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International food magazine Saveur hails Puerto Rico as the land of “plantains, pork, and sofrito.” If you’re not yet familiar with the cuisine and hungry for Puerto Rican food ideas for your next event, consider this a primer for menu navigation.

Locals at Welcome to Puerto Rico describe the cuisine as a créole that blends culinary traditions from around the world. European, African, American, and Taíno (Caribbean) influences are a product of Puerto Rico’s historical roots, first as a Spanish colony and then, after the Spanish-American War, a U.S. territory. Popular ingredients that grow natively in the region include coriander, papaya, cacao, and plantains which are large, banana-like fruits with either savory green flesh or sweet yellow. Europeans brought beef, pork, rice, wheat, and olive oil to the island. While Spanish traders brought African slaves who prepared meals with sugarcane, taro, and yucca.

Puerto Rico is trying to rebuild after devastating hurricanes ripped through the Caribbean. Many continental Americans are supporting family back home with extra love and attention. Consider Puerto Rican catering businesses for your winter holiday event or even an ordinary weekly meeting. Here is a list of the traditional Puerto Rican food ideas to inspire your order.

1. Empanadillas

Empanadillas

These little half-moon shaped turnovers are filled with a savory mix of ground beef and potatoes. Whether fried or baked, the filling is seasoned with two Puerto Rican staples: sofrito, and achiote. Sofrito, browned onions, garlic, and peppers, is seasoned with olive oil and coriander. Achiote is a nutty, sweet, and earthy spice that comes in both powder and oil form.

After filling and frying, a top-notch empanadilla will have a slightly crunchy crust that yields to a richly seasoned, hearty filling. Popular filling options on the island are lobster, conch, and shrimp, but the possibilities and seasonings for this Puerto Rican dish are endless.  

2. Rellenos de papa (or papas rellenas)

Rellenos de papa (or papas rellenas)

Another popular appetizer, rellenos de papa, combines a mashed potato croquette with picadillo or ground beef or pork seasoned with sofrito. Onions and cheese might make their way into the mix, too. No matter the preparation, rellenos de papa are savory little bites of snacking joy.

3. Tostones and Maduros

Tostones and Maduros

Plantains are a Puerto Rican staple, and for a good reason. Unripe, starchy green plantains twice fried are called tostones. These crunchy snacks are best prepared simply with a sprinkle of salt and then dipped in garlic sauce. Consider them the Puerto Rican equivalent to the french fry. Maduros are their ripe, sweet counterparts. Lightly fried or griddled, maduros make for a deliciously sweet side that are perfect for balancing salty dishes.

4. Pasteles

Pasteles

Pasteles combine soft vegetable dough and meat filling, steamed in banana leaves for a flavorful little pack of delicious food. The dough is a seasoned mixture of grated green plantains, green bananas, malanga/yutía (a root vegetable similar to yuca), and potato or pumpkin with milk. Meat fillings include pork, tropical vegetables, and pumpkin. Both filling and dough is often seasoned with achiote and/or sofrito.

5. Mofongo

Mofongo

Mofongo, a standard Puerto Rican dish, is a mash of fried plantains, crunchy pork skin, and garlic. The variations of meat and spice used to make this warm, rich dish are endless, and it can be served either as a side or a full entree. On American menus, mofongo is usually made with chunks of grilled chicken breast or cubes of pork, and is often topped with stewed shrimp.

6. Pernil

Pernil

This classic slow roasted pork shoulder can take almost a full day to prepare but this Puerto Rican dish is well worth it. Seasoned with oregano, garlic, and pepper, the fat-topped cut of meat roasts slowly, yielding crunchy skin and tender meat. Meat so tender, that it falls apart with the touch of a knife, making it perfect for pulling onto piles or rice or bread.

7. Pollo Guisado

 Pollo Guisado

A one-pot chicken stew, pollo guisado combines many comforting flavors and ingredients of Puerto Rico. Dark meat chicken is browned and cooked down with Adobo, sofrito, achiote, garlic, cilantro, oregano, and other seasonings. Vegetables are left up to the discretion of the maker, so it might taste a little different dependent on the restaurant.

8. Arroz con habichuelas / Arroz con gandules

 Arroz con habichuelas / Arroz con gandules

Bacon fat and sofrito give these rice and beans extra oomph. Fresh pigeon peas, herbs, and additional seasonings turn this hearty side dish into a sturdy base for an entrée.

Are you ready try one of these Puerto Rican food ideas? Check out some of the below caterers.

Key Takeaways
  • Puerto Rican cuisine combines cultural influences from Europe, Africa, Taíno, and the Americas.
  • Sofrito and achiote make for powerful flavoring for most foods.
  • Plantains are a staple in Puerto Rican Dishes for good reason – they provide both sweet and savory sustenance.

Want ideas for spicing up your catering order?

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Written by:

Jacqueline Raposo

Jacqueline Raposo is a food writer and podcast producer based out of New York City. She has written features and columns for clients including Saveur magazine, Plate magazine, Tasting Table, Serious Eats, and The Village Voice, and produced audio stories for Heritage Radio Network and Live from Prince Street. When not reporting about or eating food, you can find her in Riverside Park with her dog, Mitra, working off the prosciutto.

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