Puerto Rican cuisine has a variety of delicious dishes with influences from the Taínos, Spanish, and African cuisines making it a must-try for everyone who visits. Puerto Rico is a small island located in the Caribbean and for many years, it was under Spanish rule until it became a United States territory in 1898.
The native population in Puerto Rico was the Taínos who named the island, Borinquen. It is why up to this day, many Puerto Ricans refer to themselves as Boricuas following our native roots. One of the main sources of food for Taínos was corn, fruit, coconuts, viandas (ñame, yautía, and yuca), and seafood.
During the Spanish rule, the Spanish brought slaves from Africa in the 16th century who introduced their own traditions and ingredients, such as plantains. Up to this day, plantains are one of the most important foods you will find to eat in Puerto Rico.
These influences from the Taínos, Spanish, and Africans have turned Puerto Rican food into something that is deeply rooted in our culture and lifestyle. The next time you’re in Puerto Rico, make sure you try some of its amazing dishes listed below.
Traditional Puerto Rican foods and drinks
For the savory lovers: main dishes in Puerto Rican cuisine
As mentioned above, plantains are one of the most important ingredients on the island and mofongo is a must-try stapled. Mofongo is a mashed plantain dish that depending on its serving size, people can eat as an appetizer or main dish. It is often served inside a wooden pestle filled with meat or fish stews. Other times, it is served by itself with a side of caldo (broth), it depends on what’s on the menu.
Arroz con Habichuelas
Puerto Ricans live off Arroz blanco con habichuelas (white rice and beans). It is made almost every single day in a Puerto Rican household and even though it is quite common, almost every family will have their own way of cooking the beans. It makes them taste different from day to day. Oftentimes, the rice and beans are accompanied by a type of meat, such as pork or chicken.
Churrasco is a grilled beef/steak dish marinated with garlic, oil, lemon, and fresh herbs. It is often served with a chimichurri sauce which is finely chopped herbs, including oregano, cilantro, and parsley. Puerto Ricans love to eat it with Arroz mamposteao. Mamposteao roughly translates to mixed. You will find it is made with white rice cooked with beans, green or red peppers, onions, garlic, and cilantro. It has a very rich flavor, and it is filling.
Carne or Pollo Guisada
This is stewed meat or chicken (respectively) served with white rice and beans. The meat stew is cooked with a local seasoning called sofrito (often homemade) and Adobo seasoning. It is made with meat or chicken broth, salt, and vegetables to thicken it, such as potatoes and carrots.
Bistec encebollado roughly translates to steak or beefsteak (beef steak = bis tec). The beef is marinated for at least a day or overnight and then cooked with white onions. It is often served with white rice and beans.
The pernil asado is a roasted pork that is commonly eaten during the holidays with Arroz con gandules (rice with green pigeon peas). The pernil is marinated for some time and slowly cooked with the fat so it is tender on the inside but crispy on the outside. It is so delicious, visitors will ask for more.
Puerto Rican soups and stews
Asopao is the Puerto Rican version of chicken soup (or seafood soup). We make a few varieties, including Asopao con Pollo or the Asopao con Camarones which is chicken soup or shrimp soup, respectively. It is often cooked during the colder months on the island and it is a hearty meal as it includes chicken, rice (instead of noodles), vegetables, and sofrito seasoning.
Sancocho is another Puerto Rican soup recipe made with a variety of root vegetables and chicken. It includes chicken, ham, and root vegetables like yuca, ñame, yautía, carrots, corn, potatoes, and plantains. You can eat it by itself or with a side of white rice and slices of avocado.
Side dishes or finger food
Yuca is the root of the cassava plant. It has a similar texture to potatoes, except that it has a type of string within it. Often, it is cooked in boiled water until soft and once the water is drained, we tend to add a little bit of melted garlic butter. You can eat it as a side dish with white rice and beans, or by itself as an appetizer.
Papas rellenas translates to stuffed potatoes. The potatoes are cooked until soft and then mashed. After small potato balls are made and then beef is added in its center then covered once again with the mashed potato until you end up with a fist-size ball. These are fried in vegetable oil and then they are ready to eat.
Sorrullitos are a type of corn fritters. Think of it as a corn dog, but without the dog and pinky-finger size. These are deep-fried until golden but stay soft on the inside once you take a bite. It’s great to dip in mayo-ketchup (mayonnaise and ketchup mixed with a little bit of garlic butter). You can eat them at any time of the day too if you want! Locals will mostly eat them as finger food when out and about at a bar or as appetizers.
Amarillos is a sweet fried plantain, but it has a soft consistency due to how ripe the plantain is at the time of cooking. Locals eat it as a side with white rice and beans. I’ve seen people eat them with sour cream outside of Puerto Rico, but that’s not common on the island.
Tostones are fried plantains, except they are crispy all around. We also eat them as a side with white rice and beans, as appetizers, or just because. Just add a bit of salt on top or dip them into mayo-ketchup. So delicious! For the Sweet Tooth: Desserts and Drinks
For your sweet tooth: Puerto Rican desserts
Arroz con Dulce
Arroz con Dulce translates to rice with sweet and it is a type of rice pudding Puerto Ricans eat around the Christmas holidays. The rice is cooked with coconut milk using cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg, and raisins.
Tembleque is another desert common during the Christmas holidays. It means to tremble, and it is a type of coconut pudding except for the texture as it gently wiggles just like gelatin. Think of it as coconut milk gelatin more than pudding, so it is actually rich. We add cinnamon on top before eating.
Flan de Queso
Many have probably heard of flan de queso which is a cream cheese flan with caramel on top. It is quite common at all of the bakeries in Puerto Rico and will probably be present on every dessert menu.
Popular drinks in Puerto Rico
Maví is a fermented tree bark drink that tastes a little bit like beer with a tangy flavor.
There are over 200 years of coffee history in Puerto Rico. Nowadays, coffee beans are primarily Arabica and due to their special properties, it is easily enjoyable black with no sugar. It is an acquired taste though, so visitors can try it black with no sugar, black with sugar, or black with a little bit of milk and sugar. No matter what you decide, you will find the coffee to be strong and delicious.
Coquito translates to little coconut and it is a drink mostly done during the Christmas holidays. It uses coconut cream, coconut milk, and condensed milk for its base, and to make it an adult beverage, white Puerto Rican rum is added with some finishing touches of cinnamon powder. It is simple, sweet, strong, and a must-try during the holidays.
Piña Colada doesn’t need much introduction as it is a popular drink around the world, but did you know it was invented in Puerto Rico? It’s a must-try when prepared at its source.
The Medalla Light Beer is brewed on the Island and it is the go-to beer of Puerto Ricans. It is light, crisp, and of good quality. It is hardly sold outside of Puerto Rico, so it’s definitely a must-try on this list.
Piraguas are perfect for drinking on a hot day in Puerto Rico, so basically every single day of the year. It is shaved ice that is shaped like an inverted cone with a flavored fruity syrup in different flavors. Be on the lookout for street vendors with colorful pushcarts with umbrellas for shade with a massive block of ice. Note that a piragua is quite filling thanks to the syrupy and heavy drink.
Final thoughts about Puerto Rico cuisine
Puerto Rican cuisine is a mixture of influences from the Taíno natives, Spanish, and Africans. The food is not spicy like those from Latin America and it is usually served family style. We take a lot of pride in the cooking of the food and ingredients. Are there more than 22 traditional Puerto Rican foods? Certainly! But the above list will get you started in the right way.
Diana Lotti is a freelance writer, ghostwriter, and photographer from Puerto Rico with over two years of writing experience. She currently lives in a small village in Germany with her family and pets. As a freelance writer/ghostwriter, Diana uses her MBA and prior corporate experience to work closely with B2C and B2B clients and marketing agencies on several topics from travel to wellness.
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