Although Puerto Rican food is somewhat similar to both Spanish and Mexican cuisine, it also combines Spanish, African, Taíno, and American influences. They use indigenous seasonings and ingredients like coriander, papaya, cacao, nispero, apio, plantains, and yampee. Locals call their cuisine “cocina criolla”.
Cocina criolla (Créole cooking) goes back to the Arawaks and Tainos, the original inhabitants of the island. They thrived on a diet of corn, tropical fruit, and seafood. The Spanish added beef, pork, rice, wheat, and olive oil to the island’s foodstuffs. The Spanish planted sugarcane and imported slaves from Africa, who brought okra and taro (known in Puerto Rico as yautia). The mingling of flavors and ingredients passed from generation to generation among the islanders, resulting in the exotic blend of today’s Puerto Rican cuisine.
In most cases, coastal cities have the best selection of seafood – a great way to begin exploring local island cuisine. Try Caribbean Lobster, a sweeter variety than its Maine cousin. Dolphin fish and red snapper are also widely available, but the local seafood specialty is conch stuffed with tomato for a fritter or mixed into a ceviche salad. In cities and towns away from the coast, pork is widely popular.
Of course, Puerto Rico is also known for a few strong beverages. Coffee is served extremely strong or sweetened and with milk and called café con leche. However, the national drink is rum. Here you’ll find more than 20 different brands of rum. Both the locally-brewed beer Medalla and Presidente beer from the Dominican Republic are equally popular.
If you’re looking for beverages with a little less kick, check out coco frío, drunk straight from a chilled coconut. Or take a sip of some of the popular fresh fruit juices. You may want to try the concoction known as jugo de china, a combination of mangos, papayas, and oranges.