The mesa Boricua: 15 fun & flavorful facts about Puerto Rican cuisine

The mesa Boricua: 15 fun & flavorful facts about Puerto Rican cuisine

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

By Cynthia De Saint

May 24, 2024

If you are a fan of the mesa Boricua, these tidbits of knowledge about the dishes you love will make you appreciate its unique blend of countries, races, and spices. 

No matter where we are in the world, there is nothing that takes us back home like a taste, or even just the aroma, of the food that was shared and enjoyed around the family table. 

“Puerto Rican food is my lifeline to the island, and the way I stay connected is fundamental to who I am, ” says Von Diaz, the author of “Coconuts and Collards,” a collection of Boricua recipes, who was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Georgia. 

And that is true for so many! Is there a boricua that doesn’t “go back” when they encounter the delicious aroma of the típica sazón, or gets a taste of that staple of Boricua cuisine, green plantain tostones?

But what, exactly, is Puerto Rican cuisine? Sometimes, what is most familiar remains a little bit of a mystery. We believe we know it so well until we discover fascinating tidbits we didn’t know about. Like these 15 fun facts about Boricua food that will make you appreciate la cocina criolla even more. How many are you familiar with?

The mesa Boricua: 15 fun & flavorful facts about Puerto Rican cuisine

Photo courtesy of Samuel Ramos via Unsplash.

Isle of enchantment… and sabor

 1. Boricua food is a unique combination of indigenous food with food that arrived with the conquistadors during the Spanish conquest, and of the Africans who came as slaves.

2. Among the foods that Puerto Rican cuisine adopted from the indigenous Taínos are: yucca, yautía, corn, beans, sweet potatoes, peppers, sweet and hot chili, and recao (or recaito), that flavorful cooking base made up of different green herbs and vegetables found locally.

3. From the Spanish conquest, Boricuas adopted foods such as oil and different flavor enrichers like oregano, cumin, and basil which are a staple in Puerto Rican home cooking.

4. Directly from Africa came the famous plantain, banana, yam, okra, and black-eyed peas, as well as a leading food in Puerto Rican cuisine, pigeon peas.

5. Puerto Rican cuisine soon took dishes from other parts of the world and turned them into their own Boricua deliciousness. One example is arroz dulce, or sweet rice. A native of Spain, where it is known as arroz con leche (rice pudding), in Puerto Rico coconut was added.

6. Rice — a staple of Boricua cuisine — was brought to Puerto Rico by the Spanish and began to be cultivated by the Africans. But Puerto Rico’s rice culture took off when Boricuas discovered effective techniques to cultivate it as early as the 16th century.

7. “Plantains are iconic in Puerto Rico,” says Puerto Rican food historian Miguel Ortíz Cuadra Diaz. “They are a way in which our African heritage shows up on the plate every single day.” Plantains and their cousins, bananas, came to Puerto Rico from Africa in the 16th century, via the Balearic islands. 

8. But the island’s recipes are also a fusion of 1950s American ingredients like mayonnaise and canned veggies. To wit: The delicious mayo ketchup sauce, that garlicky blend of mayonnaise and ketchup, that’s a perfect dipping sauce. 

9. The Taíno culture dates back to at least 1,000 AD in Puerto Rico and was known for making casabe, a starchy flatbread made from yucca flour.

10. Puerto Ricans love soda crackers or galletas de soda! That’s because this American product of the 19th and early 20th centuries reproduces the crunchy texture of the earlier casabe bread.

11. But did you know that the way rice is cooked, “upwards in a pot” as opposed to horizontally (as in the Spanish paella), comes from the island’s African influence?

12. Believe it or not, despite the beloved classic flan de coco, coconuts were not native to the island. They made their way to the Caribbean via Africa from Asia. Boricuas today use them to flavor everything from soups, sauces, and desserts to the island’s signature cocktail, piña colada.

13. By 1848 the first restaurant, La Mallorquina, opened in Old San Juan. “El Cocinero Puertorriqueño,” the island’s first cookbook, was published in 1849.

The mesa Boricua: 15 fun & flavorful facts about Puerto Rican cuisine

Photo courtesy of Flickr/CC BY 2.0.

14. The Taínos grew many varieties of beans and some corn, but surprisingly, maíz was not as dominant in their cooking due to the frequent hurricanes that destroyed the crops. They relied more on safeguarded plants like conucos, which are hills of yuca grown together.

15. Potatoes and passion fruit were brought over to the island by the Spanish or Portuguese from Peru (where there are more than two thousand varieties of potatoes!) and Brazil.

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.The mesa Boricua: 15 fun & flavorful facts about Puerto Rican cuisineThe mesa Boricua: 15 fun & flavorful facts about Puerto Rican cuisine

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CATEGORIES: FOOD AND DRINK
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