When getting ready for my trip to Puerto Rico, I assumed that the food would be similar to Mexican food. But on our first night in San Juan, the server at Cafe Puerto Rico told us all we needed to know about the food on the islands. It’s based heavily in proteins and starches with heavy Spanish and African influences. I ate so much delicious food in my time in Puerto Rico, but here’s the breakdown of the best and most important features of eating and drinking in Puerto Rico and where you can find them.
Grouper mofongo, Cafe Puerto Rico
Mofongo is the quintessential Puerto Rican dish, found throughout the islands. The base is a cake-like substance called a fufu
made of plantain, yucca or other starchy vegetables. It’s fried in olive oil and topped with a protein and broth, which can be chicken, pork, shrimp, fish, steak, pork or vegetarian. Its heritage is African and the best I had in Puerto Rico was the grouper mofongo at Cafe Puerto Rico
in San Juan. But be prepared, as this is a very filling dish!
Since Puerto Rico is surrounded by water, it stands to reason that it would have delicious seafood. I wasn’t disappointed and ordered it nearly every meal. Fish tacos with tostones (deserving their own post!) from Punto de Vista in San Juan was one of my favorite meals. Anytime I saw mahi mahi, shrimp or grouper on the menu, I had to have it.
European influence has had a long lasting impression on Puerto Rican cuisine, particularly in the bread and pastries. But this is our benefit, as I haven’t had such delicious breakfast pastries and desserts since I was in Hawaii or France. Take note of these cinnamon bun-type baked goods with powdered sugar or the sugar doughnuts I indulged in on Vieques.
Meat and Rice
Upon arriving in San Juan, I was told that Puerto Rican food is mostly meat and rice. I can’t say she was lying, as that’s most of what I had. Green vegetables are hard to come by, but I can’t say I missed them too much. The perfect example of the traditional Puerto Rican take on the “meat and three” is this pork and plantain tamale that I had at Restaurante El Jibarito in San Juan. The barbecued chicken at Tin Box in Vieques also came with arroz con gandules, rice with pork bits and pigeon peas, and a slaw-type side. The suckling pig known as the lechón is another favorite for meat eaters.
We saw carts on every corner of San Juan, selling cups of helados,
a fruit slushy type dessert. My dad had to have it every time we passed a stand, especially this passionfruit flavor. They come in all sorts, including pineapple, coconut and dulce de leche. There’s nothing quite as refreshing on a hot day.
Being in the Caribbean, rum is the liquor of choice in Puerto Rico, where you’ll find delicious variations like rum punch, daiquiris and the famous Cuba Libre. Bacardi is king, but there are a handful of other Puerto Rican rum brands, including Don Q. Medalla is among the cheap local beers you can purchase at bars and restaurants in Puerto Rico, along with imports like Corona.
I’ll divert to my coffee expert Rachel here, who tested out Caficultura in San Juan, pictured in her Instagram feed above, as well as Cafe Cuatro Sombras and Cafe Cola’o. The artisan coffee movement is making its way through the Caribbean, so look out for specialty blends roasted and grown locally, as well as methods you’ll find back home.
What’s your favorite Puerto Rican dish?
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