Beach culture, Friendly faces and Amazing Food Courtesy of Puerto Rico
We spent a couple of days in Old San Juan, visiting the forts and walking along the cobblestone streets, dancing & drinking. Two standout experiences included dinner at the Parrot Club on Fortaleza which served up classic Latino dishes & dinner at Latin Roots, a more casual Lechonera (specializing in roasted pork) that offered live salsa music & dancing during the after-dinner hours. The Parrot Club really delivered superior service, the waiter was quite possibly the most attentive I’ve ever experienced. The setting did seem a little bit more Havana, Cuba (palm plants & typical plaza-like setting) than Puerto Rico, but didn’t detract from the excellent dining experience. I had some sort of shrimp dish while Jeff opted for the winning mofongo, which I eyed with jealousy the entire meal. (My coveting someone else’s food is a common occurrence)
Latin Roots, the most suggested lechonera in Old San Juan did not disappoint. They have a room devoted to roasting a whole pig over an open flame with their restaurant sitting adjacent. We stared at the pig upon entering knowing exactly what we were ordering. This traditional style of roasting stems from the town in Puerto Rico known as Guavate where dozens of kiosks line the road ALL serving roasted pig or lechon. The pig is slow roasted for 6-8 hours ensuring a seasoned flavor that is moist and tender but with a crispy skin! People drive from all over the island for this perfect lechon, but since I did not rent a car, Latin Roots became our option. Jeff & I both had the lechon platter with two local root vegetables, I chose Yuca and Yautia. Both vegetables are tubers and have a potato-like consistency, the Yautia having a slight nutty flavor. Mmmm carbohydrate-y. The lechon was phenomenal, really just perfect with just the right amount of crispy skin, served alongside arroz con gandules (rice & pigeon peas). We also ordered mojitos that were perfectly mixed and muddled, beautiful looking & refreshing alongside the pork and heavy root vegetables. Looking at our cleaned plates we both knew that a pork dish like this would not likely be in our near future again for some time.
On Saturday, we headed along PR’s north coast to Pinones an area known for a beautiful stretch of beach and dozens of little food Kiosks. Pinones was about ten minutes away from our hotel area but the difference in locations was unreal. Pinones is more rustic, the beaches a little more secluded with a foot trail through mangroves & rock formations lining the road. There are two lagoons in Pinones where the locals harvest crabs, clams & oysters, which become the main ingredient in most of the food they make.
Originally home to refugee freed slaves, Pinones is an area that has stood still in time, reminiscent of a Puerto Rico lifestyle that existed prior to tourism development. The battered shacks serve up a variety Afro-Caribbean artery clogging food specialties, with each deep fried delight not costing more that $2 to $3 dollars.
The food is all cooked by women who look like mothers and grandmothers on open flames in giant kettles. It was here where I got my fix! Excellent, giant bacalaitos (cod fritters) and crab stuffed alcapurrias (fried tube shaped snack made of a mixture of plantains, yautia, and stuffed with meat or fish). We ate & ate and hung up our hats on fried food afterwards!
What else? Travel outside any major (or minor) city in Puerto Rico and be sure to stop along the roadside shacks for traditional Puerto Rican favorites. Outside of El Yunque
I gorged myself on amazing pasteles (a tamale-like loaf made with plantain and root vegetable paste & seasoned meat mixture stuffed and wrapped in either banana leaves or parchment paper), freshly cut coconut & more alcapurrias.
We also stopped along the highways to pick up fresh local fruit and came back from Areceibo with tiny, super ripe pineapples, mamey (a cross between a cantaloupe & sweet potato), mini bananas (which are sweeter) & mangoes by the dozen all purchased inside a broke down bus on the side of the road.
I have no doubt that the majority of the fruit had come from the vendor’s own backyard! But it was fantastic and we had fresh fruit for breakfast & dessert whenever we felt like it back at the hotel!
Overall, the trip was exactly what we needed- the perfect balance of sightseeing, sunbathing, eating and relaxing. I left with some local recipes for mofongo, which I plan on attempting. We’ll have to see how that goes! I’m not sure it will be quite the same minus the sunshine… *sighs*
Oh, one other thing I discovered! Remember that annoying Daddy Yankee Raggaeton song from a few years ago? Gasolina actually refers to these CapriSun like pouches that are premixed alcoholic beverages, packaged complete with their own straw inside! The alcohol content going up to 11% on certain varieties! I know, my mind is blown too! It all makes sense now!