As a territory of the United States, you may not expect Puerto Rican food to be a foreign culinary experience. But contrary to the island’s complicated, colonialist socio-political positionality with the United States, the Island of Enchantment has cuisine akin to its fellow Caribbean islands.
What makes Puerto Rican cuisine special is its amalgamation of cultures coming together in the language of food. Puerto Rican food is similar to that of nearby Mexico and Cuba, though it stems from a combination of Spanish, African, Taíno, and American cultures. You’ll savor the rich flavors of bay leaves, garlic, cilantro, basil, and adobo seasoning.
Best of all, for folks like me who are averse to hot food, Puerto Rican meals are spice-ful but not spic-y. From my love of fried plantains to Arroz con Pollo, tropical fruit, and coquito, I couldn’t get enough of Puerto Rican cooking.
I dream about mofongo more than I’d like to admit. So before you head to the incredible island of Puerto Rico, here are some foods you must watch out for.
Puerto Rican Food Terms
While most folks you encounter in major metropolitan areas like San Juan or hospitality settings will probably speak English, only about half of Puerto Ricans speak English fluently. Knowing a few food terms in Spanish beforehand might be helpful, especially if you aren’t fluent.
Don’t be like me in Costa Rica and accidentally say you’re embarazada, which means “pregnant,” when I meant “embarrassed.” I had even more reason to be embarrassed after that…
- Arroz – Rice
- Plátano – Plantain
- Pan – Bread
- Comida – Food
- Fruta – Fruit
- Coco – Coconut (not chocolate)
- Vegetales – Vegetables
- Papa – Potato
- Maíz – Corn
- Frijoles – Beans
- Pollo – Chicken
- Huevo – Egg
- Pescado – Fish
- Leche – Milk
- Café – Coffee
History of Puerto Rican Cuisine
Like the island itself, Puerto Rican cuisine is unique in a way that only an island can be. Given all of the intersecting national and ethnic identities, it only makes sense that all backgrounds are mixed to create the best Puerto Rican dishes. Like the Puerto Ricans, many Puerto Rican dishes revolve around family, tradition, and comfort.
For example, arroz con gandules is the national dish of Puerto Rico that will soothe the weariest soul. This rice dish combines white rice with pork and pigeon peas.
You can find…