Puerto Rican Cuisine
People Taste Test Puerto Rican Food
Mofongo – “That sounds like an elephant in a Disney movie.”
Puerto Rican cuisine has its roots in the cooking traditions and practices of Europe (Spain), Africa and the Amerindian Taínos. In the latter part of the 19th century, the cuisine of Puerto Rico was greatly influenced by the United States in the ingredients used in its preparation. Puerto Rican cuisine has transcended the boundaries of the island, and can be found in several countries outside the archipelago.
The cuisines of Spain, Taíno and Arawaks Amerindians, and parts of the African continent 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.
Taino Amerindian influences
From the diet of the Taíno (culturally related with the Maya and Carib peoples of Central America and the Caribbean), and Arawak people come many tropical roots and tubers like yautía (taro) and especially Yuca (cassava), from which thin cracker-like casabebread is made. Ajicito or cachucha pepper, a slightly hot habanero pepper, recao/culantro (spiny leaf), achiote (annatto), peppers, ají caballero (the hottest pepper native to Puerto Rico), peanuts, guavas, pineapples, jicacos (cocoplum), quenepas (mamoncillo), lerenes (Guinea arrowroot), calabazas (tropical pumpkins), and guanabanas (soursops) are all Taíno foods. The Taínos also grew varieties of beans and some maíz (corn/maize), but maíz was not as dominant in their cooking as it was for the peoples living on the mainland of Mesoamerica. This is due to the frequent hurricanes that Puerto Rico experiences, which destroy crops of maíz, leaving more safeguarded plants like conucos (hills of yuca grown together).
Spanish / European influence is also seen in Puerto Rican cuisine. Wheat, chickpeas(garbanzos), capers, olives, olive oil, black pepper, onions, garlic, cilantrillo (cilantro),oregano, basil, sugarcane, citrus fruit, eggplant, ham, lard, chicken, beef, pork, and cheese all came to Borikén (Puerto Rico‘s Amerindian name) from Spain. The tradition of cooking complex stews and rice dishes in pots such as rice and beans are also thought to be originally European (much like Italians, Spaniards, and the British). Early Dutch, French, Italian, and Chinese immigrants influenced not only the culture but Puerto Rican cooking as well. This great variety of traditions came together to form La Cocina Criolla.
Coconuts, coffee (brought by the Arabs and Corsos to Yauco from Kafa, Ethiopia), okra,yams, sesame seeds, gandules (pigeon peas in English) sweet bananas, plantains, other root vegetables and Guinea hen, all come to Puerto Rico from Africa. African slaves introduced the deep-frying of food.
United States influence – Cuisine of the United States
The American influence on the way Puerto Ricans cook their meals came about after Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States as a result of the Treaty of Paris of 1916. The most significant has to do with how people fry food. The early Spaniards brought olive oil for cooking and frying, but importing it from Spain made it very expensive, and cooks on the island shifted over to lard, which could be produced locally. For 50 to 60 years, corn oil produced in the United States took the place of lard for making cuchifritos and alcapurrias.
Galletas de soda (soda crackers in tins, popularly known as export sodas from a popular brand name) are an American product of the 19th and early 20th centuries that reproduce the crunchy texture of the earlier casabe bread, and can be kept crunchy in the tins in high tropical humidity.
Parcha, Puerto Rican name for Passiflora edulis, passion fruit.
American bacon has also played a big part in Puerto Rican cuisine. It is used in rice, stewed beans, and to stuff mofongo and meats such as whole chicken and the breast. Bacon in Puerto Rico has found its way into traditional foods such as arroz con gandulesand potato salad.
South America influence
Other foods native to Latino America were brought to the island with the Spanish trade, such as cocoa, avocado, tomatoes, chayote, papaya, bell peppers and vanilla from Mexico and Central America. Potatoes and passion fruit were also brought over by the Spanish or Portuguese from Peru and Brazil.
Panapén (breadfruit) was first imported into the British Caribbean colonies from the South Pacific as cheap slave food in the late 18th century. After spreading throughout the Antilles, panapén has also become an indispensable part of the Puerto Rican repertoire, both in puddings and crunchy, deep-fried tostones.
Canned Corned Beef stew
Pasta – Using Puerto Rican seasonings and meats.
Salchichas (canned Vienna sausages) – They were introduced in 1898. Today, they are scrambled with eggs and cooked in other dishes. Very popular cooked in rice as Arroz con Salchichas or stewed separately and served with white rice as Salchichas Guisadas (sausage stew).
Grains and legumes
- Black beans
- White beans (navy beans)
- Lima beans
- Gandules – Pigeon peas
- Garbanzo beans
- Green beans
- Green peas
- Kidney beans
- Pink beans
- Pinto beans
- Bay leaves – Laurel
- Orégano brujo – Plectranthus amboinicus. Puerto Rican wild oregano. This oregano, with its distinctive pungent aroma, grows wild on the island. It is mainly used dry, and is a key ingredient in adobo seco and adobo mojado.
- Culantro – Eryngium foetidum. Mexican coriander – 10 times the flavor of Cilantro.
- Caribbean thyme/Tomillo – Same flavor as English thyme, but 10 times stronger.
Starchy tropical tubers
Yuca, Puerto Rican name for cassava.
- Apio – Root vegetable (from the legume Apios tuberosa / Apios americana), eaten like potatoes. Not to be confused with celeriac.
- Batata (Sweet Potato)
- Yautía – Taro
- Yuca – Similar to a potato but starchier. Usually boiled or fried.
Ajíes Caballero / Caballero chili peppers
- Ajicitos – Capsicum chinense – Better known as Ají Dulce; Habanero pepper’s mild cousin.
- Ají caballero – A very hot pepper native to Puerto Rico. Also known as Puerto Rican Jelly Bean Hot Chili Pepper.
- Bell peppers
- Cubanelle peppers
- Eggplant (Berenjena)
- Green onions
- West Indian pumpkin
Meats and poultry
- Butifarra – Puerto Rican grilled sausage.
- Corned beef
- Guinea hen
- Morcilla – Moronga
- Salchichon – Puerto Rican salami
Seafood and shellfish
- Chapín (Trunkfish)
- Chillo (Pargo) – Puerto Rican Red Snapper
- Dried and salted cod
- Mahi-mahi (Dorado)
- Spiny lobster
- Tuna fish
- West Indian Great Land Crab