Puerto Rican food

The main problem with Puerto Rican food for visitors from the United States and Europe is that it is so completely unlike anything on the menu back home.

Puerto Rican cookbook from AmazonWe did try quite a variety of Puerto Rico food while we toured the island and also explored some local stores in San Juan and the excellent market in Rio Piedras – we were there in avocado season and paid $2 for excellent, creamy avocados that were HUGE.

Old Jan Juan is full of restaurants, including La Fonda El Jibarito – we tried it on a Sunday lunchtime when it was full of Puerto Rican families and just a few tourists.

Serving such thoroughly Puerto Rican food we tried what may be the national dish – mofongo. Like many Puerto Rican food dishes, Mofongo contain plantains – a type of large, starchy banana that is always served cooked and is a major source of carbohydrate in Puerto Rican cookery. Mofongo is made by frying the plantains, which are then mashed, mixed with bacon fat and rolled into balls.

In fact it is rather bland and with all that starch and fat, difficult to digest – interesting to try, but certainly not a culinary highlight. Many Puerto Ricans eat mofongo in restaurants – they don’t often eat it at home as it requires so much work.

Recipes from Puerto Rico
Learn how to cook some traditional recipes from Puerto Rico in the comfort of your home.

Rio Piedras MarketAnother Puerto Rican speciality are tostones, slices of fried plantain or yucca – the Puerto Rican equivalent of potato chips. Sat next to the surf in Escambron Beach Club, we enjoyed these a lot, although the Caribbean chicken was good but nothing extraordinary.

For the freshest produce in Puerto Rico you should head for Rio Piedras market.

It is good for all kinds of basics such as lettuce and tomatoes for salad, fresh cilantro, steak and ground beef and tropical fruits like mangos.

If you head there in avocado season (February-March) you’ll pay $2 for king size fruits that are huge, soft and delicious – unlike avocados we’ve had anywhere else.

One of the stalls in the market is a tobacconist who claims that he knew the person who supplied Winston Churchill with his cigars.

Other grocery purchases can be made at Walgreens, from one of the many colmados – convenience stores – and from the Pueblo supermarket chain.

Puerto Rican food highlights

One of the best restaurants in Puerto Rico is Mamacita’s on Culebra. The crab cakes are out of this world, and the rest of the food is close.

Although not strictly Puerto Rican food – Mamacita’s serve dishes from around the Caribbean – and they serve had nothing that isn’t excellent.

Mamacita’s always has several fish dishes on the menu, such as tuna and snapper – given that Puerto Rico is an island it is surprising that there is not more fish in the diet. If you do like fish then Vieques is also a good choice – you can sample the local lobster at Trade Winds in Esperanza.

The one small gripe – not only in Mamacita’s – is that if you order wine it is usually brought to our table already opened. Wine should always be opened at the table so you know that you are being served with what you are paying for.

Culinary lowlights – fast food

One of the impressive things you’ll notice about Puerto Rico is the sheer number of fast food outlets.

In addition to the usual MacDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell and Subway, you’ll find a Puerto Rican chain called Pollo Tropical – “tropical chicken” in Spanish.

Give Pollo Tropical a miss – if you want fast food, then you’re better off going somewhere else.

The steaks are incredibly tough and can’t be cut with their flimsy plastic cutlery, served with rice and beans – a typical Puerto Rican food that is served at home.

The drinks

Although there is a domestic Puerto Rican wine industry, we weren’t all that impressed. It doesn’t compare at all well with Californian, Chilean or Spanish wines and quite expensive the quality.

Although the wine fails to impress, Puerto Rico is famous for two beverages, coffee and rum.

Although its history might have given you another idea, the quality of coffee served in most restaurants and cafes is of quite a low standard, so it is better to buy some decent coffee and brew your own if you are in a position to do so.

The rum, though, is as good as you would expect to find in a major sugar producer.

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