by Katy Hartnett Boruff
Puerto Rican cuisine, also known as cocina criolla, has a variety of influences including Spanish/European, Taino (a native population of Puerto Rico), African, and Latin American. Puerto Rican flavors are influenced by the ingredients that are grown locally, as well as some ingredients from other influential cultures.
Puerto Rican food features a large emphasis on tropical fruits such as pineapple, mango, papaya, and coconut, which you will see growing around the island and available at roadside stands for purchase. Other popular local ingredients include recao (also known as culantro or Mexican coriander), plantain, calabaza (a type of pumpkin) and root vegetables such as yucca, cassava and yautia. Popular proteins include churrasco, which is a grilled skirt steak, chuleta (pork chops) and lechon, which is a whole roasted pig and is considered a local delicacy. Due to close proximity to the ocean, fresh fish also plays an important role in Puerto Rican food. You will often see whole fried red snapper (called chillo frito), mahi mahi, conch and grouper on the menu. One of the most popular local dishes is mofongo, which is a mashed plantain dish stuffed with chicken, steak or seafood. It’s also fun to try out many different variations of rice and beans, or arroz con habichuelas, to try to find your favorite!
Given the tropical climate, Puerto Rico is known for its delicious and refreshing drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. The Bacardi Factory is located near San Juan and rum is produced on the island, which makes it a very popular libation. You will also find delicious tropical juices such as parcha (passion fruit) and acerola (Caribbean cherry) and can often find a whole coconut for sale and drink fresh coconut water with a straw. There is a local drink called coquito, mostly served around the holidays, which is a potent mixture of rum, coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. For those coffee lovers, coffee is grown around the island and it is never difficult to find a delicious cup of coffee or cafe con leche. An interesting fact: you can only buy locally grown Puerto Rican coffee in the grocery store.
If you love to eat and experience new flavors, you are sure to enjoy sampling some of the many delicious dishes that Puerto Rico has to offer!