How to Eat Like a Local in Puerto Rico
Traditional foods are part of a country’s heritage and are strongly rooted in the history and culture of the country you’re visiting. All I ask is that when you are visiting Puerto Rico you taste the local food.
I don’t want to hear that you ate at Senor Frogs, Morton’s Steakhouse, or the Cheesecake Factory. Find that local roadside stand, the beachfront hut, or the restaurant with a grandma cooking at the stove down that side road. You’ll not only get a taste of the food but the culture as well. It’s time to eat like a local in Puerto Rico!
What Foods to Eat in Puerto Rico?
Mofongo is Puerto Rico’s signature dish and if you eat only one local food, this is the one to try. It starts out with fried green plantains mashed in a wooden pilon, which is like a mortar and pestle. It’s oftentimes shaped like a bowl and filled with pork, steak, chicken, or seafood and covered in garlic and olive oil, or a criollo (red) sauce. Some places will serve it as a side dish without the protein. It is also common in Puerto Rico to make mofongo with cassava (mofongo de yuca), taro, and eddoe (mofongo de malanga y yautía), breadfruit (mofongo de pana), or a combination of cassava, ripe and green plantains (trifongo). I’ve tried them all and each delicious and have their own unique flavor.
The arepa is a round, puffed dough (some places make it like a small donut without the hole, while others remind me of an Asian bao or steamed bun), which can be grilled, baked, fried, or steamed and stuffed or topped with pork, beef, or fish. Arepas are one of my favorite foods in Puerto Rico and can be found in high-end restaurants as well as at roadside stands and beach-front vendors.
Rice with pigeon peas (gandules) is a common side dish in many restaurants. It’s flavorful and healthy. These here are pictured with crispy-skinned Lechon.
Whole roasted pig or lechon is a traditional holiday food in Puerto Rico but it doesn’t have to be a holiday for you to try it. There’s an entire town, Guavate, dedicated to cooking and serving this juicy and succulent meal all year-round. On the weekends, it’s a favorite place for locals to go to grab a meal, have a drink, and dance some salsa. Take a ride along “pork highway” as it’s called and join the party.
Whole fried snapper is a must-try if you’re a fish lover. The meat is moist and tender on the inside and the crunchy skin on the outside is very flavorful. This is one of my favorites.
Thickly sliced fried green plantains called tostones are wildly popular in both restaurants and as street food. These crispy fried plantains, (a very firm banana) are either served as a side dish or as an appetizer.
Land crab or jueye is prepared in a variety of ways on the island, but the most popular is salmorejo, which is a rich stew made with crab, tomato, garlic, onion, and peppers.
Pinonos consist of ground beef and seasonings and have fried plantains wrapped around the meat. It’s a sweet and savory combination and while it is very filling, it’s flavorful and tasty.
Alcapurrias are one of the many dishes served at kiosk stands or at street-side stands. It consists of dough surrounding ground beef and deep-fried in oil. The dough is generally green bananas (guineo) or grated cassava.
Pinchos is Spanish for spikes. Found on roadside stands this Puerto Rican fast food is basically shish-kebob or meat on a stick. Pork, chicken, and shrimp are often sold on skewers.
Bacalaítos are salt cod pancake-like fritters. Delicious. I found this one being fried in a beach-side stand in Manati.
This flaky pastry is baked or fried and packed with your favorite filling, from meat to chicken to fish. Enjoy it as an appetizer or a main dish. The smaller version of this snack is often called an empanadilla.
A popular dessert on the island is tembleque, which is a coconut custard dusted with cinnamon that makes for a tasty and light treat.
The first time I was in San Juan and looking for Limber I was directed to a nondescript building and told to walk into a barren lobby. Skeptical and a bit afraid, I put my big girl pants on and walked inside. A relief, I spotted the words Limber scribbled on a whiteboard, and a woman who looks like your nanna, tells you the day’s flavors in Spanish. Lemon, tamarind, mango, she said in half English, half Spanish. With a plastic cup in hand, I sampled this frozen treat consisting of sugar and fruit. It hasn’t changed in 40 years and is perfect on a hot day, or any day for that matter.
The icy treat got its unusual name in honor of Charles A. Lindbergh, the first pilot to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. When Lindbergh flew alone to Puerto Rico in 1928, he was offered a frozen fruit juice. He enjoyed it and since then the locals started freezing the juice and called it Limber in honor of the man who inspired this much loved frozen treat.
Steamed or stuffed, lobster is never bad and in Puerto Rico they are huge. Did you know that Caribbean lobsters don’t have claws?
When in Puerto Rico you have to try the rum. Whether it’s Bacardi, Don Q, or Ron del Barrelito, in a mojito, rum punch, piña colada, or just straight on the rocks. It’s always refreshing and rum, of course, is the drink of choice of the locals.
Now you know how to eat like a local
in Puerto Rico.
What are your favorite local foods? Drop me a note and share with me your favorite Puerto Rican foods and drinks.
Read below about where to go for the best Lechon in Puerto Rico.
For recipes on Puerto Rican cuisine, shop here:
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