Rich in Pleasures
Brandon Rosenblum/Getty Images

12 Things You Didn't Know About Puerto Rican Food Culture

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Rich in Pleasures
Brandon Rosenblum/Getty Images

Rich in Pleasures

Puerto Rican cuisine often gets lumped into the general "Latin food" or "Spanish food" categories, but it has its own rich culture to explore. African roots (all the mashed plantains), regional specialties (hello, fritters), and modern touches all play a part. Many Boricua who went abroad to study the culinary arts have come back to continue the evolution of contemporary Puerto Rican cuisine. Here are a few details about the island's dining and drinking scene to whet your appetite for a visit.

There's a Craft Beer Scene
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There's a Craft Beer Scene

The craft beer movement has reached Puerto Rico, where craft beer is produced as well as enjoyed. Ocean Lab, the main craft brewery on the island, releases unique and tasty offerings, some with refreshing infusions of passion fruit and grapefruit. El Tap is a local favorite bar for sipping on a wide selection of imported craft beers.

The Coffee is Amazing
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The Coffee Is Amazing

Coffee nerds, rejoice: Puerto Rico has a lot to offer. Hacienda Tres Angeles is among the coffee plantations that offer tours and tastings. The tours give visitors an inside look at agricultural practices and the production of coffee, as well as a more intimate knowledge of coffee flavors.

It's a Cocktail Paradise
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It's a Cocktail Paradise

One of the world's most attended cocktail conferences, Tales of the Cocktail, did a special 2019 "on the road" edition in Puerto Rico. La Factoria is the craft cocktail bar that helped pioneer the local industry, but these days high-quality cocktails with fresh ingredients and good spirits can be found all over the capital city of San Juan.

Not All Mofongo Is Created Equal
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Not All Mofongo Is Created Equal

Mofongo is a traditional dish made up of garlicky mashed plantains, usually with some pork mixed in. It's a regional food that can be either delicious or boring, depending how it is prepared. The most exciting versions are the updated classics, such as those from Azucena, a new contemporary restaurant. It offers a range of sauces on top of freshly made mofongo, including a truffle cream sauce option.

You Can Visit Obama's Favorite Breakfast Cafe
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You Can Eat a Presidential Meal

Kasalta is a popular cafe for breakfast or lunch — even more so after a visit from President Barack Obama. It's a great place to try regional specialties such as mini meat pies, salt cod fritters, and sweets. It also offers a wide range of deli meats, cheeses, and sandwiches.

It's Not All Bacardi
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The Rum Goes Way Beyond Bacardi

Ron del Barrilito is a rum with a long history, and with small production geared toward quality, its aged rums are some of the most delicious you can find. But it's revamping for the modern spirits industry, which you can see during a facility tour that includes samples in a new tasting room and bar.

There's An Island Dedicated To Fritters
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There's an Island Dedicated to Fritters

Piñones is a small island that is home to a long line of modest outposts specializing in fritters of all kinds. Try the traditional alcapurrias, which are made from savory, seasoned, mashed plantain and filled with crab or a meat such as ground beef, and the bacalaítos, crispy codfish fritters. The island is a popular weekend spot where people will wait in hours of traffic just to jump from shop to shop, enjoying the fried delights.

The Gastropub Scene Is Growing
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The Gastropub Scene Is Growing

The gastropub is becoming a popular format to offer traditional food with a contemporary vibe and standards of service. Princesa Gastrobar is a pioneer in the category and also the first bar dedicated to Puerto Rican rum. The menu is focused on historical foods, giving guests another delicious way to interact with the culture.

Free Tour, Anyone?
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You Can Eat Your Way Around on a Food Tour

Spoon Food Tours offers informative, personalized, and in-depth trips through San Juan, some even including cooking classes. The tours give guests a window into the local culture while supporting what makes it special. "We use food as a culinary lens to reveal the culture of Puerto Rico," co-founder Gustavo Antonetti says. "We dissect the provenance of our ingredients and the evolution of our recipes to decipher our past and share our heritage. We honor our roots by showcasing the myriad of the traditional and contemporary influences that make Puerto Rico's culture both complex and enchanting."

The Farm Industry Is Small But Thriving
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The Farm Industry Is Small but Thriving

Even though there is viable farmland, a vast majority of the food consumed in Puerto Rico is imported. "People talk about 80 to 90 percent," says Efrén Robles, vice president of Frutos del Guacabo, one of the major suppliers of local produce, dairy, and meat. "This number is way too high." He and others have decided to invest in farming, with encouraging results. "If we see this as an opportunity, we will impact our community and economy in a positive way," Robles says.

Hydroponics May Be the Future
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Hydroponics May Be the Future

Hydroponics — growing with nutrients delivered through fluids, with no soil — may offer a solution to having fresh produce year-round. "Hydroponics are a very efficient and quick way to get back on your feet after a major climatic event," says Robles, of Frutos del Guacabo, which uses hydroponics to grow a wide variety of vegetables served in local restaurants. In addition, "this new technology provides an opportunity for people and communities to start getting involved in farming."

Women Are Pioneering Sustainable and Local Dining
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Women Are Pioneering Sustainable and Local Dining

Loyda Rosa Figueroa, founder and owner of the restaurant Verde Mesa, started the "little, healthy, cruelty-free, diet, organic, and self-sustainable" lunch spot as a passion project a decade ago. "Everybody called me crazy," she says. "It was the weirdest thing around." But today, Verde Mesa is a local icon and a model for the industry, paving the way for similar concepts successful with locals and tourists.