Exotic Puerto Rico
If you find yourself travelling over on the other side of the globe from Australia there are a few stops you can make. The Caribbean is a hot spot and there are plenty of places to do some serious island hopping, one being Puerto Rico. This island, at least in comparison to some of the others is fairly small, but do not let the size influence you of what might be available to sample in this Latin tropical paradise. Life to see and visit here is not just about beach time. Go check out the jungles, the sand dunes and mountains. There is a little bit of everything for everyone here and there is easy access to it all.
Other than the sites, there is a variety of delicious cuisine everywhere you go; from the local spots in New and Old San Juan to the bungalows beachside. The food of Puerto Rico has its roots from many parts of the world; Spain, Africa, the native Tainos with some American influences as well. A lot of how the food is prepared comes from ancient methods of their native peoples, the Tainos and the Arawaks, Africa and Spain. It is very similar to the cuisine of many Latin countries but the seasonings are indigenous. The locals refer to it as cocina criolla. Many say the food we know of today in Puerto Rico was established by a restaurant which opened in Old San Juan, La Mallorquina. So prideful of their cuisine, the island’s first cook book, called the El Cocinero Puertorriqueño was published in 1849.
The variety of ingredients of the local cuisine range from various chilies, to root vegetables and tubers, coriander, achiote (annatto seed), guava, peanuts, pumpkins, corn, plantains, legumes, rice, citrus, sugarcane, pork, beef and pineapples just to name a few. It was the Africans who brought coffee and coconuts, yams and sesame and Guinea hens. The deep frying of food came from the Africans. The Spanish brought olive oil. The Americans? They brought bacon. I’d say that is a pretty awesome contribution!
All over the island, no matter if you are having a certain cut of beef or pork, or the vegetarian rice and beans, there is one more side that is consistent and delicious with everything. I promise as soon as you return home, you will adopt this into a part of your regular meals. It is called mofongo. Onions are caramelized in oil and some bacon fat. Then the bacon is added back into the mixture while another pot boils with green plantains, much like how you boil potatoes. Once they are ready, they are strained, butter, cream and some salt and pepper is added along with the onions and bacon.
The mofongo is a common staple as much as black beans and rice are part of Cuban cuisine. Around the holidays you will find lechon (young pig) slow-roasting over flame, spiced with the local indigenous spice pernil or adobo, served with blood sausage and sweet plantain. Other influences from South America include cocoa, avocados, tomatoes, capsicum, papaya and chayote. Various colorful salads are made with a mixture of fruits and vegetables together combining the sweet with the savory. In the humid heat these mixtures are refreshing and nutritious. For a heartier meal if you have found yourself hiking about the jungles of the Yunque National Forest or a long day on the beach, there is the local favorite arroz con salchichas, rice and sausage with a little egg scrambled in the mix. Whatever your craving, your appetite will be satisfied. Island life is quite tasty.
Photo thanks to Joselu