Three empanadas presented on a plate with a ramekin of dipping sauce

A Taste of Puerto Rico: A Guide to Traditional Puerto Rican Dishes

Get ready to sample a huge range of traditional Puerto Rican dishes like slow roasted pork called lechón asado, seasonal pasteles, and the festive coconut and rum-base drink, coquito.

Heaping portions of crispy, garlicky fried plantains, slow-roasted succulent pork, savory rice and beans, chased with a cold local beer or fruity rum cocktail, and that's just your first meal. Having the opportunity to enjoy authentic Puerto Rican food is a highlight of many visitors' experience of the island.

The vibrancy of Puerto Rican culture comes alive in its dishes, a celebration and explosion of flavors that visitors have the opportunity to indulge in. Some of the favorites are mofongo, tostones, pasteles, arroz con gandules, tembleque and coquito.

Here is a guide to some of the dishes that you shouldn't miss out on:

Empanadas are a type of fritter that is stuffed with a choice of meat and fried.

Tostones and Amarillos

These are two classic ways to prepare plantains. Tostones are made from green plantain, which is savory. The plantain is cut into thick wheels which are marinated in water and garlic, then deep fried in oil to soften, smashed, and deep fried again until crispy. Amarillos on the other hand, are ripe plantains that are cut into pieces and fried until the outside is almost blackened and the inside is soft and sweet.

Arroz y Habichuelas

Rice and beans are the quintessential Puerto Rican side dish. Pink beans are stewed with onions, peppers, garlic, ham hock, calabaza squash, and sofrito, a cooking base made by blending together onion, garlic, peppers, culantro, cilantro, and oregano (as well as other herbs, spices, and aromatics depending on the family recipe).

White, medium grain rice is cooked separately from the beans and seasoned with olive oil and salt. The two are served next to each other so the diner can choose how much of the beans to add to the rice.

Pasteles

A true local specialty, pasteles resemble tamales and are traditionally made with green banana masa stuffed with stewed pork meat. Sometimes yuca or other root vegetables are added; the masa can also be made with just yuca. Pasteles can also be stuffed with chicken or bacalao (salted cod), and some vegan versions have been introduced recently.

To form the pastel, masa is pressed onto a plantain leaf, the stuffing added in the center, and the plantain leaf is folded, tied with string and covered in parchment paper. The pasteles are then boiled, unwrapped, and served.

Arroz con Gandules

Considered a boricua staple, this signature Puerto Rican rice dish is consumed year-round. Pigeon peas, or gandules, are small, dense legumes which are cooked with the rice in a large pot. First, salted pork or ham hock is sautéed in olive oil. Sofrito is then added, along with bay leaves, tomato paste, annatto, and often olives or capers. The rice and pigeon peas are then coated with this sauce, water or broth is added, and everything is cooked together until the rice is done.

Lechón asado - whole roasted pig

Lechón asado

To prepare this delicacy, first a whole pig (lechón) is marinated in adobo (a mix of garlic, oregano, black pepper, vinegar, and water) and then slowly roasted over coals for several hours until the meat is juicy and the skin crispy. To sample some of the best lechón in Puerto Rico plan a daytrip to Guavate, where the road headed up the mountains of Cayey are lined with lechoneras (pork restaurants) serving locally sourced pork. Another specialty pork dish is pernil, or pork shoulder, which is seasoned with adobo and roasted in the oven.

Mofongo

Mofongo

Puerto Rican comfort food at its finest. Mofongo is traditionally made from deep-fried green plantain pieces that are mashed with garlic and either salt-cured pork, pork crackling, butter, and/or oil. Some recipes use a salty broth to soften the plantains while mashing.

Mofongo can either be served as a side dish or it can be stuffed with any kind of meat, such as stewed chicken, crab meat, octopus, churrasco steak, fried pork, seafood, or stewed vegetables. Other variation of mofongo include yuca mofongo and trifongo, made with green plantain, sweet plantain and yuca.

Tembleque is a traditional holiday dessert in Puerto Rico made of coconut custard

Desserts

The best part of the meal! Traditional seasonal desserts include tembleque, a silky coconut custard, and arroz con dulce, rice pudding with cinnamon and raisins. Other traditional desserts include flan, a vanilla custard cake, and casquitos de guayaba, guava paste paired with local white cheese.

There is also a version of eggnog called coquito which is made with evaporated milk, condensed milk, coconut milk, cinnamon, and white rum, and in some recipes egg yolks. There are also flavored versions of coquito including chocolate, pistachio, and guava.

A heap of delicious looking fritters from Puerto Rico

Frituras

Deep-fried fritters normally found in open-air, beachside restaurants that pair beautifully with a cold beer. These are usually stuffed with ground beef, crab meat, chicken, fish, octopus, conch, or other types of seafood. There are a variety of different fritters you will find in Puerto Rico.

Here are a few of the common types of frituras you might see during your visit:

  • Alcapurrias are a fritter shaped like a torpedo, made from shredded root vegetables like yuca and yautía, stuffed with a choice of meat, and fried.
  • Empanadillas are a larger version of empanadas, also stuffed with a choice of meat and fried. There’s also a popular pizza version filled with melted mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce.
  • Puerto Rican arepas are flour based, sometimes made with coconut for a slightly sweet flavor, fried and then stuffed, usually with seafood.
  • Bacalaítos are not stuffed, just a simple batter of flour and water with chunks of salted cod and parsley, deep fried into what look like giant corn flakes.


 

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