Guide to Traditional Puerto Rican Dishes
Traditional puerto rican dishes are all about heaping portions of crispy, garlicky fried plantains, slow-roasted succulent pork, savory rice and beans. These are chased with a cold local beer or fruity rum cocktail. And that’s just your first meal! Having the opportunity to enjoy authentic Puerto Rican food is a highlight of many visitors’ experience of the island.
The vibrancy of Puerto Rican culture comes alive in its dishes. It’s a celebration and explosion of flavors that visitors have the opportunity to indulge in. Some of the favorites are mofongo, tostones, pasteles, arroz con gandules, tembleque, and coquito.
Here is a guide to some of the traditional Puerto Rican dishes that you shouldn’t miss out on:
Puerto Rican comfort food at its finest. Mofongo is traditionally made from deep-fried green plantain pieces. These plantain pieces are mashed with garlic and either salt-cured pork, pork crackling, butter, and/or oil. Some recipes use a salty broth to soften the plantains while mashing.
Mofongo can either be served as a side dish. It can also be stuffed with any kind of meat, such as stewed chicken, crab meat, octopus, churrasco steak, fried pork, seafood, or stewed vegetables. Other variations of mofongo include yuca mofongo and trifongo, made with green plantain, sweet plantain, and yuca. We can say that mofongo is the most popular of the traditional Puerto Rican dishes.
Tostones and Amarillos
These are two classic ways to prepare plantains. Tostones are made from green plantain, which is savory. The plantain is cut into thick wheels which are marinated in water and garlic. Then they are deep fried in oil to soften, smashed, and deep fried again until crispy. Amarillos on the other hand, are ripe plantains that are cut into pieces and fried until the outside is almost blackened and the inside is soft and sweet.
To prepare this delicacy, first, a whole pig (lechón) is marinated in adobo (a mix of garlic, oregano, black pepper, vinegar, and water). Then, it is slowly roasted over coals for several hours until the meat is juicy and the skin crispy. To sample some of the best lechón in Puerto Rico plan a day trip to Guavate, where the road headed up the mountains of Cayey are lined with lechoneras (pork restaurants) serving locally sourced pork. Another specialty pork dish is pernil, or pork shoulder. The meat is seasoned with adobo and roasted in the oven.
Here are some more traditional Puerto Rican dishes:
Arroz y habichuelas
Rice and beans are the quintessential Puerto Rican side dish. Pink beans are stewed with onions, peppers, garlic, ham hock, calabaza squash, and sofrito. Sofrito is a cooking base made by blending together onion, garlic, peppers, culantro, cilantro, and oregano (as well as other herbs, spices, and aromatics depending on the family recipe).
White, medium grain rice is cooked separately from the beans and seasoned with olive oil and salt. The two are served next to each other so the diner can choose how much of the beans to add to the rice.
The best part of the meal! Traditional seasonal desserts include tembleque, a silky coconut custard; and arroz con dulce, rice pudding with cinnamon and raisins. Other traditional desserts include flan, a vanilla custard cake; and casquitos de guayaba, guava paste paired with local white cheese.
There is also a version of eggnog called coquito. This is made with evaporated milk, condensed milk, coconut milk, cinnamon, and white rum. There are also flavored versions of coquito including chocolate, pistachio, and guava.
A true local specialty, pasteles resemble tamales. They are traditionally made with green banana masa stuffed with stewed pork meat. Sometimes yuca or other root vegetables are added; the masa can also be made with just yuca. Pasteles can also be stuffed with chicken or bacalao (salted cod), and some vegan versions have been introduced recently.
To form the pastel, masa is pressed onto a plantain leaf. Then, the stuffing is added in the center, and the plantain leaf is folded, tied with string and covered in parchment paper. The pasteles are then boiled, unwrapped, and served.
Arroz con gandules
Considered a boricua staple, this signature Puerto Rican rice dish is consumed year-round. Pigeon peas, or gandules, are small, dense legumes which are cooked with the rice in a large pot. First, salted pork or ham hock is sautéed in olive oil. Sofrito is then added, along with bay leaves, tomato paste, annatto, and often olives or capers. The rice and pigeon peas are then coated with this sauce. Then water or broth is added, and everything is cooked together until the rice is done.
Frituras-Part of Street Traditional Puerto Rican Dishes
Deep-fried fritters normally found in open-air, beachside restaurants that pair beautifully with a cold beer. These are usually stuffed with ground beef, crab meat, chicken, fish, octopus, conch, or other types of seafood. There are a variety of different fritters you will find in Puerto Rico.
Here are a few of the common types of frituras besides the traditional Puerto Rican dishes, you might see during your visit:
Alcapurrias are a fritter shaped like a torpedo. They are made from shredded root vegetables like yuca and yautía. Then, they are stuffed with a choice of meat and fried. Deep-fried fritters normally found in open-air, beachside restaurants that pair beautifully with a cold beer. These are usually stuffed with ground beef, crab meat, chicken, fish, octopus, conch, or other types of seafood. There are a variety of different fritters you will find in Puerto Rico.
Empanadillas are a larger version of empanadas, also stuffed with a choice of meat and fried. There’s also a popular pizza version. This one is filled with melted mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce.
Puerto Rican arepas are flour based. Sometimes they are made with coconut for a slightly sweet flavor, fried and then stuffed, usually with seafood.
Bacalaítos are not stuffed. They are just a simple batter of flour and water with chunks of salted cod and parsley. Then it is deep fried into what look like giant corn flakes.
We hope that after reading this article you feel empowered and ready to try all the delicious traditional Puerto Rican dishes available to you in the local restaurants. Many of these restaurants are walking distance from El Canario Lagoon Hotel in Condado.
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