One of the reasons I love the cuisine of Puerto Rican is that it is a unique amalgamation of ingredients, cultures, and recipes. The native Taíno Indians, the Spanish conquistadores, and the African slaves have all influenced what has come to be known around the island as Comida Criolla. As such, even though Puerto Rican food has its roots in Caribbean and Spanish cuisine, it is its own creature. These five dishes, which are the island's most distinctive and representative foods, will attest to that.
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is the unofficial king of Puerto Rican cuisine. This is a tasty and filling concoction of mashed plantain, seasonings and a virtually unlimited choice of filling; vegetarian, shrimp, steak, pork, seafood ... whatever your dietary preference, there is a mofongo to match it! You can also find mofongo everywhere. Every self-respecting Puerto Rican restaurant, from roadside shacks to some of the island's most refined local eateries, will have their own recipe.
Photo © Zain Deane
Ahh, the famous, succulent roast suckling pig of Puerto Rico, also known as lechón
. People have come from far and wide to sample this delicacy, and I know at least one person who broke their no-pork-eating vow to try it. It's that
irresistible. In fact, it's such a beloved dish that there is one road in Guavate, Puerto Rico that is known as the Ruta del Lechón
. To get here, take Highway 52 south to exit 33 (Guavate). Turn left and head up Rd 184. You're now in lechón territory.
Photo © Legends of Puerto Rico
If mofongo is the unofficial standard of Puerto Rico, arroz con gandules
is the national dish of the island. Pigeon peas with rice has distinctly Caribbean roots, but the 'Rican twist to the dish is its secret sauce, known as sofrito
. Arroz con gandules is typically made with ham, pork, chorizo, red peppers and olives (if you're paying attention to the historical connection, the Spanish certainly responsible for these ingredients).
By the way, those of you who know and love your rice 'n beans can get them here, but this is not arroz con gandules. Instead, it goes by the name of arroz con habichuelas.
Photo © Zain Deane
Remember mom's chicken soup? Well in Puerto Rico, they remember mom's asopao
. This is a homemade classic - a savory soup usually made with chicken and rice. Fortunately, many restaurants have the dish on their menus, as its a perennial favorite with islanders. It's more like a gumbo than a soup, and it can come in several variations, including chicken, shellfish, pork, ham, peppers, pigeon peas, olives and tomatoes, among other ingredients.
5. Fritters, Alcapurrias, and Other Fried Snacks
The final entry in the top five is not so much a dish as a whole smorgasbord of finger foods that can be found all over the island. These include cuchifritos
(a kind of fried turnover), frituras
(cheese-flavored rice fritters), bacalaítos
(codfish-flavored fritters), and buñuelos
(yam fritters), to name just a few. You'll find stalls selling these goodies all over the island, and most restaurants will have a sample of them for you to explore. My advice? Try as many as you can, and worry about the calories later!