Top 25 Foods of Puerto Rico – Best Puerto Rican Dishes
Puerto Rico is known as La Isla del Encanto (the Island of Enchantment), which might explain why it is such a popular travel destination. It is distinguished by its pristine beaches, lush mountain tops, and exceptional food.
Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States and as such is highly influenced by American culture. But despite this, it has retained many of its cultural and historical values. This can be seen in the numerous and varied dishes that the Island has to offer.
Puerto Rico: A brief history of its food
This island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea is distinguished for its rhythm and its flavor. And that certainly doesn’t just describe the people who inhabit; it is also about the many Puerto Rican dishes.
Puerto Rican cuisine is characterized by its colorful and seasoned dishes that bring a savory (not to be confused with spicy!) touch to every meal. Even though many American eateries can be found in Puerto Rico (the island is full of McDonald’s, Burger King, and the like), the local food is a connection to the historical context that the island has gone through and to its culture.
Through the typical food that Puerto Rico has to offer, you can taste the juxtaposition of three different cultures: the Taíno, the African, and the Spanish. The Taíno were the first people Christopher Columbus met when he arrived in 1492, at time when there were no large animals on the island. Their diet was restricted to vegetables, fruit, small mammals, and, without large mammals to hunt, they became skilled fishers.
The Spanish brought with them wheat, chickpeas, onions, garlic, herbs, and, of course, olive oil, an essential ingredient in Puerto Rican cooking. From Africa came coconut, rice, plantain, cassava, tamarind, and more and with the African slaves came deep-frying: hence, cuchifritos. This melting pot of civilizations can be experienced in Puerto Rican cuisine today and many of these imported foods form the staples of its gastronomy.
The following are some of the most popular Puerto Rican dishes that you should not miss in your next Island adventure:
Puerto Rican Deep-Fried Dishes
If you ever find yourself in Puerto Rico, the chances are that you will make a stop at the beach. In beachside places like Piñones or Luquillo, you will find the typical chinchorro or beach kiosk where frituras or deep-fried foods are the main dishes accompanied with coconut water or a cold beer.
When heading into Piñones the first thing that hits you is not the smell of the ocean, but of the frituras. Kiosks filled with fried food line the two-way street that borders the beach. What makes these kiosks genuine is that most of the food is made over a wood fire, bringing out the true flavor of these fried dishes.
Made from green plantains and yautía (taro root), this ‘dough’ is often filled with stewed crab meat, ground beef, chicken, and even seafood. Once stuffed, it is fried in a large pan filled with hot oil over an open wood fire until golden brown.
These cod fritters are usually served at beach kiosks, but can also be found at road-side establishments and at cultural festivals. Like the alcapurria, they are fried in hot oil, resulting in a crispy coating and a soft but chewy center.
Puerto Rican Plantain Dishes
Plantain is a key ingredient in various Puerto Rican meals. This versatile element is the star of many dishes ranging from savory to sweet.
The easiest of all the plantain-based dishes, for which you need only a green plantain and you are good to go. This side dish is made by peeling and cutting the plantain into small slices. You can leave them in a saltwater bath for a few minutes before frying for added flavor. Once fried in hot oil, they are squashed with a tostonera and fried once more until crispy and golden. Tostones are best eaten with a mayo-ketchup dipping sauce. They can be eaten alone or topped with chicken, meat, or seafood.
If you are not a fan of salty and savory, then the sweet version of the tostón may be your flavor. The difference is that it is made from a ripe plantain (one that has yellowed) that is peeled, sliced, and fried only once. Even though it is a sweet alternative, amarillos are often a side dish to the main course.
This is made from a ripe plantain. Once sliced and fried, it is rolled into a sort of recipient for the meat filling. With an egg wash and grated cheese sprinkled over, it is put in the oven. The outcome is a sort of Puerto Rican meat pie.
Classified as the ‘Puerto Rican plantain lasagna’, this is a mixture of sweet and savory. The dish combines fried ripe plantain with layers of ground beef for a unique flavor.
7. Guineítos en Escabeche
This is often a side to a rice dish, roasted pork, or any other meat. The guineítos consists of boiled green bananas that are marinated in a mixture of olive oil, vinegar, garlic, olives, and sauteed onions.
The king of all the plantain-based dishes, this is a centerpiece of Puerto Rican food. It is made out of fried green plantains that are mashed and seasoned with garlic and olive oil. Mofongo is usually topped off with chicken, meat, and even shrimp! A true volcano of flavors, and can be found anywhere across the island and is often accompanied by a side of white rice.
9. Guanimes con Bacalao
A dish with a Taíno ancestry, these are part of a typical Puerto Rican meal. The guanime is made from cornflour and coconut milk. This is mixed together until it forms a masa dough and is molded over a plantain leaf and tied off before boiling. It is served alongside stewed cod.
Puerto Rican Rice Dishes
Rice is another staple ingredient in Puerto Rican households and can be rearranged to be included in many main dishes and even desserts.
10. Arroz Mamposteao’
This white rice and red kidney bean variety includes the key element of sofrito. Anyone who grew up in a Puerto Rican home, knows that there is always a butter tub filled with a green paste. This sofrito is mainly made out of a mixture of peppers, onions, garlic, peppers, culantro, and cilantro. This mixture is what gives this rice dish that extra savory kick along with the sauteed diced ham.
11. Arroz Blanco con Habichuelas y Carne Frita
Rice and beans are a staple meal in any Puerto Rican household and is often served with meat, for example fried pork chops.
12. Arroz con Gandules
Rice with pigeon peas seasoned with sofrito is a staple dish served during family gatherings, Thanksgiving, and Christmas time.
13. Arroz con Dulce
Arroz con dulce means sweet rice and it is a Puerto Rican rice pudding that has a coconut base. It is a typical dessert during the holidays.
Puerto Rican Soups
A good soup is comfort food on a rainy day or when you’re feeling under the weather. Many Puerto Ricans will recall their grandmother serving them soup when they were sick. And as luck would have it, these are often sopa revive muertos, which is to say, soups that can raise the dead.
14. Asopao de Camarones
This soup is characterized by its main ingredient: shrimp. It is made in a stew with sofrito, onion, peppers, garlic, tomato sauce, and rice. A hearty meal that is often accompanied by a slice of avocado.
15. Sopón de Gandules
A bowl of hot pigeon pea soup will lift any spirit and have you sweating in no time. Like the shrimp soup, it can have a side of avocado or small balls of plantain can also be added to the stew.
Puerto Rican Pastries
Many of these pastries can be found in the local panadería, which is akin to a coffee shop and bakery, where you can grab a ham and cheese sandwich and a cup of café con leche.
16. Pastelillos de Guayaba
Also known as guava turnovers, these are a type of filo pastry filled with guava paste and served sprinkled with sugar.
17. Brazo Gitano
Brazo gitano means ‘gypsy arm’ and is a sort of rolled sponge cake that has a guava jelly filling and is sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. Even though it is not a purely Puerto Rican creation, its roots in Puerto Rico can be traced to Mayagüez on the west coast of the island.
This puff pastry is a throw back to the European history that is inherent in the island. This light and flaky dessert has a sweet honey outer coating and is filled with cream cheese. It usually served as a coffee break treat and is best when accompanied by café con leche (coffee with milk).
Mallorcas are a sort of Puerto Rican sweet roll with powdered sugar. You can get them at a panadería. As a sandwich, it ranges from the most basic of a plain mallorca with butter to the breakfast staple mallorca with ham, cheese, and scrambled eggs.
Puerto Rican Christmas Dishes
Christmas is one of the most popular and highly celebrated holidays across Puerto Rico. It is packed with many festivities that tend to start after Thanksgiving and last until the eight days after Three Kings Day, better known as las Octavitas. Christmas marks a time not only of celebration but also of togetherness. This is also the time of year where many Diasporicans (Puerto Ricans that live outside the island) return home for the holidays to celebrate with loved ones what is probably the longest Christmas in the world. Tsupehis means that a variety of food has to be provided to fuel all that jolgorio (merriness).
Christmas dishes consist mainly of four ingredients: coconut milk, vanilla extract, sugar, and cinnamon. Believe it or not, there are infinite versions of this combination, the epitome being Coquito.
Coquito is more than your regular old eggnog; it has a coconut cream and rum base, and some variants are even made with Nutella and pistachio for added flavor. Best served cold, this Puerto Rican Christmas beverage will have you singing aguinaldos (Puerto Rican Christmas songs) around your living room in no time.
21. Pernil Asado
A traditional plate served around Christmas time, but can also be found in the mountainside of Cayey in the lechoneras of Guavate. This seasoned pork piece is slow-cooked and left in the oven for a few hours until the cuerito or rind is nice and crispy.
Puerto Rican blood sausage is a Christmas tradition but is also served throughout the year in Guavate. It consists of a pork casing filled with pig’s blood, cooked rice, garlic, and other spices.
Made with green plantain and yuca (cassava), this can be likened to the Mexican tamale. If you are ever lucky enough to be in Puerto Rico during Christmas time, you will get to taste this delicacy. It is usually filled with chicken, salted cod, or other meats. Pasteles can be accompanied by the arroz con gandules, see above, and pork.
24. Tres Leche
This Puerto Rican sponge cake is made with, you guessed it, three different types of milk: evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and full-fat milk. The result is an airy and moist cake with a whipped cream topping.
This coconut milk-based pudding means ‘jiggly’ and is a traditional Puerto Rican Christmas dessert that is often sprinkled with cinnamon.
If your next holiday or escapade ends up being in Puerto Rico, remember that it is not only an island paradise but a melting pot of cultures. Despite it being an American territory, it continues to be rooted in its Caribbean and Latino American identity. The food is certainly a representation of family gatherings and a way to taste that connection to culture.