Street Food in Puerto Rico
Food is an important aspect in all areas of the world. Puerto Rico is no exception. Since I came to Puerto Rico, I’ve learned one important thing: Puerto Ricans take their food seriously. The food is never fried and always healthy. (That is a joke by the way. Go on, you can laugh ) Well, alright, it might be both fried and unhealthy, but it is still delicious as most ‘unhealthy’ things tend to be. It took me a while to learn the names of the different street food in Puerto Rico, but now that I finally have I thought that I’d share them with you. Puerto Rican street food can be found in many places around the island, but a few places are known specifically for their abundance of street food. Piñones, Luquillo beach, and even the San Sebastian festival are but a few. Many of these pictures were taken at the San Sebastian festival, or Sanse 2014; however, I took a few at other locations. The Sanse festival is known for its food. See my Sanse 2014 video here on YouTube. So I came up with this list of foods, which is not all inclusive, but does list many of the most popular street foods that one could expect to find in a kiosk in Puerto Rico.
It would be rare for you to visit a kiosk in Puerto Rico and not find Bacalaito. Bacalaito is really thinly sliced cod-fish mixed with salt, ground black pepper, and garlic. It is deep-fried to a crisp, then served. It is very much like a crispy chip with a fishy flavor. Bacalaito is very thin so it is more of a snack than big meal.
Alcapurría is a Puerto Rican staple that you will find many street vendors selling. It is traditionally made with a doughy exterior filled with a seasoned meat. The dough, called masa, is usually either yuca (cassava) or green plantains, possibly a mixture of both. The flavor is nice as the sweetness of the dough compliments the seasoned meat. It definitely isn’t spicy, but the meat has a unique flavor. There is a recipe for how it is made here
Yes, that’s right. Puerto Rico has tacos too. Although if you are walking around looking for Tex-Mex style tacos with white flour or corn tortillas, you won’t find them. Puerto Rican tacos, as one might imagine, are fried. They are typically made in a similar fashion to normal tacos except they are sealed with dough and then deep fried. Typically in the streets of Puerto Rico, one can find a variety of tacos ranging from beef, chicken, pork, and even the occasional fish.
Empanadillas are, for lack of a better definition, what most would call an empanada. They are really the same thing. The root of the word is even the same. Empanadillas is just Puerto Rico’s way of saying something in bread. Empanadillas are stuffed dough that can be filled with anything from meet, vegetables, fruits, seafood, and other mixtures. They are deep-fried. Do you see a trend yet?
Sorus or sorullos/sorullitos
At first glances sorullos appear to be fried mozarella sticks. They aren’t though. Well, not exactly. They are typically just fried corn sticks frequently complimented with some cheese. They are a very basic and straight forward street food. You can find them in smaller sizes as well as larger sizes. Some kiosks might have both, while others would only sell one or the other.
Pionono is probably my favorite of the different street foods in Puerto Rico that I have tried. To me it is a nice balance between sweet and hearty meat. A pionono is essentially meat wrapped with sweet plantains. It has a crunchy texture and starts to fall apart as you eat it. Therefore, it is best eaten while sitting down unlike many of the other street foods on the Enchanted Island.
Relleno de papa
Relleno de papa are potato balls filled with something. Typically you will find meat of some sort. The most common would likely be beef. However, it wouldn’t be a stretch to find pork or chicken. These range in size, but can be found as big as an average fist.
Arroz con habichuelas
A Puerto Rican, and Caribbean, hallmark is arroz con habichuelas, or rich with beans. I’d be surprised if you can find any restaurant in Puerto Rico that doesn’t serve rich and beans. It is everywhere, and often sold by the street vendors as well. Black beans are sometimes used, although it is more of a Cuban dish. Puerto Ricans usually make their rice and beans with large red beans. Just a heads up if you have learned Spanish elsewhere, habichuelas means frijoles. They use habichuelas instead of frijoles in Puerto Rico for beans.
Arroz guisado is a common type of rice found in Puerto Rico. Arroz guisado could be translated as rice with peas. It is occasionally filled with other things such as sliced sausage, meats, seasonings, and the occasional bell pepper. It is a basic rice dish, but quite good at that.
Pernil asado or lechon asado
This is a dish that has made Puerto Rico famous with many of the food network channels around. Back in Louisiana, we call this dish a Cochon du lait. Pork is cook to a crisp, but yet still juicy on the inside.
Chicharrones are usually fried or well baked bits of pork rind or chicken. They are also in beef and tuna at times, but pork and chicken are the most popular. For chicken, the batter starts with flour and then includes many different spices and seasonings, sometimes it can be marinated. Then it is fried.
Typically served as a side dish, or complimento in Puerto Rico, Tostones are a widely popular food. Tostones are green plantains that are fried then mashed together. They are typically not sold as a stand alone food. Additionally, they don’t have much flavor without salt or dipping sauce. I think that they taste good with mayoketchup, which is the local’s blend of ketchup, mayonaise, and spices. Another popular dish that is made with plantains is amarillos; however they are more common in restaurants. Amarillos are made with yellow potatoes and have a sweet taste to them.
If you have spent any time in Spain or consequently eaten Spanish cuisine before, then you have likely heard of pinchos before. Pinchos in Puerto Rico are not the same as those in Spain though. Puerto Rican pinchos are more like kebabs. Meat is put on wooden sticks and cooked over a barbeque pit. (Random fact: the word barbeque, comes from a Taíno indian word. They were the original inhabitants of the island.) Pinchos are sold in a variety of ways ranging from the type of meat to what is cooked with them. Pinchos can be of beef, chicken, or pork. They can be cooked with plantains, mashed dried plantains (tostones), or peppers and vegetables.
There is no sandwich that I would rather share with you than a tripleta. Meaning triplet in Spanish, a tripleta is a unique blend of meat, cheese, onions, spices, and sauces. If you find the right chef, you’ll be raving about this sandwich forever. I found a back alley chef near where I live. Life-changing, no kidding. It is by far the richest and most hearty sandwich that I have eaten in my life, and I have eaten my fair share of sandwiches. The ingredients for tripletas are cooked up over a skillet grill where they are mixed and mashed together. Once ready the cook will stuff as much as possible into a sandwich loaf top it with some special sauces, then wrap it up for you to enjoy. This one is a definite pork-eaters only sandwich. This is like pork on top of pork mixed with a little pork.
By the time you have gotten through these dishes you must be working up a thirst. Head for a batida. Batidas are a common breakfast drink or afternoon refreshment in Puerto Rico. Batidas are fruit smoothies topped with a tad of natural sugar and fruit punch. You can order batidas in a variety of forms such as mango, strawberry, banana, kiwi, berry, coconut, orange, or any mixture within. They make for a refreshing treat.
Mofongo is probably the most famous of all the Puerto Rican cuisine. I wasn’t going to include it in this post because it is not a typical ‘street food’ in Puerto Rico. The main reason is because it takes some time to prepare; therefore, it wouldn’t be something that could be easily made in a kiosk. There is a process involved. It would be much more easily found in a restaurant.
Mofongo is made with green plantains. The plantains are mashed into tostones, then the process for making mofongo continues with some mixing and forming into balls. I haven’t made a mofongo yet, but I have a way of making it into a big meal. First, I go to a local restaurant and pick up a side of mofongo, which is basically one big ball of mofongo. I bring it to the house where I cook black beans, mix with some shredded beef, add some sauces, then pour it over the mofongo ball. I usually eat it with a side of avocado. Delicious!
I will likely make a post eventually on Puerto Rican food where I will go more in-depth with the process of making mofongo. I’d really like to find a local chef who would be willing to cook it with me.
How to order street food in Puerto Rico!
I am going to teach you some phrases in Spanish as well as give you an insight into what you might be asked while ordering Puerto Rican street food. First, I will get started with a quick vocabulary lesson, then move on to a few quick phrases that will leave you sounding like a boricua!
Good vocabulary to know:
Tomar (verb) – to take/drink
Comer (verb) – to eat
Llevar (verb) – order to go
Aquí – here
Algo – some
Con todo – with everything
Sin – without
Gracias - Thanks/Thank you
*Not to mention the names of all the foods above.
Helpful phrases and sentence structure:
May I have a plate of ____ please? - ¿Podría tener un plato de ___ por favor?
I would like __ please? – Me gustaría ___ por favor.
Give me a __ please. – Dame un(a) ___ por favor.
Can I try that? – Puedo probar eso?
What is this/that? – Que es este(a)/eso(a)?
I want a __ please. – Yo quiero un/una ___ por favor.
Without ___ please. – Sin ___ por favor.
What you can expect:
Puerto Rican street language can be quite informal at times. When ordering food you can expect simple, straight, and to the point. That is if you can get their attention. Customer service is not spectacular in Puerto Rico. Street vendors are usually pretty quick though.
You can expect to be asked “Díme”, which means tell me. It is a very informal way of asking what you want. There are many ways that you may be asked though. Another way could be, “Que querrías?” What would you like? Literally, there are tons of ways. You could be just simple greeted with a buen día or buenas tardes.
You may also be asked something like “Algo pa’ tomar” which means “Something to drink?”
You may be asked something like, “Pa’ aquí o pa’ llevar?”, which is a way of asking “For here or to go?”
Definitely expect random people walking by you to tell you “Buen Provecho”, which means “Enjoy your meal” or French “Bon Appetit”. This takes some getting used to, but it happens everywhere.
Good to know:
I will eventually write a post on the Puerto Rican dialect in Spanish, but I’ll keep it short for the moment. There are a few sounds and patterns of speech that are distinctly Puerto Rican. To sound like a Puerto Rican when ordering you’ll want to change your R’s to L’s and not annunciate the endings of words. For example:
Por favor is pronounced more like pol favol in Puerto Rico.
A word like chicarrones would be said more like chicharrone without a strong “s” sound at the end. However, the double r would still be annunciated and rolled properly. It is only the single R’s that are typically changed.
More pictures of street food in Puerto Rico: