Probably the most well-known dish on this list, mofongo is made from fried green plantains, lots of garlic and some kind of chicharrones (fried pork bits), either from a lechonera (roasted pig) or store-bought pork rinds. To make it in true Puerto Rican fashion, the fried plantains, garlic and chicharrones must be mashed together in a pilón (a mortar and pestle), though it’s much easier to combine the ingredients in a food processor, adding oil to make the mixture moist and help it bind. Mofongo is typically served by itself in a shaped mound or sometimes formed into small balls, fried and served (this method is sometimes called mofonguito). This amazing dish gets even better when it is molded around the pilón and then stuffed with pork, chicken, beef or seafood and a variety of sauces to make mofongo relleno.
Asopao is a savory stew that is similar to gumbo, or a cross between soup and paella. It can be made with just about any kind of meat but is traditionally made with chicken. Asopao is a traditional holiday dish that, according to Pastor Thea L. Racelis in her article Puerto Rican Christmas Means Asopao and Resistance, symbolizes ‘abundance, hope and resistance.’
While it may seem that the temperate climate of Puerto Rico would not be conducive to enjoying a hot soup or stew, these are actually quite commonly eaten. Sancocho is a wonderful comfort food made of green bananas, green plantains, and several root vegetables like sweet potato, white potato, yucca and taro, varieties of squash such as chayote (pear squash) and pumpkin. Beef is usually added as the meat, but the soup can also be made with pork or chicken.
Like tamales, pasteles are made of a masa (mash of green plantain, green banana, taro, pumpkin and potato) that is stuffed with a savory meat or vegetable filling and wrapped in green banana leaves. The pastel is then tightly wrapped in parchment paper along with another pastel to prevent water from seeping inside and then boiled. To many Puerto Ricans, pasteles are the taste of Christmas, but they can be found year-round.
Pincho is the Spanish word for spike, and these treats are named after the skewers on which they are cooked. In Puerto Rico, if there is an empty corner available, someone will probably use it to open a pincho stand. These little delights are made of grilled and marinated meat and it’ll be hard to eat just one. The most commonly found pinchos are of chicken and pork, but sometimes beef, shrimp and even shark can be found.
As with pinchos, stands selling frituras (fritters) can be found in Puerto Rico on every corner, restaurant and front yard where you can also indulge in empanadillas, bacalaitos, sorullos de maiz and alcapurrias. Alcapurrias are made of a dough of green plantains mixed with yautía (taro) which has been seasoned with achiote (an orange-red condiment called annatto). Alcapurrias are often filled with ground beef and green pepper seasoned with sofrito, but the filling can be as creative as the chef desires.
Empanadillas are filled pastries made with a flour dough, much like pasteles and alcapurrias. Popular fillings include ground beef, chicken, ham and cheese, chili, seafood and even rabbit.
Arroz con habichuelas
A plate of rice and beans is a simple staple that is served with every meal—it can be a delicious side dish or a meal on its own.
Pernil is a leaner alternative to lechonera (roasted pork) and made when a pork leg or shoulder is sliced and rubbed with a mixture of crushed garlic, black pepper, oregano and olive oil. It’s then wrapped in plastic wrap and marinated for at least 24 hours before being slow-roasted to a juicy decadence.
Every great meal must end with a great dessert. Flan is a traditional Puerto Rican dessert that is creamy, like a custard or cheesecake, and covered in a homemade caramel sauce. Though vanilla is the original flavor, you can also find flans that tase like cream cheese, coconut and Nutella, just to name a few.