Traditional Puerto Rican food has been influenced by Spain, Africa and the Taíno and Arawak native peoples. The rich and vibrant cuisine is a mix of indigenous fruits, tropical tubers, and unique seasonings. Even the Puerto Rican cooking style is distinctive! They call it cocina criolla, which means “Creole cooking.”
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular traditional Puerto Rican dishes you have got to taste.
Arroz con gandules y lechon—Puerto Rico’s National Dish
It’s only appropriate to start with the island territory’s national dish! Arroz con gandules y lechon, or rice with beans and pork, is made with yellow rice, pigeon peas, and roasted pork. The ingredients are cooked together in one pot with Puerto Rican sofrito. This special dish dates back to the 18th century, when the Moors were influencing Spain. Arroz con gandules y lechon is traditionally made for a Puerto Rican Christmas dinner.
Mofongo—A Delectable Side
This traditional Puerto Rican food is made from deep-fried green plantain pieces mashed up with garlic, pork, butter, and sometimes a salty broth. Other variations of this delicious savory dish include yuca mofongo and trifongo which is made with green plantain, sweet plantain, and yuca. Mofongo can be served as a side dish or stuffed into a meat.
Pasteles de Masa—A Family Matter
Pasteles de masa are a traditional dish often incorporating the whole family. Making pasteles de masa from scratch requires many hands. It’s a tradition in some Puerto Rican families to gather in the kitchen with a large pot of masa and make pasteles de masa in assembly-line fashion!
Similar to tamales, pasteles de masa are usually made with plantain leaves and masa and stuffed with stewed pork. Variations to this Puerto Rican dish might include yuca or other vegetables. To form pasteles de masa, Puerto Ricans press the masa into a plantain leaf and add a choice of stuffing. The leaf is folded, tied with a string, and covered with parchment paper. Pasteles de masa are boiled and served unwrapped.
Full of flavor and flaky fried goodness, empanadillas are a type of beef turnover. Empanadillas are similar to empanadas, but the dough is thinner. The beef is seasoned with adobo, which is a mixture of savory spices. Empanadillas can be eaten as a main dish—or, if they are made smaller, as an appetizer.
Tembleque—A Sweet Treat
One of the most popular desserts in Puerto Rico is tembleque, which is a coconut pudding. Tembleque means “wiggly,” which makes this dessert even more fun! Some people like their tembleque the consistency of Jell-O, while others prefer a creamy pudding consistency. This delightful coconut treat is often sprinkled with cinnamon and served with mashed plantains or other favorite fruit.
Pasta de Guayaba—A Versatile Puree
Puerto Rico has many delicious native fruits like guayaba (guava). A dense puree made of guavas and sugar, pasta de guayaba can be eaten by itself, with a dessert, or with cheese. Other indigenous Puerto Rican fruits include sugar apples, ambarella, mamey, papaya, plantains, breadfruit, and pineapple.
Tostones—A Puerto Rican Finger Food
Forget boring french fries; try tostones! A mouthwatering Puerto Rican dish, tostones are made by slicing plantains, coating them with a batter, and then frying them. A favorite dunking sauce is a mayo-ketchup mixture seasoned with garlic and other spices. Tostones are quick and easy treat to make for any occasion.
Alcapurrias—A Fried Fritter
This favorite Puerto Rican treat is a ground beef-filled fried fritter! It is made with green bananas and taro root. Alcapurrias can often be found sold by street vendors, but they are a relatively easy dish to make at home. Though usually considered a Puerto Rican food, alcapurrias can vary by changing up your sofrito recipe or adding Cuban picadillo!
What traditional Puerto Rican dishes did your abuela (grandmother) make for you as a child? Have you recorded your favorite family recipes in the Memories section of the FamilySearch Family Tree? Do so today, and keep your memories of the Puerto Rican family table from fading.