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FOOD & DINING IN PUERTO RICO / PUERTO RICO DINING GUIDE

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FOOD & DINING IN PUERTO RICO / PUERTO RICO DINING GUIDE

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Postby Puerto Rico Info » Fri Nov 17, 2006 6:55 am

FOOD & DINING IN PUERTO RICO

Although Puerto Rican cooking is somewhat similar to both Spanish and Mexican cuisine, it has a unique style, using such indigenous seasonings and ingredients as coriander, papaya, cacao, nispero (a tropical fruit that's brown, juicy, and related to the kiwi), apio (a small African-derived tuber that's sort of a more pungent type of turnip), plantains, and yampee (a tuber that's similar to an apio, but bigger, growing as big as 5-10 lb).

Cocina criolla (Creole cooking) can be traced back to the Arawaks and Taínos, the original inhabitants of the island, who thrived on a diet of corn, tropical fruit, and seafood. When Ponce de León arrived with Columbus in 1493, the Spanish added beef, pork, rice, wheat, and olive oil to the island's foodstuffs.

The Spanish soon began planting sugar cane and importing slaves from Africa, who brought with them okra and taro (known in Puerto Rico as yautia). The mingling of flavours and ingredients passed from generation to generation among the different ethnic groups that settled on the island, resulting in the exotic blend of today's Puerto Rican cuisine.

Appetizers & Soups

Lunch and dinner generally begin with hot appetizers such as bacalaítos, crunchy cod fritters; surullitos, sweet and plump cornmeal fingers; and empanadillas, crescent-shaped turnovers filled with lobster, crab, conch, or beef.

Soups are also a popular beginning. There is a debate about whether one of the world's best-known soups, frijoles negros, is Cuban or Puerto Rican in origin. Wherever it started, black-bean soup makes a savoury if filling opening to a meal. Another classic soup is sopón de pollo con arroz -- chicken soup with rice -- which manages to taste somewhat different in every restaurant. One traditional method of preparing this soup calls for large pieces of pumpkin and diced potatoes or yautias (the starchy root of a large-leaved tropical plant whose flesh is usually yellow or creamy white).

The third classic soup is sopón de pescado (fish soup), prepared with the head and tail intact. Again, this soup varies from restaurant to restaurant, and it may depend on the catch of the day. Traditionally, it is made with garlic and spices plus onions and tomatoes, the flavour enhanced by a tiny dash of vinegar and varying amount of sherry. Caldo gallego (Galician broth) is a dish imported from Spain's northwestern province of Galicia. It is prepared with salt pork, white beans, ham, and berzas (collard greens) or grelos (turnip greens), and the whole kettle is flavoured with spicy chorizos (Spanish sausages).

Garbanzos (chickpeas) are often added to give flavour, body, and texture to Puerto Rican soups. One of the most authentic versions of this is sopón de garbanzos con patas de cerdo (chickpea soup with pigs' feet). Into this kettle is added a variety of ingredients, including pumpkin, chorizos, salt pork, chile peppers, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, and fresh cilantro leaves.

Not really a soup, the most traditional Puerto Rican dish is asopao, a hearty gumbo made with either chicken or shellfish. One well-known version, consumed when the food budget runs low, is asopao de gandules (pigeon peas asopao). Every Puerto Rican chef has his or her own recipe for asopao. Asopao de pollo (chicken asopao) takes a whole chicken, which is then flavoured with spices such as oregano, garlic, and paprika, along with salt pork, cured ham, green peppers, chile peppers, onions, cilantro, olives, tomatoes, chorizos, and pimientos. For a final touch, green peas or asparagus might be added.

Breadfruit

Reading of Capt. James Cook's explorations of the South Pacific in the late 1700s, West Indian planters were intrigued by his accounts of the breadfruit tree, which grew in abundance on Tahiti. Seeing it as a source of cheap food for their slaves, they beseeched King George III to sponsor an expedition to bring the trees to the Caribbean. In 1787 the king put Capt. William Bligh in command of HMS Bounty and sent him to do just that. One of Bligh's lieutenants was a former shipmate named Fletcher Christian. They became the leading actors in one of the great sea yarns when Christian overpowered Bligh, took over the Bounty, threw the breadfruit trees into the South Pacific Ocean, and disappeared into oblivion.

Bligh survived by sailing the ship's open longboat 3,000 miles (4,830km) to the East Indies, where he hitched a ride back to England on a Dutch vessel. Later he was given command of another ship and sent to Tahiti to get more breadfruit. Although he succeeded on this second attempt, the whole operation went for naught when the West Indies slaves refused to eat the strange fruit of the new tree, preferring instead their old, familiar rice.

Descendants of those trees still grow in the Caribbean, and the islanders prepare the head-size fruit in a number of ways. A thick green rind covers its starchy, sweet flesh whose flavor is evocative of a sweet potato. Tostones -- fried green breadfruit slices -- accompany most meat, fish, or poultry dishes served today in Puerto Rico.

Main Courses

The aroma that wafts from kitchens throughout Puerto Rico comes from adobo and sofrito -- blends of herbs and spices that give many of the native foods their distinctive taste and colour. Adobo, made by crushing together peppercorns, oregano, garlic, salt, olive oil, and lime juice or vinegar, is rubbed into meats before they are roasted. Sofrito, a potpourri of onions, garlic, and peppers browned in either olive oil or lard and colored with achiote (annatto seeds), imparts the bright yellow colour to the island's rice, soups, and stews.

Pastelon de carne, or meat pies, are the staple of many Puerto Rican dinners. Salt pork and ham are often used for the filling and are cooked in a caldero (small cauldron). This medley of meats and spices is covered with a pastry top and baked.

Other typical main dishes include fried beefsteak with onions (carne frita con cebolla), veal (ternera) a la parmesana, and roast leg of pork, fresh ham, lamb, or veal a la criolla. These roasted meats are cooked in the Creole style, flavoured with adobo. Chicharrónes -- fried pork with the crunchy skin left on top for added flavour -- is very popular, especially around Christmas time.

Puerto Ricans also like such dishes as sesos empanados (breaded calves' brains), riñones guisados (calves' kidney stew), and lengua rellena (stuffed beef tongue).

A festive island dish is lechón asado, or barbecued pig, which is usually cooked for a party of 12 to 15. It is traditional for picnics and alfresco parties; one can sometimes catch the aroma of this dish wafting through the palm trees, a smell that must have been familiar to the Taíno peoples. The pig is basted with jugo de naranja agria (sour orange juice) and achiote colouring. Green plantains are peeled and roasted over hot stones, then served with the barbecued pig as a side dish. The traditional dressing served with the pig is aji-li-mojili, a sour garlic sauce. The sauce combines garlic, whole black peppercorns, and sweet seeded chile peppers, flavoured further with vinegar, lime juice, salt, and olive oil.

Puerto Ricans adore chicken, which they flavour with various spices and seasonings. Arroz con pollo (chicken with rice) is the most popular chicken dish on the island, and it was brought long ago to the U.S. mainland. Other favourite preparations include pollo al Jerez (chicken in sherry), pollo en agridulce (sweet-and-sour chicken), and pollitos asados à la parrilla (broiled chickens).

Most visitors to the island prefer the fresh fish and shellfish. A popular dish is mojo isleno (fried fish with Puerto Rican sauce). The sauce is made with olives and olive oil, onions, pimientos, capers, tomato sauce, vinegar, and a flavouring of garlic and bay leaves. Fresh fish is often grilled and perhaps flavoured with garlic and an overlay of freshly squeezed lime juice -- a very tasty dinner indeed. Caribbean lobster is usually the most expensive item on any menu, followed by shrimp. Puerto Ricans often cook camarones en cerveza (shrimp in beer). Another delectable shellfish dish is jueyes hervidos (boiled crab).

Many tasty egg dishes are served, especially tortilla española (Spanish omelet), cooked with finely chopped onions, cubed potatoes, and olive oil.

The rich and fertile fields of Puerto Rico produce a wide variety of vegetables. A favourite is the chayote, a pear-shaped vegetable called christophine throughout most of the English-speaking Caribbean. Its delicately flavoured flesh is often compared to that of summer squash.

Fried tostones are made with both breadfruit and plantains. In fact, the plantain is the single most popular side dish served on the island. Plantains are a variety of banana that cannot be eaten raw. They are much coarser in texture than ordinary bananas and are harvested while green, then baked, fried, or boiled. When made into tostones, they are usually served as an appetizer with before-dinner drinks. Fried to a deep golden yellow, plantains may accompany fish, meat, or poultry dishes.

Coffee

It is customary for most Puerto Ricans to end a meal with the strong, black aromatic coffee grown here. Originally imported from the nearby Dominican Republic, coffee beans have been produced in the island's high-altitude interior for more than 300 years and still rank among the island's leading exports.

Puerto Rican coffee, in the view of many connoisseurs, rivals that of the more highly touted product from Colombia. Coffee has several degrees of quality, of course, the lowest-ranking one being café de primera, which is typically served at the ordinary family table. The top category is called café super premium. Only three coffees in the world belong to super-premium class: Blue Mountain coffee of Jamaica, Kona coffee from Hawaii, and Puerto Rico's homegrown Alto Grande, coffee beans sought by coffee connoisseurs around the world. The best brand names for Puerto Rican coffee are Café Crema, Café Rico, Rioja, and Yaucono. You can ask for your brew puya (unsweetened), negrito con azúcar (black and sweetened), cortao (black with a drop of milk), or con leche (with milk).

Rum

Rum is the national drink of Puerto Rico, and you can buy it in almost any shade. Because the island is the world's leading rum producer, it's little wonder that every Puerto Rican bartender worthy of the profession likes to concoct his or her own favourite rum libation. You can call for Puerto Rican rum in many mixed drinks such as rum Collins, rum sour, and rum screwdriver. The classic sangria, which is prepared in Spain with dry red wine, sugar, orange juice, and other ingredients, is often given a Puerto Rican twist with a hefty dose of rum.

Today's version of rum bears little resemblance to the raw, grainy beverage consumed by the renegades and pirates of Spain. Christopher Columbus brought sugar cane, from which rum is distilled, to the Caribbean on his second voyage to the New World, and in almost no time rum became the regional drink.

It is believed that Ponce de León introduced rum to Puerto Rico during his governorship, which began in 1508. In time, there emerged large sugar-cane plantations. From Puerto Rico and other West Indian islands, rum was shipped to colonial America, where it lent itself to such popular and hair-raising 18th-century drinks as Kill-Devil and Whiskey-Belly Vengeance. After the United States became a nation, rum was largely displaced as the drink of choice by whiskey, distilled from grain grown on the American plains.

It took almost a century before Puerto Rico's rum industry regained its former vigor. This occurred during a severe whiskey shortage in the United States at the end of World War II. By the 1950s, sales of rum had fallen off again, as more and different kinds of liquor had become available on the American market.

The local brew had been a questionable drink because of inferior distillation methods and quality. Recognizing this problem, the Puerto Rican government drew up rigid standards for producing, blending, and aging rum. Rum factories were outfitted with the most modern and sanitary equipment, and sales figures (encouraged by aggressive marketing campaigns) began to climb.

No one will ever agree on what "the best" rum is in the Caribbean. There are just too many of them to sample. Some are so esoteric as to be unavailable in your local liquor store. But if popular tastes mean anything, then Puerto Rican rums, especially Bacardi, head the list. There are 24 different rums from Puerto Rico sold in the United States under 11 brand names -- not only Bacardi, but Ron Bocoy, Ronrico, Don Q, and many others.

Puerto Rican rums are generally light, gold, or dark. Usually white or silver in colour, the biggest seller is light in body and dry in taste. Its subtle flavour and delicate aroma make it ideal for many mixed drinks, including the daiquiri, rum Collins, rum Mary, and rum and tonic or soda. It also goes with almost any fruit juice, or on the rocks with a slice of lemon or lime. Gold or amber rum is aromatic and full-bodied in taste. Aging in charred oak casks adds color to the rum.

Gold rums are usually aged longer for a deeper and more mellow flavour than light rums. They are increasingly popular on the rocks, straight up, or in certain mixed drinks in which extra flavour is desired -- certainly in the famous piña colada, rum and Coke, or eggnog.

Dark rum is full-bodied with a deep, velvety, smooth taste and a complex flavour. It can be aged for as long as 15 years. You can enjoy it on the rocks, with tonic or soda, or in mixed drinks when you want the taste of rum to stand out.

PLACES TO DINE IN SAN JUAN

Bodegón de Gaspar
282 F.D. Roosevelt Avenue
San Juan, PR
00907
Phone: +1 787 763 0990
Fax: +1 787 763 0650

Casita Blanca (La)
351 Calle Tapia
Santurce
San Juan, PR
00907
Phone: +1 787 726 5501

El Hipopótamo
880 Muñoz Rivera Avenue
San Juan, PR
00925
Phone: +1 787 767 2660

Parrot Club
363 Fortaleza Street
Old San Juan
San Juan, PR
00901
Phone: +1 787 725 7370

Il Perugino
105 Calle Cristo
San Juan, PR
00901
Phone: +1 787 722 5481
Email: webmaster@ilperugino.com
Website: http://www.ilperugino.com/

Los Chavales
253 FD Roosevelt Ave
San Juan, PR
00917
Phone: +1 787 767 5017
Fax: +1 787 764 4794

Mallorquina (La)
207 Calle San Justo
San Juan, PR
00901
Phone: +1 787 722 3261

Prime 787 (Ritz-Carlton San Juan)
6961 Avenue of the Governors
Ritz-Carlton Hotel
San Juan, PR
00979
Phone: +1 787 253 1700

Siglo XX (El)
355 Calle Fortaleza
San Juan, PR
00901
Phone: +1 787 723 3321
Fax: +1 787 724 2820
Email: info@elsigloxx.com
Website: http://www.elsigloxx.com/sigloxx/

Zabó
14 Calle Candina
Condado
San Juan, PR
00907
Phone: +1 787 725 9494
Puerto Rico Info
 
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