This sorbet from El Salvador is ‘without rival’

For years, every time Joseph Bernal landed at El Salvador International Airport, he’d drop off his luggage, gather his family and make a beeline to the mercado for three scoops of sorbete, Salvadoran sorbet.

His fixer of choice was, of course, El Sin Rival (“without rival” in English), a business founded by Emiliano Rivera Landaverde, Bernal’s grandfather.


In 1951, Landaverde began selling his handmade sorbetes from a small wooden street cart on the cobblestoned streets of Santa Ana.

El Sin Rival now has 77 street carts and 37 locations across El Salvador and Central America. The 38th location, which opened last October, is in L.A. on Vermont Avenue in the heart of the El Salvador Community Corridor.

It was during one of those ice cream airport runs that Bernal’s son suggested bringing the family ice cream “up north.” Bernal spoke with his cousin, the chief executive of El Sin Rival, and they decided to pursue it, expanding the family enterprise to the United States.

“It’s organic, artisanal, with flavors from El Salvador and without any artificial colorants or flavoring whatsoever. Pure natural fruit flavors,” Bernal said.

Joseph Bernal has brought Salvadoran sorbet cart El Sin Rival, founded by his grandfather, “up north” to Los Angeles.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The flavors at the L.A. store include some well-known Latin American favorites such as tamarind, guanabana and mango, but also a handful unique to El Salvador, among them ensalada, nance and arrayan.

Each tastes like the fruit of El Salvador’s land. Ensalada is an homage to the traditional Salvadoran beverage made of chopped pineapples, apples and other tropical fruits. Arrayan, also known as Satre Guava, is similar to guava, only more sour and sharp. Jocote de Corona, a seasonal crowd-pleaser, has the sweetness of a mango with skin like a peach.

Most of El Sin Rival’s ice creams are sorbets, but it does offer three milk-based products: banana milk, tres leches and leche tradicional. One scoop of El Sin Rival sorbets cost $3 and comes with a barquillo and jalea.

Joseph Bernal garnishes scoops of sorbete with strawberry-flavored syrup, jalea.

Joseph Bernal garnishes scoops of sorbete with strawberry-flavored syrup, jalea.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Bernal has had to look for ways to streamline the labor-intensive Salvadoran ice cream-making process, which begins with pureed ripe fruit poured into a stainless steel container, then placed in a barrel filled with ice and salt. After two hours of hand churning, the ice cream is scraped from the wall of the container with a wooden paddle, only to repeat the process several more times.

El Sin Rival’s signature ice cream cone, the barquillo, is a crispy, strawberry-flavored vessel shaped like an upside-down, wide-brimmed pink hat. Customers can opt to have a drizzle of the strawberry-flavored jalea, a deep red syrup.

Bernal says his inspiration continues to be his late mother, who often treated Bernal to ice cream after Sunday mass to allay the hot and humid weather.

“Since my mother passed away, that memory always comes to me,” he said. “Doing this now, it’s like I feel her right next to me.”

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