By Melody Rivera
With the largest Puerto Rican Day parade in America returning on Sunday, June 12, in New York City after two years, many people plan to celebrate and honor about 8 million Puerto Rican individuals residing in the U.S. according to the parade’s official website.
Many aspects of Puerto Rican culture will be demonstrated at the parade including music, art and a plethora of other activities. One effective way to learn about the culture is by exploring the cuisine which comprises many delicious dishes. The following are some of this author’s favorite delicacies that will most likely make an appearance at your local Puerto Rican Day parade.
10. Arroz con Gandules
Starting with a classic dish that has found its way into numerous Puerto Rican homes, arroz con gandules translates to rice with pigeon peas. The creation of this meal dates back all the way to the 16th century when Puerto Rican residents were learning how to produce rice for larger amounts of people in good quality. This idea is a possible reason why arroz con gandules is commonly served on holidays and other parties held by Puerto Rican people.
9. Sorullitos de maiz
These fried corn sticks can be sweet or salty depending on how you serve them. This side dish is known to have either a cheese (my preference) or guava filling. Although one won’t find much history about them online, sorullitos de maiz are made with cornmeal, which honors the culture’s Taino and African origins.
Similar to sorullitos de maiz, guanimes are incomplete without cornmeal and are served as a side dish. Guanimes can also be served in banana leaves, which is an African tradition that’s become a part of Puerto Rican culture. In my opinion, they are most delicious when topped with olive oil.
This food is one of the most popular dishes to serve to celebrate the holiday season, although they are enjoyed at any time of the year. Pasteles are pretty much the Puerto Rican version of tamales, a dish that’s popular in Mexican cuisine. However, the dough of pasteles can be made from many different ingredients including green bananas (my preference), yucca, or taro root. Like most other food in the culture, pasteles have origins from the Taino natives of Puerto Rico and from Africa and Spain.
Although many cultures have their take on fried fish, bacalaitos have a unique history and have been a staple in Puerto Rico for centuries. When Spanish conquerors came to take over the island, they brought certain ingredients including salted cod fish. The batter used to fry the fish was inspired by a dish from the West African culture known as accra.
Without a doubt, it is one of the most popular and loved Puerto Rican foods of all time. There’s even a restaurant named after it in New Britain, Conn. Mofongo consists of mashed plantains and is usually topped with a kind of meat whether it’s pork, chicken, stewed beef, or even shrimp. This beloved dish came about on the island during the slave trade after originating in Central and West Africa.
Like pasteles, pernil is commonly enjoyed by Puerto Rican families celebrating Christmas or Nochebuena, but can be served at any time, especially at most family get-togethers. Pernil is roasted pork seasoned with different spices including Adobo. One of my favorite parts about pernil, besides the flavor of the dinner meal, is the skin that comes with it known as chicharrones, which can be eaten as a snack on its own. The best pernil has tender meat and crunchy skin with the juicy fat connecting them. Pernil is also enjoyed by other Latin countries including Brazil, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic.
Also like pasteles, the dough of alcapurrias can be made from green bananas or yucca. This fried comfort food is usually served as an appetizer to a larger Puerto Rican meal and stuffed with beef, an ingredient imported into the island from Spain. If the dough is made with green bananas, it honors African origins; and if made with yucca, it honors Taino origins.
Not only is this side dish popular in Puerto Rican culture, but it’s commonly enjoyed by those of Caribbean and West African descent. Tostones are fried plantains usually seasoned with garlic and/or salt. Tostones could also be sold as a snack in many Latin grocery stores and markets.
My favorite Puerto Rican food is also the oldest out those mentioned above. Empanadillas, which are savory pastries filled with beef and vegetables, date back all the way to Persia in 100 BC. Since then, the recipe has been shared with different countries including Gibraltar, Spain, Portugal, and Mexico.
Many adaptations of the original dish exist, but empanadillas, a smaller version of an empanada, have become one of the most popular street foods in Puerto Rico to-date. No Puerto Rican Day parade is complete without the empanadilla.
Edited by James Sutton