Photos: Supplied

If you decide to spend the Holidays in Puerto Rico or if your visit coincides with our long festive season, prepare to taste Puerto Rican cuisine’s most delicious dishes—a great fusion of flavors and colors from all the cultures that have had an influence on our island.

Our local cuisine is a blend of customs and traditions that has earned Puerto Rico a top echelon among renowned dining destinations. Our island is a destination where you’ll find excellent food—and if it happens to be Holiday fare then you are in for a real treat!

Although traditional dishes are available year-round, they are the rage during the Holiday season so local families as well as restaurants devote special attention to their preparation. Island residents expect these delicacies at all their Holiday events and tourists just can’t get enough of them!p90-cred-bonderenko

Rice with pigeon peas is a must in our Holiday menu, preferably served with our tasty pasteles. Puerto Rican pasteles bear some resemblance to Mexican or Cuban tamales and other foods wrapped in leaves. This gastronomic treat— made with plantain or yucca “dough” wrapped over pieces of pork or chicken and lots of criollo (local) seasonings and then wrapped in a banana leaf—is boiled and served piping hot.

Rice with pigeon peas and pasteles are served with local cuisine’s crown jewel: the incomparable spit-roasted pig. The traditional Puerto Rican cooking method uses two Y-shaped hooks on which a rod holding a whole pig is placed and then cooked for hours over a bed of burning wood, turning the rod at intervals for even roasting.

The pig is seasoned with garlic, salt, oregano, a hint of pepper, and a couple of additional ingredients depending on the family cook’s or restaurant chef’s particular preference. Other seasonal treats include the savory morcillas (fried blood sausage), some of which have a delightful hint of hotness; guineítos en escabeche (pickled green bananas); yucca with local mojo sauce; asopao de gandules (hearty pigeon pea soup); and fritters like meat-filled alcapurrias, codfish-based bacalaítos, and rice flour almojábanas.

Holiday desserts include marzipan and arroz con dulce, which is made with rice, coconut milk, and raisins. Coconut is the main ingredient in other delightful desserts like tembleque and majarete, as well as in our beloved coquito, an eggnog like beverage that is made with coconut milk or cream, condensed and evaporated milks, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and white rum to taste.

p-90-cred-bonderenkoWhat dishes do tourists prefer? “The mofongo [fried green plantain, mashed, and often filled with meat, poultry or seafood], closely followed by all our local fritters,” said Luis Castillo, executive chef at Hotel El Convento, who prepared the mouth-watering dishes showcased in this story. “When it comes to drinks, there’s no denying it… coquito is hugely popular during the Holidays,” he admits, also pointing out that Puerto Rican cuisine is unrivaled because it is well-seasoned but not spicy or hot, which makes it suitable for everyone’s palate.

“Even though many local specialties are associated with the Holiday season our guests always ask for them. Therefore, I combine them with unexpected products at my chef tasting tables. I can prepare a skirt steak with pasteles and an oxtail stew, some cod raviolis with avocado or perhaps pork tenderloin medallions instead of pit-roasted pig,” Castillo adds.

A new generation of chefs is reinterpreting our local dishes, which is precisely what is featured during a weekend-long food festival called Saborea Puerto Rico—to be held on April 7-10 at El Escambrón Beach in San Juan. For more information, go to If you can’t wait then don’t miss Old San Juan’s “SOFO” Culinary Fest (787-723-7080) on December 3-6, when eateries on Fortaleza St. offer special prices on their dishes.