Puerto Rican cuisine

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Cocina Criolla can be traced back to African, Taino and Spanish inhabitants of the island.
Although Puerto Rican cooking is somewhat similar to both Spanish and other Latin American cuisines, it has a unique blend of influences.

Puerto Rican cuisine has its roots in the cooking traditions and practices of Europe (Spain), Africa and the native Taínos. In the latter part of the 19th century, the cuisine of Puerto Rico was greatly influenced by the United States in the ingredients used in its preparation. Puerto Rican cuisine has transcended the boundaries of the island, and can be found in several countries outside the archipelago.


The cuisines of Spain, native Taíno and Arawaks, and parts of the African continent have had an impact on how food is prepared in Puerto Rico. Although Puerto Rican cooking is somewhat similar to both Spanish and Latin American cuisine, it is a unique tasty blend of influences, using indigenous seasonings and ingredients. Locals call their cuisine cocina criolla. The traditional Puerto Rican cuisine was well established by the end of the nineteenth century. By 1848 the first restaurant, La Mallorquina, opened in Old San Juan. El Cocinero Puertorriqueño, the island's first cookbook was published in 1849.[1]

Taino influences[edit]

From the diet of the Taíno (culturally related with the Maya and Carib peoples of Central America and the Caribbean) and Arawak people come many tropical roots and tubers (collectively called verduras) like yautía (taro) and especially Yuca (cassava), from which thin cracker-like casabe bread is made. Ajicito or cachucha pepper, a slightly hot habanero pepper, recao/culantro (spiny leaf coriander), achiote (annatto), peppers, ají caballero (the hottest pepper native to Puerto Rico), peanuts, guavas, pineapples, jicacos (cocoplum), quenepas (mamoncillo), lerenes (Guinea arrowroot), calabazas (West Indian pumpkin), and guanabanas (soursops) are all Taíno foods. The Taínos also grew varieties of beans and some maíz (corn/maize), but maíz was not as dominant in their cooking as it was for the peoples living on the mainland of Mesoamerica. This is due to the frequent hurricanes that Puerto Rico experiences, which destroy crops of maíz, leaving more safeguarded plants like yuca conucos (hills of yuca grown together).


Spanish/European influence[edit]

See: Spanish Cuisine

Spanish / European influence is also seen in Puerto Rican cuisine. Wheat, chickpeas (garbanzos), black pepper, onions, garlic, cilantro (using plant and seeds in cooking), oregano, basil, sugarcane, citrus fruit, eggplant, lard, chicken, beef, pork, and dairy all came to Borikén (Puerto Rico's native Taino name) from Spain. The tradition of cooking complex stews and rice dishes in pots such as rice and beans are also thought to be originally European (much like Italians, Spaniards, and the British). Olives, capers, olive oil, grapes, and wine play a big part in Puerto Rican cooking but do to the tropical climate these foods can not be harvest. The island had most of these foods important from Spain. Early Dutch, French, Italian, and Chinese immigrants influenced not only the culture but Puerto Rican cooking as well. This great variety of traditions came together to form La Cocina Criolla.

Plantain "arañitas" & "tostones rellenos"

African influence[edit]

Coconuts, coffee (brought by the Arabs and Corsos to Yauco from Kafa, Ethiopia), okra, yams, sesame seeds, gandules (pigeon peas in English), many varieties of banana fruit, other root vegetables and Guinea hen, all come to Puerto Rico from Africa. African slaves introduced the deep-frying of food.

United States influence[edit]

The US influence on the way Puerto Ricans cook their meals came about after Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States as a result of the Treaty of Paris of 1916. The most significant has to do with how people fry food. The early Spaniards brought olive oil for cooking and frying, but importing it from Spain made it very expensive, and cooks on the island shifted over to lard, which could be produced locally. For 50 to 60 years, corn oil produced in the United States took the place of lard for making cuchifritos and alcapurrias.

Galletas de soda (soda crackers in tins, popularly known as export sodas from a popular brand name) are a US product of the 19th and early 20th centuries that reproduce the crunchy texture of the earlier casabe bread, and can be kept crunchy in the tins in high tropical humidity.

Parcha, Puerto Rican name for Passiflora edulis, passion fruit.

American / streaky bacon has also played a big part in Puerto Rican cuisine. It is used in rice, stewed beans, and to stuff mofongo and meats such as whole chicken and the breast. Bacon in Puerto Rico has found its way into traditional foods such as arroz con gandules and potato salad. Another meat that has found its way onto the Puerto Rican table from the U.S. is turkey, (pavo) which is not native to the island but a common holiday meal next to the older lechón, roasted whole and seasoned using either pernil or adobo, often served with a side of blood sausage and sweetened plantains.

South America influence[edit]

Other foods native to Latino America were brought to the island with the Spanish trade, such as cocoa, avocado, tomatoes, chayote, papaya, bell peppers and vanilla from Mexico and Central America. Potatoes and passion fruit were also brought over by the Spanish or Portuguese from Peru and Brazil.

Other influence[edit]

Panapén (breadfruit) was first imported into the British Caribbean colonies from the South Pacific as cheap slave food in the late 18th century. After spreading throughout the Antilles, panapén has also become an indispensable part of the Puerto Rican repertoire, both in puddings and crunchy, deep-fried tostones and making mofongo.

Basic ingredients[edit]

red kidney beans (habichuelas coloradas)
pigeon peas (gandules)

Grains and legumes[edit]

  • Black beans
  • Coffee
  • White beans (navy beans)
  • Lima beans
  • Corn
  • GandulesPigeon peas
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Green beans
  • Green peas
  • Kidney beans - also known as red beans. The two most common ways to prepare kidney beans in Puerto Rico is stewed with squash, recaíto, broth, tomato sauce, salami, and clove. Second is arroz junto (rice together). Beans are cooked in the same pot with lots of annatto oil, rice, sofrito, ham, broth, olives, capers and seasoning.
  • Pink beans - most common bean in Puerto Rico. Recaíto and pieces of ham are cooked in annatto oil. Pink beans, olives, capers, potatoes, cumin, oregano, bay leaves, broth, and tomato sauce are then added. They are then slowly stewed and served with white rice.
  • Pinto beans
  • Rice


  • Basil/Albahaca
  • Bay leaves – Laurel
  • Cilantro
  • Marjoram/Mejorana
  • Mint/Menta
  • Orégano brujoPlectranthus amboinicus. Puerto Rican wild oregano. This oregano, with its distinctive pungent aroma, grows wild on the island. It is mainly used dry, and is a key ingredient in adobo seco and adobo mojado.
  • Parsley/Perejil
  • CulantroEryngium foetidum. Mexican coriander – 10 times the flavor of Cilantro.
  • Sage/Salvia
  • Tarragon/Estragón
  • Caribbean thyme/Tomillo – Same flavor as English thyme, but 10 times stronger.

Starchy tropical tubers (Verduras)[edit]

Yuca, Puerto Rican name for cassava.


Ajíes Caballero / Caballero chili peppers

Meats and poultry[edit]

Guinea Hen
  • Beef
  • Butifarra – A common Spanish sausage.
  • Chicken
  • Chorizo - A common Spanish sausage.
  • Corned beef - Corned beef is usually stewed with potatoes served with fried sweet plantains and white rice. Corned beef stew is also used as a filing for alcapurrias or served with sorullos.
  • Duck
  • Goat
  • Geese
  • Guinea hen
  • Ham
  • Lamb
  • Longaniza- A common Spanish sausage.
  • Blood sausage - Known as moriclla. Adopted from the Spanish morcilla. Puerto Rican morcilla contains rice, culantro, cilantro, chillies and garlic.
  • Oxtail
  • Pigeon
  • Pork, such as pernil
  • Rabbit
  • Salchichón – Puerto Rican salami. Contains mostly of heart, tripe and livers from beef and meat from pork. Other ingredients include black pepper corns, paprika and annatto.
  • Salchichas (canned Vienna sausages) – They were introduced in 1898. Today, they are scrambled with eggs and cooked in other dishes. Very popular cooked in rice as arroz con salchichas or stewed separately and served with white rice as Salchichas Guisadas (sausage stew).
  • Spam
  • Turkey

Seafood and shellfish[edit]


Fresh tropical fruit is important in the traditional daily diet in Puerto Rico

Acerola cherry
Aguacate / Avocado

Starchy fruits[edit]

Seasonings, spices and sauces[edit]

Puerto Rican cooking has a large range of spices and seasoning do mostly to influence, this makes Puerto Rico one of the best in Latin fusion cooking. Caribbean and other curries can be found but not as common as sofrito and adobo. Traditional cooking on the island uses more fresh and local ingredients such as fruits to make mojo and adobo mojado and especially fresh herbs and vegetables to make recoíto and sofrito. Star anise, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and other sweet spices are manly used for drinks and desserts.

Puerto Rican dishes are well seasoned with combinations of flavorful spices. The base of many Puerto Rican main dishes involves sofrito, similar to the mirepoix of French cooking, or the "trinity" of Creole cooking. A proper sofrito is a sauté of freshly ground garlic, tomatoes, onions, recao/culantro, cilantro, red peppers, cachucha and cubanelle peppers. Sofrito is traditionally cooked with olive oil or annatto oil, tocino (bacon), salted pork and cured ham. A mix of stuffed olives and capers called alcaparrado are usually added with spices such as bay leaf, sazón and adobo.

  • Adobo mojado – garlic, salt, black pepper, olive oil, orégano brujo, vinegar or citrus juice or both.
  • Adobo seco – garlic powder, onion powder, dry orégano brujo, salt, black pepper, and sometimes dried citrus zest.
  • Ajilimójili sauce – a very garlicky hot and spicy salsa
  • Alcaparrado – A mix of green olives, peppers, and capers
  • Allspice
  • Achiote or Bijaannatto (Bixa orellana). Olive oil, oil or lard are infused with annatto pods. The pods are then discarded and is left with a red oil sprightly tinted with yellow and orange. It is used to and flavor many dishes and color food. Sometimes a whole chili pepper is added. Annatto can also be cursed and used to season meats.
  • Criollo - Puerto Rican creole sauce, closely related to American creole sauce. Ever part of the Caribbean has there unique take on creole sauce. Throughout Puerto Rico salsa criollo is done differently. A basic Puerto Rican criollo has recaíto as a base. The recaíto is cooked typical with pork, spices, tomatoe sauce and some kind of liquid.
  • Mojito isleño
  • Mojo – a herb sauce of finely chopped cilantro or parsley with garlic, citrus, vinegar and olive oil. Onions and butter are sometimes also added.
  • Paprika
  • Pique verde boricua – Green hot sauce
  • Picadillo a la puertorriqueña
  • Pique criollo – Puerto Rican hot condiment
  • Recaíto – A green cooking base mix of cilantro, spanish onion, culantro, roasted garlic, green bell pepper and ajicitos.
  • Saffron
  • Sazón – a seasoning mix consisting of coriander seeds, garlic powder, cumin, salt and annatto powder.
  • Sofrito – A mixture of ajicitos, green cubanelle peppers, plum tomato, roasted pimientos pepper, cilantro, Spanish onions, recao / culantro and garlic.

Puerto Rican dishes[edit]

Arroz con Gandules
Jibarito and Rice
Pasteles / similar to the Mexican "tamales"
Puerto Rican cuisine has several recipes for flan, including vanilla, coconut cream, pineapple, pumpkin, carrot, cheese and many more.

Hoilday dishes[edit]

  • Arroz con gandules – a yellow-rice-and-pigeon-pea dish. Sofrito and annatto oil plays the biggest part in flavoring and coloring rice. Alcaparrado (capers and olives stuffed with red peppers), pieces of pork, spices, bay leaves, banana leaf and broth are ingredients added to enhance flavoring. It is part of Puerto Rico's national dish, along with pig roast.
  • Coquito – A popular Christmastime drink is coquito, an eggnog-like rum and coconut milk-based homemade beverage. The holiday season is also a time that many piñas coladas are prepared, underscoring the combination of pineapples and coconuts seen in Puerto Rican cuisine.
  • Pasteles – For many Puerto Rican families, the quintessential holiday season dish is pasteles ("pies"), usually not a sweet pastry or cake, but a soft dough-like mass wrapped in a banana or plantain leaf and boiled, and in the center chopped meat, shellfish, chicken, raisins, spices, capers, olives, sofrito, and often garbanzo beans. Puerto Rican pasteles are similar in shape, size, and cooking technique to Latin American tamales. The dough in a tamal is made from cornmeal; while in a Puerto Rican pastel it is made from either green bananas and/or starchy tropical roots. The wrapper in a tamal is a corn shuck or a banana leaf; the wrapper in a Puerto Rican pastel is a banana leaf.
  • Pork – Pork is central to Puerto Rican holiday cooking, especially the lechón (spit-roasted piglet). Holiday feasts might include several pork dishes, such as pernil (a baked fresh pork shoulder seasoned in adobo mojado), morcilla (a black blood sausage), tripa (tripe), jamón con piña (ham and pineapple), gandinga (stewed pork innards) and chuletas ahumadas (smoked cutlets).
  • Pavochon – Popular from November to January. The Thanksgiving turkey is often seasoned with adobo mojado and stuffed with mofongo or ground beef or pork mixture containing almonds, raisins, olives, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, and garlic. Instead of the thin slices seen in the North, a baked turkey in Puerto Rico is often cut into large blocks or chunks to be served on a plate. Rice is a mandatory course in dishes such as Arroz con Maiz y Salchichas (yellow rice with corn and vienna sausage) is the staple along with turkey in Puerto Rico. Arroz con Gandules (rice with pigeon peas), Arroz con Tocino (rice with bacon), and Arroz Mampostea'o can also made but less popular.
  • Salada – Most Puerto Rican tables on the holidays have one or two salads. A topical salad would be potatoe salad with peppers, apples, onions, mayonnaise and with or without chorizo. Macaroni salad with peppers, onions, tomatoes and can tuna or spam. The macaroni is tossed usually in mayonnaise or vinegar and olive oil. Octopus with a citrus vinaigrette letters and tropical fruits.
  • Sweets – Sweets are common in Puerto Rican cuisine. During the holidays, the most popular are desserts such as Arroz con dulce rice pudding, made with milk, coconut milk and rum. Arroz con dulce combines spices such as cloves, ginger, raisins, vanilla, cinnamon and sugar. Budín de Pan (bread pudding), Bienmesabe (little yellow cakes soaked in coconut cream), Brazo Gitano – Puerto Rican style sponge cake with cream and / or fruit filling), Buñuelos de viento – Puerto Rican wind puffs soaked in a vanilla, lemon and sugar syrup), Barriguitas de Vieja (deep-fried sweet pumpkin fritters), Natilla, Tembleque (coconut pudding), Flan (egg custard), Bizcocho de Ron (rum cake), Cazuela, Mantecaditos (Puerto Rican shortbread cookies), Polvorones (a crunchy cookie with a dusty sweet cinnamon exterior), Turrón de Ajónjolí (a toasted sesame seed bar, bound together by caramelized brown sugar), Mampostiales (a very thick, gooey candy bar of caramelized brown sugar and coconut chips, challenging to chew and with a strong, almost molasses-like flavor), Dulce de Leche (milk and key lime peelings' caramel pudding), pastelillos de guayaba (guava pastries), Besitos de Coco (coconut kisses), Tarta de Guayaba (guava tarts), and Tortitas de Calabaza (pumpkin tarts).[2]


Piña Colada
  • Ajonjolí – A drink made from ground sesame seeds, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Ground rice, milk, coconut milk, evaporated milk, allspice, and rum are sometimes added.
  • Banana Milk – Blend of bananas, milk, vanilla, sugar, and cinnamon.
  • Bilí – Rum with triple sec or cointreau infused with bay leaves, vanilla, quenepas, ginger, brown sugar and a variety of spices. The mixture is put in a bottle or coconut, wrapped and burred in the ground for a month to a year. Bilí is especially popular on Vieques.
  • Chichaíto – A shot consisting of Palo Viejo brand white rum mixed with anise liqueur, honey and lemon juice. The anise in this slightly sweet drink that masks the flavor of the rum. Some bartenders eliminate lemon and add coffee beans. The drink can be mixed with coconut milk and coconut cream (chichaíto de coco), nutella with evaporated milk (chichaíto de nutella) or any fruit puree.
  • Cocorico – A Puerto Rican soda brand credited with the first coconut soda and also produces other tropical flavors.
  • Horchata – Whole or ground oatmeal with spiced milk. Milk is usually boiled with butter, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, brown sugar, lemon peel. Vanilla and coconut milk can be added.
  • Kola Champagne – A soft drink that originated in Puerto Rico and is now popular in the Caribbean, Latin America and the United States.
  • Malta (soft drink) – Puerto Rico with hold more companies producing Malta then any other in the Caribbean and Latin America.
  • Malta Shake – Malta shook with ice, condense milk and raw egg.
  • Mavi – A type of drink made from a bark that is fermented.
  • Parcha con chinaPassion fruit juice, orange juice, sugar, lime, vodka or rum.
  • Frappe Tropical – Parcha juice, coconut cream, banana, and chunks of pineapple blended.
  • Piña colada – The piña colada was introduced on August 16, 1954 at the Caribe Hilton’s Beachcomber Bar in San Juan, Puerto Rico and has been the beverage of Puerto Rico since 1978.
  • Spiced Cherry – Puerto Rican version of Cuba Libre. Made with spiced rum, Coca-Cola Cherry, and lime.
  • Piragua – Shaved ice dessert, shaped like a pyramid, covered with fruit flavored syrup.


The Luquillo kiosks (or kioskos) are a much loved part of Puerto Rico. Everywhere in Puerto Rico, rustic stalls displaying all kinds fritters under heat lamps or behind a glass pane. Kiosks, are a much-frequented, time-honored, and integral part to a day at the beach and the culinary culture of the island. Fresh octopus and conch salad are frequently seen. Much larger kiosks serve hamburgers, local/Caribbean fusion, Thai, Italian, Mexican and even Peruvian food. This mixing of the new cuisine and the classic Puerto Rican food. Alcoholic beverage are a big part of kiosks with most kiosks having a signature drink.

  • Alcapurrias - Fritters that are usually made with a batter of taro (yautía) and green bananas (guineos verdes), and are stuffed with either a meat (pino) filling or with crab, shrimp or lobster.
  • Arañitas - This get their name from their shape, a play on araña, or spider. These shredded green plantain fritters are mixed with mashed garlic, cilantro and fried.
  • Arepas
  • Bacalaítos - Bacalaítos are codfish fritters, and are ubiquitous not only to Puerto Rico but throughout the Latin world. They're a staple food at many a kioskito.
  • Cuchifrito - Is about as simple a dish. Essentially, slice off a chunk of pork (the ear, the stomach, or the tail), cover it in batter, and deep-fry.
  • Luquillo
  • Papa rellena - fried potato balls filled with meat.
  • Piononos - pionones are mashed sweet plantain patties filled with picadillo, or seasoned ground beef, and cheese.
  • Sorullos - are the cornmeal equivalent of mozzarella sticks, except that they're rather fatter and shorter. They're often made with cheese.
  • Tacos

Puerto Rican food outside the archipelago[edit]

Cuchifritos (Carnitas) in New York
  • Cuchifritos – In New York, cuchifritos are quite popular. Cuchifritos, often known as "Puerto Rican soul food" includes a variety of dishes, including, but not limited to: morcilla (blood sausage), chicharron (fried pork skin), patitas (pork feet), masitas (fried porkmeat), and various other parts of the pig prepared in different ways.
  • Jibarito (Plaintain Sandwich) – In Chicago, El Jibarito is a popular dish.[citation needed] The word jíbaro in Puerto Rico means a man from the countryside, especially a small landowner or humble farmer from far up in the mountains. Jíbaro is a term strongly associated with preserving the traditional values and the culture of the island. Typically served with Spanish rice, Jibaritos consist of a meat along with mayonnaise, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and onions, all sandwiched between a fried plantain, known as a canoa (canoe). In the early 20th century, bread made from wheat (which would have to be imported) was expensive out in the mountain towns of the Cordillera Central, and jíbaros were made from plantains which are still grown there on the steep hillsides.

See also[edit]


  • Edgardo Noel – Famous television chef, known for "Cocina al Dia" and "Cocinando y Cantando".
  • Dora Romano – author of "Cocine Conmigo" written in 1970.
  • Carmen Valldejuli – author of Cocina Criolla / Puerto Rican Cookery written in 1954.
  • Berta Canabillas – author of Puerto Rican Dishes written in 1993.
  • Daisy Martinez – author of Daisy Cooks: Latin Flavors That Will Rock Your World written in 2005 and Daisy: Morning, Noon and Night written in 2010. Television host of Daisy Cooks! on PBS and ¡Viva Daisy! on the food network.
  • Oswald Rivera – author of Puerto Rican Cuisine in America: Nuyorican and Bodega Recipes written in 2002.
  • Yvonne Ortiz – author of A Taste of Puerto Rico: Traditional and New Dishes from the Puerto Rican Community written in 1997.
  • Maria Perez – author of Tropical Cooking Made Easy written in 2007.
  • Elizabeth B. K. Dooley – author of Puerto Rican Cook Book written in 1948.
  • Wilo Benet – author of Puerto Rico True Flavors written in 2007. Competed on Top Chef Masters.
  • Giovanna Huyke – Famous television chef
  • Luis Antonio Cosme – Famous Puerto Rican actor and television chef


  1. ^ Ortiz, Yvonne. A Taste of Puerto Rico: Traditional and New Dishes from the Puerto Rican Community. Penguin group, 1997. P. 3
  2. ^ "Comfort food like none other". La Salita Cafe. Retrieved 21 September 2014. 

External links[edit]

  • The Rican Chef – Recipes from the cultural magazine El Boricua, Puerto Rico