By Joshua Rivero
Definitely one of, if not the best part about traveling is trying out unique dishes that are native to that destination. Puerto Rico in particular is rich in food influenced from multiple backgrounds, making the cuisine even more special.
If you’re passionate about eating new food and plan to visit this beautiful island, here are 10 Puerto Rican dishes you must try!
1. Arroz con Guandules
Bursting with flavor and creamy to the point of astonishment, this dish is Puerto Rico’s famous edition of the good ole’ rice and beans combo — a staple in almost every Latin American cuisine. Arroz con Guandules is rather plain in perspective as it can appear to just be rice and beans. However, the magic comes from the unique combination of dozens of different spices for maximum flavor, coconut milk for added richness, and lots of cilantro. Want to know what makes this dish even more distinct? As the name suggests, this dish uses guandules (pigeon peas) which are a special type of legume.
2. Fried Plantains
While frying plantains isn’t exclusive to Puerto Rico, there are two very common and delicious ways to enjoy them. The first is called tostones, which is savory. This version of fried plantains involves immersing thick slices of plantains in water, salt, and garlic, then frying them until soft. They are then smashed and deep-fried again. Second, we have amarillos. This version submerges ripe plantains in piping hot oil until the exterior is charred black, leaving the inside mushy and sweet.
A rather popular dish seen in family gatherings and holiday celebrations are Pasteles. These cute and tasty handheld delights start off with masa (dough) made from root vegetables and plantains. The dough is then filled with either stewed meat or more vegetables for a vegetarian/vegan option, then wrapped in a banana leaf to cook.
If you’re a fan of plantains but want to try them in new, innovative ways, then Mofongo is definitely for you. For this dish, plantains are pickled until green then fried in olive oil, garlic, salt, and vegetable broth. Mofongo can be eaten alone or with other foods such as vegetables or soup.
5. Pina Colada
Have you ever tried a Pina Colada before? They’re a great way to cool off and beat the heat by combining different tropical fruits and juices into a refreshing and (sometimes) boozy slushie. Pina Coladas were made the official drink of Puerto Rico in 1978 and can be found everywhere.
We’ve made it to the first pastry of this list, and this one is sure to make your mouth water.
Quesito is a play on words – Queso means cheese in Spanish, the ‘ito’ at the end is a diminutive that indicates smallness or cuteness — which makes sense considering these tiny pastries can fit into the palm of your hand. Quesitos are delectably crunchy pastries typically stuffed with some kind of cheese. The most popular is cream cheese which you can find at local shops or stalls, usually decorated with powdered sugar. Other editions of the quesito involve stuffing this pastry with salted caramel, meats, fruits, or more cheese.
Being that they’re surrounded by enormous seas, it’s no surprise that seafood plays an essential role in Puerto Rican cuisine. For the seafood lover out there, stop by a local stall to pick up some bacalaitos. These finger foods are kind of like an oceanic pancake. They’re made from cod which is salted and boiled overnight, then fried to greasy perfection in a milk and flour batter.
Got a sweet tooth, but don’t like desserts that are overly-decadent? Don’t worry, Puerto Rico has you covered with their world-famous Tembleque.
Tembleque is a pudding that's made by boiling coconut milk in a saucepan with sugar, salt, and cinnamon. A cornstarch slurry is added in as a binding agent, then the mixture is refrigerated for up to two days. Top it off with more cinnamon for a sweet and simple dessert, naturally vegan!
Another deep-fried treat you’ll likely find along the seaside of Puerto Rico is Frituras. These long treats are oval-shaped and come stuffed with some type of seafood, meat, or even vegetables and rice. Paired with a cold beer or an iced tea, this grab-and-go delight makes for an evening reward.
10. Pan de Mallorca
Perfectly paired with coffee, mallorca is a sweet bread made in the shape of a snail shell and topped with powdered sugar. Interestingly, this bread originated on the island of Majorca in Spain, though quickly and efficiently made its way to Puerto Rico.