Pernil, Pasteles, Coquito, OH-MY!


There are a number of days in the year when the kitchen becomes a hub of activity, with special meals being created for visiting friends and family. In the U.S., it is Thanksgiving and Christmas that dominate the landscape, with turkey or ham usually being the dish that is most commonly served. With the heavy U.S. influence being forced into Puerto Rico, you might imagine that some of those traditions would have seeped their way into the island, but Puerto Ricans have some Holiday food traditions of their own. Let’s take a look at some of the delectable dishes you might find on the typical family Christmas table in Puerto Rico.

Whenever there is a weekend party going on in Puerto Rico, you will often see lechon be a part of the celebration. Lechon is a roast suckling pig that is one of the more popular dishes on the island, but it takes on a whole new level of importance come Christmas. Lechon is essentially the turkey of Puerto Rico during the holiday season, similar to some countries in South Africa, and it is that which you will most commonly find gracing the tables of the average family once the presents have been opened. The Christmas holiday season is Puerto Rico typically starting in November (well before Thanksgiving-which is most typically celebrated by Puerto Ricans whom returned to the Island from the U.S.; till mid January, after January 6th – Dia de los Reyes). The roasting of the pig is often an all-day affair, as it takes hours to prepare it just right, especially if you want to get the skin nice and crispy, which is generally the way to go.

An entire pig may seem like an awful lot of food for a special occasion, but Christmas, as well as other celebration days like thanksgiving, birthday parties etc, is when families and friends gather in large numbers to spend some quality time together. The pig is big, but it is not likely to be the only thing on the menu. Another popular food item are pasteles, which are essentially little meat pastries. Pork is the meat that is most commonly used as the filling, with plantain leave and paper used to “decorate” this delicious little present. The pasteles is a lot like a Christmas gift in that it looks nice on the outside, but it’s what’s inside that counts.

Arroz con gandules is a staple starch. Yummy rice and chick peas sometimes  made with cooked peppers and plated with a cold salad of choice.  Indeed, arroz con gandules can be found year round throughout the Island as it pairs well with almost any meat or fish.

It doesn’t matter which part of the world you live in, there is always room for dessert, and Puerto Rico is no different. There are a couple of different items to choose from at Christmas, but it may well be tembleque that is the dessert of choice. Tembleque is a pudding that is rich in coconut, with a splash of cinnamon to add a little blast of flavor and sweetness. Cinnamon is also used in another Christmas favorite, although this is one that is strictly for the adults only. We are talking about coquito, which is essentially the Puerto Rican version of egg nog. Besides the cinnamon, you will also find coconut and cloves in there, as well as a generous splash of rum. By the time you have sampled all that great food, and have downed a couple of coquitos, it may well be time for a well-earned siesta.

And then there is a drink more popular and with a richer history than Puerto Rico’s Coquito or Piña Colada… it is the coffee! Delicious, freshly grounded local 100% Puerto Rican coffee! For the coffee lovers, the specialty coffee from the Island is superb! Served as a pocillo (expresso), cortadito (expresso with a bit of steamed milk), or cafe con leche (latté).

After drinking your cup of strong Puerto Rican coffee and joining in on a Parranda or dancing to some old school Salsa, you’ll quickly regain the energy and no longer need the nap. Enjoy your holidays and share your favorite parts with us!