Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Fri April 15 2016

Opinion Home | Far-Sighted Field Notes

  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | April 15, 2016 11:00 PM ET

    Pork Delights: 5 Classic Puerto Rican Dishes

    Pork Delights: 5 Classic Puerto Rican Dishes

    PHOTO: Lechon, Puerto Rico's national dish. (photo courtesy of Thinkstock)

    The rum and lovely landscape of waterfalls and rainforests may steal all of the glory in Puerto Rico but savvy travelers should know that this American territory is also a foodie dreamland. From the cobblestone streets of San Juan to the pearly sand beaches of Culebra, there is always a sampling of the island’s hearty cuisine wherever you go.

    Puerto Rico’s annual food festival, Saborea, is considered one of the best in the Caribbean, bringing together a medley of cooking demos, chef creations and beach eats. In honor of the just-completed fest, I’ve collected some of the most essential Puerto Rican dishes that every visitor should try. Pork is a major component for most traditional offerings and the preparations are so savory that they have often tempted me to give up my two-decade ban on red meat. Intensely seasoned and filled with rich features, Puerto Rican cuisine is not recommended for dieters, but it’s a must for culinary explorers.

    READ MORE: The Rise of Puerto Rico’s Bed and Breakfasts


    As ubiquitous as the strain of salsa music you hear everywhere on the island, Mofongo is the signature dish of Puerto Rico. Made from island staples of fried green plantains and pork cracklings, the plantains are mashed in a pilon (mortar and pestle) and flavored with seasoning and broth. Mofongo typically accompanies stews and the equally beloved Lechon (roast pig) but it can also be filled with meat and seafood and served as a main dish. Mofongo is closely related to the West African dish, fufu that is similarly made from pounded cassava. Enslaved Africans brought over the recipe during the 16th century, making it one of the island’s oldest traditional dishes.


    In case you haven’t figured it out, Puerto Ricans love their pork. And no meal celebrates this love quite like lechon. A suckling pig is adoringly rubbed with herbs and spices and roasted on a spit for six to eight hours for tender meat and crackly skin. Lechon is Puerto Rico’s national dish and lechoneras or lechon restaurants, dot the streets all over the island. But it’s the lechoneras in Guavate, a neighborhood in the town of Cayey, about an hour south of San Juan, that are most noted for the best lechon.

    Arroz Con Gandules

    Yes, every island has their version of rice and beans but this take is especially flavorful. The secret? Lard of course, as well as copious amounts of sofrito, an essential and aromatic blend of cilantro, peppers, onions and garlic that’s the foundation for many Puerto Rican dishes. With this version, the rice is mixed with pigeon peas and paired with just about everything. If you’re a semi-vegetarian like me, it can also serve as a main dish, but good luck on finding a cook that will leave out the lard.


    Although you can find this bloody treat all over the world, most notably in Spain, which originally delivered the dish to the island, blood sausage is really popular in Puerto Rico. You’ll see it in restaurants and in bars, served with a side of tostones. Besides being filled with blood, Puerto Ricans also stuff the sausage with rice, peppers and cilantro.

    READ MORE: Puerto Rico Expanding Posadas Program with New $3.8 Million Hotel


    Although it doesn’t seem like there’s any part of the pig left, there is actually an important section for Puerto Rican cuisine to serve up. Roasted pork shoulder or pernil, is a classic Christmas dish and overall party dish that you’ll see featured on many dinner menus. The meat is marinated overnights and roasted for hours until the skin is crispy and hard, which is pernil’s most addictive feature.


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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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