Puerto Rico has one of the longest Christmas seasons in the world. It starts in late November and keeps going all the way to mid-January. These months of festivities include music, spending time with loved ones, and, of course, delicious food. Some of the following seven dishes may seem unusual to visitors, but they’re part of Puerto Rican tradition and have great cultural and culinary significance. Plus, they’re so good they’ll make you wish the season lasted even longer.
Not to be confused with cakes, which are called pasteles in some Spanish-speaking countries, this dish isn’t a dessert. The stuffing usually includes meat such as chicken or pork, and the outside is a dough-like substance, made mostly of yucca or green banana. Once the stuffing and dough have been assembled, it’s covered in banana leaves and baked or boiled until ready. The plantain leaves aren’t for eating, so remember to peel them off before tucking into your meal.
A spit-roast whole pork just screams Christmastime in Puerto Rico. One of the best places to buy spit-roast pork, during the holidays and year-round too, is Guavate, sometimes called the “Pork Highway.” It’s also common for locals to spit roast pork at home. Many holiday dishes feature pork, lechon, but spit-roast pork is extra special.
Called coquito because its main ingredient is the coconut, or coco in Spanish, this Puerto Rican drink is a bit like a coconut eggnog. There are many flavors of coquito, but there are certain ingredients that are always part of the recipe: delicious Puerto Rican rum, coconut cream, condensed milk, egg yolks and cinnamon.
Morcillas are stuffed blood sausages, but don’t let that out you off. The stuffing usually consists of ingredients such as rice, peppers and garlic. The sausage casing is stuffed, everything is boiled, and afterwards many cooks fry the stuffed casing until perfection. Morcillas are often served with white rice.
Arroz con Gandules
Although it’s eaten at Christmas, it’s not uncommon to eat arroz con gandules (rice and pigeon peas) throughout the year in Puerto Rico, where the dish is greatly enjoyed. It’s usually served with an accompanying meat and eaten for lunch or dinner. Ingredients include sofrito (an aromatic sauce), tomato sauce, and of course, rice and pigeon peas.
Puerto Rico’s moonshine, pitorro is the most popular drink at Christmastime, along with coquito. It has been produced on the island for centuries, and it goes by several names, including “lagrima de la montaña” (tears of the mountain). Pitorro is created by mixing fruit with alcohol and storing it in a container in the dark, sometimes underground. Remember to enjoy alcohol responsibly, because this homemade drink can really pack a punch.
Guineo en Escabeche
This dish contains banana, bay leaves, peppers, and onions, among other key ingredients. Since guineo en escabeche isn’t a dish that automatically includes meat, it’s a good option for vegetarians during the holiday.