Monday, April 26, 2010

The Food of Puerto Rico

I could summarize this post by saying the food was spectacular, but that wouldn't be fair to the cuisine itself nor would I be able to justify the photos! Going into the trip, I was pumped up for the food options we would have all around us. Little did I know, the food was not at all like what I thought would be Mexican food. That was heartbreaking at first, BUT I soon learned the actual cuisine is influenced by Spanish/European, Taino Amerindian, African, US and South American cultures. The true Puerto Rican restaurants had a lot of seafood options (including whole red snapper), rice and beans (garbanzo and chickpeas), plantains (fried every which way), and pork. Beef and chicken weren't laced throughout many menus and was sometimes hard to find unless you made it a point to go to a non-Puerto Rican restaurant. It was also interesting checking out the menus of the restaurants we are familiar with, stateside, for their regional differences. We heard a guy walk into McDonald's saying he was going to order nacho chips and cheese. Curiosity piqued, we took a look at the menu but didn't see it on the menu. He must have been joking with his kids or had some secret menu he was able to order off of!

Note: Please excuse the quality of some of the photos below. My little Nikon Coolpix is near death, but made a valiant effort in capturing our memories (albeit a little fuzzy).

We saved ourselves a ton of money by making a hearty breakfast at the apartment before hitting the road each day. Shown above with my bagel egg samich and sausage is my new love, fried cheese. I had to try a few "different" foods at the grocery store and stumbled upon this in the dairy section. I made it every day, sometimes twice a day. I was pretty excited to see on the back of the package it was from Wisconsin. I haven't been able to find it here in MN, yet, but found on the internets that I may be able to get it at Trader Joe's.

Food was NOT cheap, either buying in the grocery store or eating out. We ate out dinner and a drink every day and the tabs came to $55-$65 each meal. We weren't eating steaks or seafood, which would have been much more as it was. $15 for a burger and fries, no joke!

Our second dinner in Puerto Rico was at the Hard Rock Cafe San Juan. We ordered the "regional burger" which featured a beef patty with melted provolone, aioli sauce, huge pieces of fried plantains and a tomato cilantro topping. It was delish!

For Dustin's birthday we went to Rosa de Triana, which was next to our apartment, and ordered tapas and sangria. Tapas annoy me greatly because all they do is tease me! The small portions of such powerful, wonderful, heavenly food just don't cut it! The photo above features shrimp, sausage and garbanzo beans in a rich sauce. I wanted to eat a whole bucket of it!

Our fourth night, we heeded the advice of Frommer's and headed to El Patio de Sam for the "best burgers in Old San Juan." Pictured above is a snapshot of our appetizer -- Olive bites. Just some chopped up black olives and a bunch of cheese, breaded and deep fried. Surprisingly, delicious! I am not an olive fan at all. This just proves you can't go wrong with deep frying anything!

Above: Chicken Empanada at El Patio de Sam. Just a deep fried patty of chicken. Not what I was expecting, nor would I brag about eating it but tasty nonetheless.

Subway had pizzas! I wasn't too thrilled about eating at a restaurant that we have access to on every street corner stateside, but I HAD to try pizza! I hope it is a huge hit and moves out into other markets. It wasn't greasy and had decent a decent flavor but nothing super remarkable. I would definitely choose Subway pizza over Pizza Hut any day (my guts disagree with the Pizza Hut oils and sauces).

And now, the best for last -- MOFONGO!!! Mofongo is made of mashed plantains and fried in a "volcano-type" looking mold. My friend, VJK2 told me this when I started planning the trip -- "eat tons of plantains, especially fried." I knew I couldn't go wrong, as her advice is always helpful and accurate.

The first authentic Puerto Rican restaurant we visited, El Jibarito, I ordered two sides of plain mofongo to try. I figured the whole meal would be based around the mofongo, but it wasn't. I was very disappointed in the taste and appearance. It was very plain and blah with a strong emphasis on garlic. I couldn't help but think why on earth would VJK2 recommend this or even eat this?? The rest of the week I saw mofongo signs everywhere, vendors on the side of the highways selling mofongo out of their trucks, mofongo in gas stations, and on the beaches, it was everywhere. I thought, "really, seriously? It isn't that good, give it up!"

Whilst eating our dinner at El Patio de Sam later on in the week, a man seated at the table next to us ordered shrimp mofongo. I kid you not, he was verbally orgasming over his food. He even admitted to it and how it was the best mofongo on earth. His exciting words planted a new mofongo seed in my head. I thought, if this guy can "peak" at dinner over mofongo, so can I dammit! Our last dinner in Puerto Rico was quickly approaching. I scoured through our tour guide books and Yelp on my iPhone for the best mofongo in Old San Juan. I landed on Barrachina - the home of the original Pina Colada. We had been walking by this gem of a restaurant all week and didn't realize the importance and value of the place. How silly of us! The restaurant was an open patio style -- with walls around the dining room and no roof, just a great airy atmosphere. I ordered up a pina colada and happily pointed to the shrimp mofongo on the menu to our waiter. Dustin ordered chicken wrapped and fried in mofongo. We were both pretty excited to give the mofongo one last try but sad at the same time because it was our last dinner there. The presentation of both of our meals was beautiful! I dug in immediately and took a few slow bites to re-assess my opionion of mofongo. Wow! Just Wow! I can't put into words what I tasted in my mouth that night. The guilt hit me instantly, I was missing out on a divine experience the entire week!! Dustin nearly died of excitement too. His food was delicious as well and he had tostones with his chicken too! We both agreed that if we had found out about this awesomeness earlier on in our trip we would have spoiled ourselves and ate only mofongo. This way, we tried out all different types of foods. Now I just look at it as truly saving the best for last.

Oh, Puerto Rico. Your cuisine was truly an experience. I miss you so much!

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