Musings on Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico or ‘La Isla del Encanto’ (Island of Enchantment) was a special trip for me. This was my first trip but as a Caribbean baby this is a place whose culture closely mirrors that of it’s neighbor to the West, the Dominican Republic. I won’t get into the friendly rivalry between the DR and Puerto Rico but I have to say that both islands have much to offer to the Caribbean and the world in culture, beauty, and it’s cuisine. During my time in Puerto Rico I got to try the famous mofongo, red snapper, piña colada made on the street, gandules, pastries, and lots of yummy homemade food.
Upon landing in San Juan my first request was for mofongo and to my surprise my father took to a lovely place by the water, Piñones, that is known for serving red snapper. I was a bit overwhelmed by the size of the fish but it was truly exquisite, fresh, and the mofongo was super soft (although it could have been a bit more garlicky for me).
Another thing that I got to try in Quiñones was a pastry filled with fish and fried. The dough itself was that of the consistency of fried empanadas and quite tasty if fish is your thing!
Next up in my San Juan adventures was trip to the Bacardi distillery. How could I not? ;)…the tour has different options and some are more boozy then others. I opted for the historical tour where you still get a tasty (and strong!) drink and lots of knowledge to file away for a random trivia night.
On that same day we took a ferry from the Bacardi distillery area to old San Juan…this was a scenic and inexpensive way to get back to San Juan. While walking around and admiring the colonial architecture, we came across various carts making virgin piña coladas (which means strained pineapple). It was made fresh as I stood there and it wasn’t too sweet which was perfect for me. If I had a bottle of rum (should have bought some at the distillery!) I would have certainly added some as I don’t believe in virgin anything 😉 (Yes, I am only referring to alcoholic drinks).
One obsession that I had while visiting Puerto Rico was to find Dominican cake. I visited several bakeries thinking that surely there were enough Dominicans in Puerto Rico that Dominican cake was somewhere to be found. Pipe dream! Alas, I that craving was not fulfilled during this trip but I did come across some neat cakes with light whipped toppings and some fun pastries that led to vacation weight gain.
Pictured above are rice, beans, tostones (green fried plantains), fried batata (a type of yam), and fall-off-the-bone-flaky ribs. Like many other Latin cultures, the heavier meal is eaten at noon while dinner tends to be lighter. Many eateries will serve the dish below or a combination of that for lunch. Yum-o!
One of my favorite places that we visited was Reposteria España, a Spanish bakery, that serves pastries, sandwiches, soups, wines, and sells Spanish products. During our visit the place was just hopping and it brought back childhood memories as my dad used to take us to a similar place in the Dominican Republic. During my visit there I had a glass of wine (they have a nice selection), and a media noche. This sandwich is a cousin to the famous cuban sandwich but the main distinction is in the type of bread used.
I have always liked coquito (coconut eggnog) but the varieties found in Puerto Rico were so creative that I just had to come home with a bottle or two. The one pictured below is pistachio coquito. It was just like drinking a milkshake. A very dangerous one that will have you tipsy before you know it!
Of honorable mention is the arroz con gandules dish, which is pigeon peas cooked with rice. I don’t have a picture cause I accidentally ate all of it before I had a chance to take a picture (sowwy, this happens a lot). This is certainly one of those dishes that are not to be missed on a visit to Puerto Rico. If you have never had pigeon peas the closest I can describe the flavor is to a mix of chickpeas and black beans. I promise that it is delicious!