Situated in the waters of the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Rico’s cuisine has a complex but rich history. Its flavors are a blend of the different culinary traditions that immigrants have brought to the region. Regions like Taíno, American, Spanish, and African culinary traditions with native ingredients and seasoning have influenced Puerto Rico’s unique tropical flavors.
Puerto Rico’s style of cooking is called, “cocina criolla”which means Creole cooking. It is said to have originated during the time that the original inhabitants of the island, Arawaks and Tainos were feeding off on tropical fruits, seafood, native vegetables and corn. This culture has brought many tropical roots and tubers such as Yuca (cassava) and yautía (taro), Habenero pepper, Oregano, Achiote, Culantro (Spiny leaf), Calabaza (Tropical Pumpkin), Pineapple, peanuts, guavas, among others.
Puerto Rican culinary tradition was also highly influenced by the Spanish-European style of cooking. Traditional recipes were mixed with native Caribbean foods and cooking styles to produce very rich blend of flavors. This led to the expansion of the criolla cooking. They’ve brought in wheat and meat products like pork and beef, olive oil, and rice. They’ve also influenced the use of black pepper, garlic, onions, basil, oregano, cilantro, citrus fruits, eggplant, and cheese.
Some of the island’s dishes are seasoned or marinated with Adobo and Sofrito ” these are a mixture of spicy mixtures and herbs that affect the tropical flavors of Puerto Rico’s cuisines. You can do your own thing in making the Adobo marinade, but key spices that are commonly used are salt and pepper, garlic and onion, oregano, and turmeric. Although most people normally season their meat right before cooking, the meat is most flavorful when the meat is marinated overnight. Sofrito is another staple in creating delectable Puerto Rican cuisines such as stew, soup, or sauce. This has a very aromatic blend of peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro and tomato puree. This also varies from cook to cook, but most ingredients used in making Sofrito are very basic and can be found in conventional shops.
The Africans and Americans also made some contributions to Puerto Rico’s style of cooking. African slaves were sent to the region and they brought with them the influence and use of their local products such as okra, sesame seeds, sweet bananas, taro, plantains, coconuts and the deep-frying style of cooking. As part of the U.S territory, Puerto Rico has come to adapt the American’s style of cooking. The American trends and fast food styles of cooking are evident in Puerto Rican cuisine in the present times.
Some of the Puerto Rican culinary traditions have been widely used by native Puerto Rican chefs. One of the well-known celebrity chefs from Puerto Rico is Wilo Benet. He has been creating and redefining Caribbean cuisines for over two decades at his restaurants, Pikayo and Varita. He introduced the world to the flavors of Puerto Rico. He has published two best-selling books that showcased the Puerto Rican cuisines. He then had a stint at Bravo TV’s Top Chef spinoff, Top Chef Masters where his native roots brought out the best of him.
This rich, multi-cultured culinary journey of Puerto Rico has been making names in the international scene as the palates of the Caribbean have reached a very festive global phenomenon.