Traditional Puerto Rican Cuisine: Christmas Dinner

 

Since the holiday’s are now upon us, for today’s blog post I am going to share with you my menu for our Christmas Dinner – Puerto Rican style. As you may or may not know, I am newly Puerto Rican by marriage, but Italian-American by all other standards! Over the past 10 years, I have been mastering my technique of Puerto Rican Cooking. Thanks to my husband’s mother Lucy (who passed away in 2013) I am able to keep up with the best of my Puerto Rican counterparts – many of whom are quite surprised that a “Blanquita” can compare to them!

So, before we begin I will share a small bit of background information on Puerto Rican Cuisine!

Traditional Puerto Rican cuisine as many people know it today has been evolving over may years. It has been influenced in the past by many factors. Dating back hundreds of years, the food has roots from not only the native Taino Indians of Puerto Rico but also from Spain and Africa. These influences came about in most instances through the slave trade. The cuisine has evolved into a unique food experience for all who venture to try it.

In many instances over time the food eaten in Puerto Rico was out of necessity rather than desire. At times of economic hardship, people on the island were able to survive on foods grown easily on their own land. The warm tropical climate allows for the cultivation of many types of food plants and trees such as bananas, plantains, citrus fruits, mangos, guavas, coconuts and many various root vegetables. This abundance of food sources is evident all over the island. The warm Caribbean waters have provided for an excellent source food as well, both in the past and currently.

Many people think of “rice and beans” when Puerto Rican food comes to mind, but this was not always the case as it is today. Rice and beans today are a staple in the diets of most Puerto Ricans. There are countless preparation methods for both, and they can serve as side dishes along with fish or meat, or together as the main course. There are many varieties of beans such as kidney beans, black beans, pink beans, pinto beans, small red beans, and pigeon peas. Rice is also available in different styles as well such as long or medium grain rice.

Plantains also play a big part in Puerto Rican cuisine. They are plentiful on the island and versatile as well. They can be eaten when green (under ripened) or yellow (ripe), but must be cooked either way. When eaten green they are more similar to a starchy potato-like vegetable which can be fried or boiled and prepared in many different ways. Yellow plantains are usually fried or baked and have a sweet savory flavor. Plantains are most often eaten as a side dish, but can also play a part in some main dishes such as a “pastelon” which is fried yellow plantains layered with ground beef and cheese and baked in the oven (similar to a lasagna).

Another staple in Puerto Rican cooking are root vegetables such as yucca, batata (sweet potato), yautia, and Malanga. These are rich in starch and grow well in the dry hard soil. They are often boiled and served as a side dish or cooked in soups and stews. Puerto Ricans refer to these as “verduras” and usually cook more than one variety together, calling this Viendas.

Sofrito is the base for many recipes in Puerto Rican cooking. It is a blend of finely chopped fresh onion, garlic, peppers, and cilantro or reciao leaves. This is usually made in large batches and frozen for daily use. It gives the food a flavorful background without being too overpowering. It is used in many dishes as well as serves as a marinade for many fish and meats.

Meats and fish are also prepared in various ways in Puerto Rican cooking, such as grilled, baked fried or braised, but are almost always seasoned with “adobo”. Adobo is a spice of blended garlic powder, salt, pepper and oregano. Along with sofrito, adobo is one of the most common spices added to many dishes giving them a unique flavor. Achote or annatto is often added to dishes as well, for extra flavor and to give the food some color.

For many celebrations in Puerto Rico a slow roasted whole pig is the center of the meal accompanied by various side dishes. The host of the party will often stay up all night preparing and cooking it to perfection. This serves as a social gathering time as well. Holiday meals in Puerto Rican cuisine do not often vary much. One can expect certain foods to be present at all holiday celebrations.

A traditional Puerto Rican meal at most holiday times will consist of roasted pork – whole pig or a roast (la lechon or pernil), rice with pigeon peas (arroz con gandules), and various salads. A cheese tray with guava paste (pasta guyaba) is served as an appetizer at most every celebration, big or small. During the Christmas season pasteles are almost added to the menu.

Pasteles are similar to a tamale. They consist of a dough made of mashed green plantains, green bananas, and yucca, then filled with a seasoned pork mixture and wrapped in green banana leaves. The process of making these is quite time consuming and usually done over two days’ time. Once prepared they must be boiled in salted water for an hour or more in order to cook them.

Many people have never had authentic Puerto Rican food, and they say you either love it or hate it. The flavors and textures can take some getting used to for those who do not usually venture to try new things. Knowing about the food of another culture can help one to understand and appreciate it.

Here are some of my personal photos of different Puerto Rican Foods – Some that I cooked myself and others from restaurants.

Christmas Dinner Menu

Appetizers

Pasta Guyaba y Queso con Ritz (Guava Paste and Cheese with Crackers)

Papitas con Dip (Chips and Dip)

Coctel de Camaron (Jumbo Shrimp Coctail)

Dinner

La Lechon /Pernil (Roasted Pork)

Jamon con Pina (Spiral Ham with Pineapple and Cherries)

Arroz con Gandules (Rice with Pigeon Peas)

Pasteles (Traditional PR Holiday Food)

Ensalada de Papas (Potato Salad)

Ensalada Verde (Mixed Greens Salad)

Ensalada de Codito (Macaroni Salad)

Dessert

Flancocho (Flan Cake)

Coquito (Puerto Rican Spiked Eggnog)

So there you have my Puerto Rican menu for Christmas! In addition to this I will be serving an Italian Meat Lasagna along with many varieties of Italian Christmas Cookies, and of course plenty of wine!

You can find recipes for many of the dishes from my Christmas Dinner menu at http://www.elboricua.com/recipes or www.ricanrecipes.com.  Hope that you all enjoy your holidays and Happy New Year To All!

Colmados in Puerto Rico

By Kristy Decker

Welcome to my Puerto Rico travel blog! I have been traveling to PR over the past ten years usually about once a year because my hubby calls it home! I too will call it home one day when we retire, but until then I am enjoying becoming familiar with everything and engrossing myself in the culture as much as possible!

Our future Home(2013- a work in progress!)house

So, for my first blog I am going to talk about Calmados! The word “colmado” in Spanish is actually an adjective meaning “overflowing, heaped, or very full”. It is also the name given to the many little corner stores on every street in islands all over the Caribbean. Other names for these stores include “tiendas” or “bodegas”. Before the introduction of big box stores such as Wal Mart or Sam’s Club, or even midsized grocery chains, these colmados were the place for locals to buy everything from meats and vegetables to cleaning products. Many are still in operation despite the competition, though many have had to change in one way or another to keep up with the times

Colmados are one of my favorite places to explore. One in particular is just a 5 minute walk from “home”! Good old Colmado Cafetin – The color of the building and inside decor changes every so often, but the people and atmosphere are always the same!022813195434

Above pic taken 2013

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Above pic taken 2009

Colmados in such places as Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico are located on almost every street, and in most cases you can’t drive more than a block or two without another one popping up. The sad thing is that for every colmado you see open and running, there are two or three closed down and boarded up. As with so many “Mom and Pop” stores, aka locally owned businesses, right here in the US, big business has taken a toll on them. Colmado owners in the Caribbean that have been able to prosper and remain have had to come up with creative ways to sustain their customer base in order to thrive. Many that remain also may not actually be thriving, but existing because it’s their way of life.

Below: Traditional Colmados in Dominican Republic

 

Many of the colmados open as early as eight in the morning. Closing time varies for most anywhere from eight at night to midnight. There are some that stay open until the customers go home! The staff generally consists of the owners and their immediate families. Many colmados are the front portion of the owner’s home, so in essence they never really get away from their work. Their work becomes their life and the customers become family.

Most colmados stick to the tradition of offering the option for their customers to buy goods on credit. This occurs in most cases the old-fashioned way of keeping a paper notebook with customer’s names and their running total for a certain period of time. If a customer receives weekly income they can pay weekly. If they only receive a monthly income, the owner allows them to pay monthly. This is one convenience and service that keeps customers coming back as opposed to buying everything at the supermarket.

As you would imagine, the business owners tend to have a close relationship with their customers. Sometimes the relationship goes back to the last generations. This has prompted many colmado owners to provide a delivery service to their customers. As customers age and become unable to get around like they once could, it becomes hard to get out. A delivery of goods right to their home is an invaluable resource, and one that is not provided by a store such as Wal Mart. It benefits both parties in this case.

The colmados generally provide a wide variety of items for sale – usually something for all ages. Items for sale may include candy, canned goods, cleaning products, fresh produce, fish, meat, whole chickens, milk, soda, beer and liquor. Most everything is sold at a fairly good price, although by first world standards there may be a slight lack of general hygiene in the stores, the convenience is worth looking the other way. Because most of the customers are like family, this does not present an issue.

The environment of the colmado is most usually a lively one. There is always a source of music which is loudly played throughout most of the day. This usually consists of a stereo with large speakers, playing bachata or merengue, positioned near the front of the store for all to hear. Many colmados have a television so the owners and their customers don’t miss out on their favorite “telenovelas” or soap operas. Baseball games are just as important, so there may be large gatherings at the colmado for this also.

While many colmados have had to change their game plan when it comes to keeping a large stock of grocery items, the festive atmosphere remains. Many have shifted more towards serving as a community watering hole and eatery, aka a bar and restaurant. Many have added juke-boxes and pool tables in addition to their traditional domino tables. Another addition providing the colmado owners income are gambling slot-type machines.

Many colmados still keep a stock of basic non-perishable grocery items for their customers, but have had to limit the amount of fresh groceries available in order to cut their losses. This allows them to limit the loss of products going bad while still providing the last minute item a customer may have forgotten when they did their weekly grocery shopping. This tradeoff has been the operating basis for many colmados in recent years, but their customers understand and still want to support them.

Below – Various colmados that we frequent:

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Above -My daughter with her college sweetheart (and now Husband!) 2009

Below – the same colmado 2016

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Getting back to our favorite, Colmado Cafetin – kind of like our home away from home away from home! During my latest visit I conducted an interview with the proprietor, Aly Navarro, who has been the owner of Colmado Cafetin in Humacao, PR for over 45 years. She and her husband opened this store together, and although he passed away over 15 years ago, she and her oldest daughter Carmen Julia continue to keep it open. ‑The store is located in the front and on top of her home. Many of the people on the street are related to her in one way or another (including my better half!), and although she doesn’t stock a full store any more, she keeps the basic dry goods to sell, and operates as more of a bar. For a time, she was operating as little restaurant there as well, but that has now changed to keeping a small menu with a few popular items available to order. The store is open daily around 2:00 in the afternoon, just in time for people to stop by after work to grab an item or two for dinner and a cold drink before heading home. During the week closing time varies with business, and on the weekends she closes when the last customer leaves. We know this for sure because many a night (or morning) we are the last customers!! Between the pool table, domino table and jukebox, it’s easy to loose track of time!

Below: Various pictures over the past few years at Colmado Cafetin.

 

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Above: Carmen Julia(2009)

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Above: Aly cooking us frituras at the end of the night (see pic below!)

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Above: Me, my hubby, Aly and Carmen Julia

Although colmados are mostly known to locals and not much along the lines of what many tourists seek out, these stores are part of the history and the real culture of island life in the Caribbean. Tourist attractions are great, but if you want real authentic experience this is it! I know from both research and personal experience, this is true life for many people. I highly suggest visiting and seeing for yourself the energy and authenticity of any colmado you might pass by while vacationing in the islands.

So, there you have it, the first entry in my new travel blog! Hope you enjoyed it!

Next time – My Favorite Beaches in PR – Here’s a little  preview:

beach

Works Cited

“Colmados | Cabarete Guide.” Cabarete Guide | Responsible Tourism and Investment Guide. N.p., 9 Feb. 2016. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

De Feliz, Lindsay. “The Colmado in the Dominican Republic | JetSettlers Magazine.” Jetsettlers Magazine :: Living Life Through Those Who Live It. N.p., 10 Nov. 2011. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

Navarro, Aly. Personal interview. 18 Mar. 2016.

Taina, Rosa. “Colmados look for ways to survive.” caribbean business 30.29 (2002): 13. ebsco. Web. 13 Mar. 2016