There are few places on earth like the Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico. The island has old San Juan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are castles, museums, beautiful beaches, marine reefs, a tropical rain forest, and casinos, all of which make this a special place to visit. For food lovers, the local cuisine’s blend of Spanish, American, African, and Taino influences makes food an attraction all on its own. The locals call the island’s cuisine “Cocina Criolla”. Local food tour companies, cooking classes, and chic restaurants will help you immerse yourself in Puerto Rican cuisine. To help the more discerning traveler looking for the most authentic local foods, here is a list of traditional food in Puerto Rico.
1. Arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas)
Arroz con gandules, along with pernil (roasted pork), is the national dish of Puerto Rico. They serve it on birthdays, baby showers, Christmas, and more. If there is an event on the island, this dish will be there. Arroz con gandules is made with chorizo, red peppers, and olives. What gives this dish its distinct Puerto Rican flavor is sofrito. Sofrito is the heart and soul of local cuisine. They make this local sauce with a mixture of onions, pepper, garlic, and fresh herbs, which are used to season the rice and give it its unique taste. You shouldn’t visit Puerto Rico without treating yourself to this amazing dish.
2. Mofongo (deep-fried green plantain)
Mofongo is a signature dish of the island. Arroz con gandules may be the national dish of Puerto Rico, but you will find mofongo everywhere. It is a favorite among locals and is served at roadside kiosks and restaurants all over the island. Mofongo is made with green plantain that is fried and mashed together with olive oil, garlic, and salt. This creates a ball of mashed plantains that contains filling like chicken, beef, or vegetables. Each chef has a unique spin on this dish, and you should sample the offerings of different restaurants during your stay. This is a dish you must eat - its phenomenal flavors will leave your taste buds wanting more.
3. Lechon asado (roasted pork)
Puerto Ricans love pork, and it is a popular element of the local cuisine. Lechon is one of Puerto Rico’s most popular pork dishes, and you can find it all over the island. Locals prepare lechon by roasting a whole pig over a charcoal fire for up to five hours. This allows the pig to become crispy, and it is this process that gives lechon its signature smoky flavor. To find the best lechon in Puerto Rico, head to Guavate, here you will find “la rutas de lechon” which translates to “piglet route”. Lechon is available all year round, but it is prevalent during the holidays and is arguably the most popular holiday food on the Island.
4. Asopao (rice soup)
Another favorite of Puerto Ricans is asopao. Several cultures have rice soups - Southerners have gumbo, West Africans have jolof rice and Puerto Ricans have asopao. They make the soup by mixing rice with chicken broth and vegetables. It is a staple in the kitchen of most Puerto Ricans, and locals serve it on Sundays, family reunions and other special occasions. This delicacy is the island’s national soup, and you can find it in most restaurants here.
5. Bacalaitos (fried codfish fritters)
As an island destination, fish delicacies here are abundant. Bacalaitos is made of boiled codfish and flour, and it doesn’t disappoint. This street food is crunchy, greasy and packed with delicious flavors. This fritter is the perfect appetizer and is one of the most popular road-side foods you can get in Puerto Rico.
6. Alcapurrias (yucca and plantain)
Alcapurrias is another popular street food in Puerto Rico. This stuffed fritter is made of deep-fried plantains or yucca (cassava root) and it can be stuffed with crab, pork, lobster, or shrimp. Alcapurrias is a beach food staple and can be found in roadside kiosks and restaurants all over the island. This snack, with its mixture of plantain and succulent meat, is extremely appetizing and will melt in your mouth. When planning your visit to Puerto Rico’s beautiful beaches, this is a necessary food item to include in your picnic basket.
7. Pasteles (green banana and meat)
Christmas and pasteles go hand in hand. Locals say this magical treat of a dish, which is usually wrapped in banana leaves, plus pernil and arroz con gandules are the three essential dishes for an ideal Puerto Rican Christmas. Pasteles is made of mashed green plantain which forms a starchy case that is filled with seasoned meat stew. It is then wrapped in banana leaves and boiled by the dozen. The process of making pasteles is time-consuming, but when you join the locals at a dining table laid out with these three staple dishes and with the Christmas holiday spirit in the air, all that effort will be worth it. Pasteles may be a traditional Christmas dish, but it can also be enjoyed year-round.
8. Arroz mamposteao (stewed beans and rice)
Puerto Rico has many rice dishes, and another favorite among locals is arroz mamposteao. This dish has a unique history - it originated when Puerto Rican grandmothers met the need to create a different dish with leftover rice and beans. They accomplished this by combining the rice and beans along with sofrito and letting it stew. Today, this dish is very popular in Puerto Rico, and restaurants will deliberately make rice and stewed beans to make the dish available to customers. You can get arroz mamposteao in many restaurants on the island, and it is also sold by food trucks.
9. Tostones (twice-fried plantain)
In Puerto Rico, plantains are always on the menu, and tostones is another food staple that is made from green plantains. The green plantain is sliced, fried, flattened, and then fried again to make it extra crispy. This is served as an appetizer accompanied by a dipping sauce, usually mayo ketchup. It can also be served as a side dish accompanying many local dishes, especially rice dishes. You can get it at most restaurants on the Island.
10. Tembleque (coconut pudding)
Tembleque is the favorite dessert of Puerto Ricans. This coconut dessert pudding derives its name from the Spanish word “tiembla”, which means “shake” or “tremble”. Tembleque is made with coconut milk, sugar, and cinnamon. It is thickened with cornstarch, which makes it firmer and gives it that jiggle when you shake it. This is typically served as dessert for Christmas meals. You can also find it at restaurants on the island all year round.
Enjoy Puerto Rico's many culinary delights
Puerto Rico has great food, and much of the island’s cuisine has signature ingredients that are unique to it. Give your tastebuds the complete Puerto Rican experience by trying out most of the delicious delicacies listed above during your visit.
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