Puerto Rican cuisine has been widely influenced by several European (particularly Spain) and African cooking techniques. The country has a varied and versatile platter to offer, from lip-smacking vegetables to meat variants. Plantains, one of the staples of Puerto Ricans, form a significant part of most of their dishes. When it comes to meat, pork rules all the way, though beef and other varieties are even used to prepare juicy, mouthwatering meat dishes.
Famed as Puerto Rico’s national dish, it has pigeon peas, rice, and pork as its main ingredients, all cooked in a single pot. This platter’s USP lies in the inclusion of sofrito sauce prepared with coriander, onion, garlic, and green pepper used for seasoning. Some even add bacon to this sauce for an increased smokiness. The addition of olive, tomato paste, bay leaves, cumin, and lime juice takes its taste to another level. The overall flavor is an assortment of everything, the richness of beef blended with several spices’ aroma. This dish is an instant hit in Puerto Rico, popularly served as a part of the Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner.
Asopao is a delicious stew primarily made with rice alongside chicken peas and other vegetables, seafood, beef, pork, and chicken. It has several versions based on the ingredients.
Asopao de pollo is its chicken variant mostly teamed with plantain dumplings. On the other hand, asopao de marisco is its seafood variety prepared with fish, shrimp, octopus, squid, scallop, mussels, lobster, or crab. Asopao de gandules is purely vegetarian, with pigeon peas dominating the ingredient list alongside round dumplings made with bananas, vegetables, flour, eggs, and milk, fried and then added to the soup.
The addition of oregano, bay leaves, tomato, olives, pepper, and several herbs gives it a complex flavor from tart to spicy, aromatic, and peppery. This, too, is a holiday dish served as a part of Christmas delicacies and other auspicious occasions.
Pasteles are lip-smacking meat pies with masa dough at the base prepared from taro, green bananas, potatoes, or cassava. The fillings that go into this rectangular-shaped pie include meat items like chicken, beef, or pork seasoned in several spices and herbs to intensify the meat’s taste.
Pasteles is another addition to the country’s list of holiday foods, with individual Puerto Rican foods making 50 – 200 of them on an average during Christmas. People mostly eat it as a part of a sumptuous meal when teamed with roasted pork, arroz con grandules, and stews. The potato and cassava in the masa give it an increased sweetness, while the meat adds to its richness.
Puerto Rico’s pastelon is equivalent to Italy’s lasagna made with sweet plantain, peeled into thin strips, fried in olive oil and butter, and then filled with a layer of minced meat. Seasonings include cheese and tomato sauce. The preparation is baked and served hot, eaten as a main or even side dish. It is a savory, cheesy platter, with spiciness depending on the sauce added.
The star ingredient of mofongo is the unripe plantain, fried, and then mashed with a meaty broth, olive oil, garlic, and salt. It appears as a solid ball and served with fried meat or topped with a chicken broth-garlic sauce. Though a Puerto Rican cuisine, it was introduced to the country by the African slaves. The unripe plantains add to its sweetness, while the meaty inclusion enhances its richness to the fullest.
The plantain saga continues, and this interesting dish bears testimony of the same. It is made by frying shredded plantains, while spicy garlic-based sauces or other dips mostly serve as accompaniments. Its name in Spanish translates to ‘little spiders,’ and that is how these fritters appear. Besides the crispiness that dominates this dish, every bite of it is filled with plantain’s sweetness and the sauces’ spiciness.
Tostones, one of Latin America’s famous dishes, is made from unripe plantains, particularly the hard, green ones. The sliced pieces are fried on both sides, then smashed and deep-fried again until they turn golden. The dominating flavors include sweet, salty, and starchy, with increased crispiness. One can top it with meat or veggies and even team it with a spicy sauce.
This is a delicious beefsteak marinated in adobo spices, including turmeric, oregano, black pepper, and garlic. The addition of enormous onion rings on top as garnishes and seasonings of onion sauce enhances its taste. Its rich flavor and juicy texture result from the prolonged marination period, approximately 10 – 12 hours.
Tripelta translates to three, absolutely justifying the contents going into the preparation of this Puerto Rican sandwich. It involves three kinds of meat, ham, grilled steak, and lechon pork stuffed inside a bread loaf. Toppings include cheese, mayonnaise, and veggies like onion, cabbage, and tomatoes. The sweetness of the bread blends fabulously with the meat’s richness and the mayonnaise’s cheesy-creamy taste.
Another classic holiday dish of Puerto Rico, pernil, is a roasted pork platter usually made with the pig’s shoulder. However, the leg or other parts are also used in its preparation. Seasonings that go into this dish include vinegar, paprika, oregano, salt, and garlic.
Since slow-cooked, the outcome is a rich, juicy meat dish, dominated by the varied spices’ flavors. Pernil takes its name from the Spanish pierna translating to the leg. While, in Catalan, it refers to ham, which was used traditionally. People often eat it as a part of their grand meal, combining pernil with rice, chickpeas, or roasted potatoes.
Alcapurria, a fritter dish, is made by filling a masa dough with meat and then cooking it. The outcome is hot, brittle balls that would break easily the moment you bite them. The masa dough is mostly made with grated bananas. Seasonings of garlic, lard, salt, and annatto are added, with the latter accounting for its yellowish-orange color.
The dish has various versions, with green plantains and squash also going into the making of the masa. Beef or sausage may often be replaced with crab meat. One could find this dish’s name sitting on the menu cards of several restaurants and kiosks.
Commonly known as papa rellena throughout most Latin American countries, it is famous as relleno de papa in Puerto Rico. The main ingredients include mashed potatoes and ground beef, though the fillings vary from one country to another. In Puerto Rico, cheese is also added alongside olives, hard-boiled eggs, onions, and several spices. The dough is made into an oval shape, coated in raw eggs, and finally rolled into bread crumbs, cornmeal, or cornflour. They are fried till they turn golden brown and get crispy. This cheesy, rich fritter is a great comfort food mostly eaten with ketchup or a spicy dip.
Bacalaito, a tasty codfish fritter, is one of Puerto Rico’s traditional snacks, mostly sold near beach areas and eaten on special festivals. The addition of all-purpose flour, sofrito sauce, several herbs like thyme, oregano, and sage, and spices like pepper and annatto to the cod intensifies its taste.
Baking powder and egg are also added, while in some versions, crab meat replaces cod. Overall, it is crispy outside and chewy within. The inclusion of herbs and spices fills every bite of it with a distinct aroma.
Lechon, the national dish of Puerto Rico alongside Spain and Cuba, is a roasted pig dish traditionally cooked on charcoal for about 4 or 5 hours. The stuffing that goes into this dish varies from one country to the other, including bay leaves, lemongrass, peppercorn, and so on. Puerto Ricans refer to this dish as lechon asado, mostly served holidays or festivals.
The name might seem jargon, but the dish is not. It is a green banana salad made by boiling the bananas and cooking in an Escabeche sauce comprising garlic, vinegar, onion, bay leaves, salt and pepper, and black peppercorns.
Leaving the bananas soaked in the sauce in a fridge overnight would help the marinades get absorbed well, making the flavors more prominent. One can serve it cold or at room temperature as an accompaniment with meat or vegetable dishes. The sweet bananas, when blended with the spicy, tangy sauce, create a unique taste indeed.
Amarillitos is a simple but unique dish of Puerto Rico comprising sweet fried plantains. Sweet and crispy, it could be eaten for breakfast or lunch as a side or even as an evening snack. Team it with a spicy sauce for a hot and sweet taste.
Jibarito is a unique kind of sandwich as fried green plantain, and not bread forms the base. Fillings of meat, tomato, cheese, lettuce, and mayonnaise (garlic-flavored) go into this sandwich, giving it a rich, cheesy flavor. This dish was first popularized in 1996 by Juan Figueroa at a Puerto Rican restaurant after reading about this plantain sandwich created in 1991. Its fame has spread to other Latin American countries and occupies a prominent place in most eateries and restaurants.
Pavochon comes from ‘pavo,’ meaning turkey, and ‘chon,’ referring to pig. This dish comprises turkey, which is cooked and roasted similarly to another Puerto Rican dish, Lechon. Stuffing of mofongo or meatballs and seasonings of several herbs and spices make it rich, juicy, and aromatic
These are not the only Puerto Rican foods; the list is long indeed. Not to forget the yummy desserts the country is famous for, like tembleque and coquito, alongside beverages like pina colada.
Best Puerto Rican Christmas Food: Arroz con gandules, Asopao, Pasteles
Best Puerto Rican Thanksgiving Food: Arroz con gandules, Pavochon, Pernil
Famous Puerto Rican Food: Mofongo, Tolstones, Pasteles
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