a long time before, and this was his initial working day of perform. His orange shirt go through “Getting seasoned.”

To him, the chicken tasted the exact. But his mom and dad swear there’s a big difference.

Tal vez estará en la mente,” he said. “Maybe it is in the intellect.”

That is clucking pride for you.

Periods personnel writer Cindy Carcamo contributed to this report.