I recently returned from a memorable trip with R to Puerto Rico. It was five brilliant days, three different locations, and lots of lasting memories. Puerto Rican cuisine has its roots in the traditions and practices of Spanish, Taino, and African cultures. I was anxious to enjoy all of the new gastronomic delights Puerto Rico had to offer. While I enjoyed our meals and I relished my time in Puerto Rico I wondered why everything was fried? Around every corner was fried this fried that, fried pig, fried corn, fried bread and barley a trace of anything green. Don’t get me wrong I am definitely of the school of thought that fried equals awesome, but can’t a girl see a vegetable or leafy green every now and then! Feelings of guilt overcame me with each meal, but I turned a blind eye and enjoyed each oily oozy bite. Here are a few of the things I enjoyed.
When we arrived we wasted no time and headed for Old San Juan. It was a humid, cloudy day but the clouds and trickles of rain cast an eerie and romantic shadow over the coble streets of the old city. Wet and hot we trudged through the narrows lanes in aw of the ramshackled beauty of the city. After hours of walking, exploring, and laughing we decided we were ready for our first meal. Afternoon or not we had not officially had breakfast since we were on the plane so we headed to La Bombonera. La Bombonera, established in 1902 continues to be a landmark for Puerto Rican cuisine. It is an unassuming diner with a large red awning you can’t miss and if you do the enticing aromas of sugary sweetness floating out each time the door opens for another eager patron, will certainly draw your attention. We ordered a café con leche and their famous pan de mallorca. The pan de mallorca was brought to our table and having no prior knowledge of what it was we blindly sunk our teeth in. It was truly more delicious that we could have ever imagined, grilled and buttered sweet bread dusted with powdered sugar.
We spent our second day in Puerto Rico traversing the windy green paths of El Yunque Rainforest. The myriad shades of green, the limitless shapes of trees were breathtaking. After a few hours under the impressive canopy of El Yunque we had worked up an appetite and were in need of giving our feet a rest. We drove to Playa Luquillo a local beach known for its innumerable stands of “comida criolla”- classic Puerto Rican cuisine. We enjoyed the palm trees, soft sand and clear waters and were ready for a treat. We walked by each food stand to be sure not to miss out on the best street food offered. Stand after stand the food was the same. Confused we continued down the row only to find more of the same. Each stand was the same, a rundown counter with one glass enclosed case filled with copious fried fare. Nothing was named or had a price or looked particularly appetizing. I had read about surrulitos a fried corn meal log stuffed with cheese, so I focused my search for that. “Cuando es maize,” with limited Spanish in my inventory discovered which fried shape was the surullito. We ordered two and a coke and ate the fried confection from a napkin. It was surprisingly good. It was more savory than sweet with a perfect amount of cheese to offset the spongy texture of the cornmeal. My fingers, lips, and napkin saturated in oil, but my stomach was pleased.
On our last night in Puerto Rico we enjoyed comida criolla at Ropa Vieja in the district of Condado. Here we enjoyed Mofongo, a popular Puerto Rican dish made from fried plantains seasoned with garlic, olive oil and pork fat all mashed into a mound. We ordered ours with a saucy beef served on top of the plantain mound. It was a glorious pile to taste, but from the looks of this it was an ordinary meal almost reminiscent of a giant meatball. The layers of flavors burst with each bite. Thankfully we shared one because at the end of the meal our buttons were ready to pop from satisfaction.
There may not have been salad, but there were plenty of greasy memories to make me want to come back for more! When in Puerto Rico fry fry again!
*** While traveling I relied on the Lonely Planet Guide to Puerto Rico: it provided great maps, fantastic walking tours, and attraction guides. For more questions email me firstname.lastname@example.org***