The cuisines of Spain, Taíno and Arawaks Amerindians, and parts of the African continent a have had an impact on how food is prepared in Puerto Rico. Although Puerto Rican cooking is somewhat similar to both Spanish and Latin American cuisine, it is a unique tasty blend of influences, using indigenous seasonings and ingredients. Locals call their cuisine "cocina criolla". The traditional Puerto Rican cuisine was well established by the end of the nineteenth century. By 1848 the first restaurant, La Mallorquina, opened in Old San Juan. El Cocinero Puertorriqueño, the island's first cookbook was published in 1849.
Puerto Rican dishes are well seasoned with combinations of flavourful spices. The base of many Puerto Rican main dishes involves sofrito, similar to the mirepoix of French cooking, or the "trinity" of Creole cooking. A proper sofrito is a sauté of freshly ground garlic, tomatoes, onions, recao/culantro, cilantro, red peppers, cachucha and cubanelle peppers. Sofrito is traditionally cooked with olive oil or annatto oil, tocino (bacon), salted pork and cured ham. A mix of stuffed olives and capers called alcaparrado are usually added with spices such as bay leaf, cumin, sazón and adobo.
Some of Puerto Rico's traditional dishes include:
Alcapurrias: These are made from a mixture of mainly yautía and may contain ground squash, plantains, green banana and other starchy tropical tubers filled with ground beef or crab meat and deep fried in oil.
Arepas/Domplines: These are fried rounds of flour-based dough. Sometimes they can contain coconut (known as arepas de coco). They are sometimes stuffed with seafood. This dish is particular to the Eastern and Southern parts of Puerto Rico.
Arroz con gandules: It is a yellow-rice-and-pigeon-pea dish with alcaparrado (capers and olives stuffed with red peppers), and pieces of meat (bacon, smoked ham, smoked turkey or chorizo). The spices and seasoning usually include of cumin, bay leaf, annatto oil, sofrito, banana leaf, dry oregano, thyme and stock. This is Puerto Rico's national dish.
Arroz con habichuelas: Literally "rice and beans", this dish is so common that the phrase "rice and beans" means essentially the same as "our daily bread" in northern countries. Pink and red beans are the most common. The beans are cooked together with recaito base, stock, chunks of ham, potatoes and/or calabaza (tropical pumpkin), alcaparrado, tomatoes sauce (to thicken stew), and flavoured with spices. When done the beans are then ladled over a mound of rice. Sticky medium-grained rice is more popular in Puerto Rico than long grain rice.
Arroz con pollo: Chicken with yellow rice. Chicken and rice are cooked in one pot. Basic arroz con pollo in Puerto Rico is seasoned with sofrito, adobo, olives, capers, paprika, Spanish chorizo and slowly cooked with beer, white wine, stock or water and garnish with sweet peas and carrots.
Bacalaítos: These are fritters made from a pancake-like batter containing codfish, flour, and seasoning.
Cuajitos en salsa: Puerto Rican dish made with pork belly in a red hot sauce.
Empanadillas de carne/mariscos/queso/guava: Meat, seafood, cheese, or fruit turnovers usually called "empanadas" in other Spanish-speaking countries. On the eastern side of the island empanadillas are known as pastelillos, although pastelillo also refers to a pastry turnover.
Mofongo: A popular dish made from fried green plantains or fried yuca, seasoned with garlic, olive oil and pork cracklings, then mashed. Mofongo is usually served with a fried meat and a chicken broth soup.
Sancocho de patitas: Hearty pork feet stew with starchy vegetables, plantains, and garbanzo beans.
Sorullos: Fried corn meal logs, much like little tamales, sometimes stuffed with cheese.
Tostones: Twice fried plantains originated in the south of Puerto Rico. They are now a popular dish all over Latin America and Caribbean.
On certain coastal towns of the island, such as Luquillo, Fajardo, and Cabo Rojo, seafood is quite popular, although much of it is imported. Only a tiny number of fishermen ply the waters off Puerto Rico today, and their catch never leaves their seacoast towns. The fact that the island sits next to the deepest part of the Atlantic means there is no wide continental shelf to foster a rich offshore fishery; neither are there any large rivers to dump extra nutrients into the sea that could build up a fish population. Popular seafood include bacalao (codfish), chapín (tropical fish), pulpo (octopus, not always canned), carrucho (conch), camarones (shrimp), langosta (lobster), and jueyes (crabs).
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