To call Puerto Rico's panaderķas bakeries is literally correct but a bit off the mark. Panaderķas are more than your local pastry and baked goods shop; they also serve as a mini-mart and gathering place. Some are known as haunts for academics and politicians; others are famed for the one pastry, sandwich, or snack that they make better than anyone else; but all have this much in common: they are an integral part of Puerto Rican life.
So, what can you find at your nearest panaderķa? Start with pan criollo, or Puerto Rican bread, best described as the bigger, softer cousin of the French baguette. Most panaderķas have their own recipes, and Puerto Ricans will happily hunt for their favorite. There are two types of pan criollo: pan de agua (your basic baguette) and pan de manteca, (softer, sweeter, and more buttery).
Of course, you'll also find a variety of sweet and savory pastries here, including:
- Croquetas - croquettes filled with ham, chicken, tuna, or vegetables
- Pastelillos - a fried turnover commonly filled with meat or guava (with or without cheese)
- Quesitos - A cannoli-shaped filo-dough pastry filled with sweet cream cheese; a wildly popular local snack
Panaderķas are also known for their cheeses, cold cuts and sandwiches, which include concoctions like media noche (the local version of the Cuban sandwich, made with ham, pork loin, Swiss cheese, and pickles) and la tripleta (ham, turkey and pork, and sometimes bacon).
No matter where you are, you won't have to travel far to find a panaderķa in Puerto Rico. Whether you want breakfast, lunch, or a picnic on the beach (or in the rainforest), try to stop by at one of them for a slice of the local life.