After three and a half years, I made it out of the continental US!! My last trip was our babymoon to Istanbul when I was six months pregnant with my daughter. After having two kids back to back, managing getting them through infancy, we finally made it! Now, Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the US (and the influence is apparent in any supermarket, shopping mall or any commercial area dotted with American chains). There are a lot of shared services (US Customs, highways, currency) so you can definitely take a breather if you’re traveling with small kids. One less thing to worry about, you know? But the flip side to that is that everything is imported! When we drove through the rainforest and some of the mountainous regions near the center of the island, there is no denying the lush, fertile environment. Banana, papaya and tomato just growing randomly here and there. The land is just wringing with potential for agriculture. But as a sector, it is practically non existent (apart from some coffee and rum). It is probably due to its function as a trading post for hundreds of years. But far from indulging in some gorgeous tropical fruits like I anticipated, I was greeted with bananas from Ecuador! Driscoll berries! Pineapples from who knows where!
The first picture above shows some fruits I got from a fruit stand off Rt. 149 some 20 miles from San Juan. After some crowdsourcing, I figured out that the green fruit is soursop or guanabana. After allowing it to ripen for two days as the seller suggested, I could not manage a knife sharp enough to deal with this thing! It reminded me of this Portlandia bit when they attempt to open a dorian. A lot of people aren’t crazy about it – but they add it to their drinks. Go fig.
The second picture is a traditional Mofongo (mashed plantain base) with shrimp (in a garlic, tomato sauce) atop. You can top it with any meat or fish (or bacalao – dried salted cod, but I wasn’t a fan).
The third is a picture from the local grocery store (Dorothy, you’re kind of still in Kansas).
One thing that was great about Puerto Rico, is that good coffee is universal. Everyone from hole in the wall diners to this fancy scene out of Williamsburg offers a good cup o’ joe. This place is Caficultura and it’s right in the middle of old San Juan (a few blocks down from where we stayed). And it is every American tourist’s dream. The owners of this place have figured out that while some tourists may venture to try some bacalao and plátanos, most of them would LOVE some traditional American foods, dressed up in “tropical flavors”. See exhibit F, if you will. The french toast with pineapple marmalade and coconut. Exhibit C, though, is more along the lines of traditional puerto rican food. The mallorca bread with tangy/sweet guava jam. Definitely worth trying but not nearly as good as a quesito (puff pastry with sweetened cream cheese filling).
Finally, we have Jose Enrique. A bit more upscale, without being stuffy. A little bit further out from the more touristy parts of town like Old San Juan and Condado. Our appetizers of crab ceviche on plantains, cheese fritters and fried fish (I forgot what kind of fish!) were amazing. The fritters came with this sweet and spicy sauce that I will have to try to recreate (definitely had honey, orange juice, hot peppers and cilantro). We ordered Caribbean cherry and the house juice (a blend of pineapple and other juices). For the main course, my husband got the whole fried fish (I believe it was yellowtail) and I got the pan seared sea bass in a romesco ragout with artichokes. The creaminess of the vegetables perfectly complimented the texture of the fish. His yellowtail came with some sweet potatoes and papaya that I wasn’t crazy about.
If we had more time (and a sitter for the kids) we would definitely check out the