One of the reasons why Puerto Rico makes such a good budget-travel destination is that you may never have to eat at a restaurant even once during your visit. Routinely celebrated as one of the best street food places in the world, the variety of meats, starches, root vegetables, rice and beans, pork crackling and plantains in every form – mashed, deep fried into tostones, or mixed into mofongo.
Here’s my tried and tested list of what you absolutely must try on the streets of San Juan. The chicken kebobs and marinated shrimp are fantastic, but before you get to them you must have the most traditional of Puerto Rican dishes – mofongo. This is a comfort food at its most Latin American, mashed unripe plantains are mixed with garlic and spices and some kind of meat. You can choose steak, but I would highly recommend chiccharones, crisp, fatty pork crackling that elevates this dish to a another level. Pair this with a plantain batida, a thick milkshake – and you will see how the same fruit can be interpreted so differently.
Among the many stuffed foods, the most well known may be the empanadas, corn flatbread stuffed with meat, vegetables, coconut, cheese or beans, shaped into a half moon and then quickly deep fried and eaten hot, while they are crunchy on the outside and steaming hot on the inside. But there also papa relennas, potato fritters filled with meat or beans and alcapurrias, peg-shaped croquettes made with a mix of starches – local pumpkin, banana, potato – and rolled around spicy ground beef, crab or chicken.
My favorite was bacalaitos, salt cod fritters, which get find their origin in bacalao, the Spanish dish. These are made from mashed salt cod and flour which is then rolled and fried. They have a wonderful crunchy texture and soft, chewy interior. Seasoned well, with parsley and cumin, they make for a very satisfying snack indeed.