15 Unique Foods To Try Along Puerto Rico’s Famous Pork Route
Drive less than an hour south of San Juan and you’ll be in the hills of the small town of Cayey in an area known as Guavate. This central Puerto Rican community is famous for its Ruta del Lechon. Cross the winding road with hairpin bends, skirting the edges of Puerto Rico’s central mountains. The route is dotted with restaurants specializing in Lechon Asado, spit roasted suckling pig. This mile-long roadside strip of restaurants start roasting their delicious food in the wee hours of the morning, so it’s ready for hungry patrons. Tools of the trade include an open hearth (or charcoal) and machete both of which are used to expertly cook and portion the main course.
I recently had the exciting opportunity to explore all the unique foods along Puerto Rico’s famous pork route, the Ruta del LechÃ³n. I am delighted to share my culinary experience with you.
the Lechoneras are the roadside restaurants that make up the pork route. Some offer restaurant-style seating with wait service, however, many offer their cafeteria style, where you line up at the counter to make your selections. For non-pigs, roast chicken is a good option, tasty and chewy, it pairs perfectly with the variety of side dishes on offer.
Note: The information in this article was obtained during a sponsored press trip, but all recommendations are mine.
LechÃ³nera Certificada is a certification that the establishment uses 100 percent Puerto Rican pork. According to LechÃ³nera Certificada, only three percent of the pork consumed in Puerto Rico is raised locally, the rest is imported from the United States. Pork grown in Puerto Rico has an extra layer of fat under the skin, which makes the finished product more moist and silky, enhancing the succulent flavor.
Three excellent LechÃ³neras that apply for certification are El Mojito, Los Pinos and El Cunao. El Cunao has been serving perfectly roasted pork for over 80 years and is the granddaddy of the Lechonera scene. The restaurant is constantly filled with locals enjoying a good meal, and the lively atmosphere creates a party atmosphere.
1. LechÃ³n Asado
The star dish of LechÃ³nera is its LechÃ³n Asado, spit-roasted suckling pig. Expertly roasted for hours, the pork grown in Puerto Rico is juicy, tender and flavorful. Appreciated throughout the year, the roast suckling pig is a favorite during the long Christmas season which runs from September to January.
You can explore Puerto Rico’s long Christmas season with its festive celebrations and traditions here. (story being edited at the moment).
2. Pig candies
Due to the long, slow roasting of the LechÃ³n, the crispy skin is the prized bite. The seasoned skin takes on a lacquer finish reminiscent of caramelized candy. Backed up by the extra layer of fat from locally raised pork, roasted crackers are crisp, flavorful and juicy. It’s the ultimate bite of pork at the table, make sure you get your serving before it’s gone.
Mofongo is a delicious Puerto Rican side dish made from fried green plantains mashed with salt, garlic, broth, and olive oil. The ingredients are crushed together in a wooden pestle, mortar and pestle, until they reach a smooth consistency – no lumps please.
Mofongo has the consistency of mashed potatoes, but it is subtly sweet and very starchy. Garlic and olive puree, the delicious dish is hard to stop eating. Nicely turned from the pestle, it makes a nice presentation as an accompaniment.
The Ubiquitous Tostones are made from plantains, a starchy relative of bananas. The Puerto Rican answer to a french fry, Tostones are double-fried in hot oil to give them a super crispy and crispy exterior texture that plays against the soft and supple interior. You will find them as an accompaniment to almost any dish. Perfect for dipping or just snacking, they are positively addicting.
This is the dish where gourmets test their metal. The morcilla is a sausage made from pig’s blood and rice. Spicy with peppers, black pudding brings a fiery zest to your palette. It tends to have a slightly bloody taste which the peppers help temper. Stuffed in intestinal casings, the sausages are then cut into pieces and fried. They are best eaten hot. If you’re a little hesitant, make sure you have a strong drink available as a hunter.
If you want a more traditional type of sausage, ask for Longaniza. Made with ground pork and seasoned with garlic and annatto, a spice with a nutty profile, the sausages taste delicious. They are sweet and slightly spicy with a soft red tint coming from the ground annatto.
7. Arroz Con Gandules
Arroz con Gandules is a traditional Puerto Rican rice dish with pigeon peas. This is a classic recipe where each Abuela (grandmother) does it with her own special touch. It will be found on all festive and festive tables across the island.
The dish begins with an aromatic sofrito made with a mixture of green and sweet peppers, onion, garlic and culantro. Sazon seasoning (a beautiful blend of spices) and tomato paste give the white rice dish its delicate yellow tint. Gandules are tiny green pigeon peas that impart a slightly nutty flavor to the dish.
Gandinga is the result of genuine end-to-end cuisine. It is an offal stew made from kidneys, heart and pork liver. Served over white rice, the hot sauce brings organ meat to life otherwise uninspiring in texture.
9 Pollo Asado
When you need a respite from the perfectly cooked LechÃ³n, you should reach for the Pollo Asado. Spit-roasted, seasoned chicken that is cooked to perfection. The tender and juicy meat pairs perfectly with the classic Puerto Rican spice blend.
10. Asopao De Pollo
Nothing screams Puerto Rico more than its classic chicken and rice dish, Asopao de Pollo. After cooking the sofrito, the chicken is pan-fried and then combined with the rest of the ingredients to simmer on the stove. Rice, tomatoes and chicken broth complete the tasty stew. Traditionally finished with peas, olives and cilantro, the dish is perfect for a cozy meal with family and friends.
11. Guineitos En Escabeche
GuineÃtos en Escabeche is a pickled side dish made with boiled green bananas, onions, olive oil, vinegar, garlic and adobo seasoning. Tangy and bright, this dish adds the perfect acidic accompaniment to a rich roast pork main course.
12. Yuca Con Mojo
Yuca is a particularly popular starch in Puerto Rico. It is the root of the cassava plant. Yuca with Mojo is a boiled yuca concoction dressed in a citrus garlic mojo vinaigrette. The tasty and acidic properties of the mojo perfectly complement the richness of the starchy yuca.
As you explore the incredible variety of food along the Ruta del LechÃ³n, the perfect accompaniment is a Medalla Light beer. Produced by the CompaÃ±Ãa Cervecera de Puerto Rico, it is one of the best-selling beers on the island. For a light beer, it has a light but well rounded flavor that pairs perfectly with the pork-rich and starchy sides.
14. Malta India
Made in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, this soft drink has a unique flavor profile. As soon as you unscrew the cap, the malt aroma attacks you. Super thick and dark, the soft drink is syrup-like and very sweet. You should definitely try Malta India the next time you visit Puerto Rico. There is no middle ground with this drink; either you love it or you will never order it again.
Coconut pudding for dessert – yes please! Sometimes you just want to end your meal with something delicate and sweet. Tembleque is a pastry cream that is simply prepared with coconut milk and sugar and then thickened with cornstarch. Sprinkled with cinnamon, it’s light and sweet, the perfect end to a heavy meal.
Several dozen casual roadside restaurants
There are many restaurants along the Ruta del LechÃ³n, some perched precariously on steep hills. The busiest and liveliest time of the day is dinner time when the LechÃ³nares not only present their slow-roasted and tasty pork dishes, but also feature live music, creating an instant party atmosphere.
A few restaurants offer guests ample parking, however, if you’re visiting during the evening rush hours, you might have a hard time finding a spot.
Puerto Rican cuisine
The best way to learn about the people and the history of an area is to eat their traditional cuisine. Find out more by looking for restaurants off the beaten track, away from the tourist areas.
When planning your next visit to Puerto Rico, be sure to check out Discover Puerto Rico for all the most up-to-date information on this fabulous island destination.
If you love to explore Caribbean food culture, visit Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, you will love the local Cuban flavors.
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