If you ever find yourself two hours into a flight from Central America, salivating at the unmistakable scent of deep-fried chicken, Pollo Campero is probably to blame. This article from the Los Angeles Times explains how, for decades, Guatemalan and Salvadoran expats have hauled buckets from the Central American fried chicken chain back to the U.S. after visits to their countries of origin. Why? Simple: Pollo Campero tastes like home.
The Times reports that the first Pollo Campero opened its doors in Guatemala in 1971, and the chain quickly spread across Central America. Unfortunately, civil wars erupted in El Salvador and Guatemala soon after, causing a mass wave of immigrants to flee to the U.S and leave behind beloved cultural and gastronomic traditions—like Pollo Campero’s signature chicken. That left a drumstick-shaped hole in the heart of immigrant families, which is why the chain estimated that it sold more than 3 million to-go orders annually through outlets at La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala and San Salvador International Airport in El Salvador.
Today, Pollo Campero has expanded to the U.S., an expansion that includes 17 locations in California. And although a company spokeswoman insists that the U.S. outlets “use the exact same recipe and marination process as our Guatemalan partners,” the Times explains that many Guatemalans and Salvadorans see the U.S. locations as cheap imitators. That’s why they haul buckets of fried chicken through multiple airports, divvying up their reheated, deep-fried treasure among lucky friends and relatives. As one Times source put it, “People die for that chicken.” Check out the full article to learn more, because it shows what it means to bring a taste of home across national borders, firsthand.