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Regional Cuisine of Puerto Rico - Puerto Rican Cuisine

by Kirsten Hawkins

Copyright 2005

Puerto Rico is an island nation that is officially a territory

of the United States. Puerto Rican cuisine has evolved from

several strong influences, including those of the original

peoples, such as the Tainos, and the Spanish conquerors that

drove most of the natives out and enslaved the remaining.

African and Caribbean influence is also reflected in the

cuisine of the island, which has also been shaped significantly

by its climate and geology.

Cocina criolla, one of the main cuisine styles particular to

the island has deep roots, extending far back to the native

Tainos and Arawaks. Their culinary traditions were based

tropical fruits, native vegetables, seafood, and corn. With the

Spanish came a host of other ingredients that expanded the

criolla style. These included olive oil, rice, wheat and meats,

such as pork and beef. As enslaved African peoples were imported

for work on the sugar cane plantations, their culinary

traditions took root as well, and their contributions, which

included taro and okra, became assimilated into the whole of

criolla cuisine.

Many of the island’s main dishes are seasoned with adobo and

sofrito, spice mixtures that impart those flavors that the

island is so well known for. Adobo, which can vary from cook to

cook, or if bought prepared, from manufacturer to manufacturer,

generally consists of black peppercorns, oregano, salt, garlic,

olive oil, and lime juice. When bought prepared in powdered

form, most include salt, powdered garlic, citric acid, pepper,

oregano, turmeric and MSG, which is a good reason to spend a

little time making your own if experimenting with Puerto Rican

cuisine at home. While generally used for seasoning meats, it

is considered to be a sort of all-purpose seasoning mixture.

Sofrito is made from onions, garlic, cilantro, peppers, and

often includes achiote, which is from the seeds of the annatoo

plant, and helps to produce a bright yellow color in the

finished product. This, too, is used in a variety of dishes,

ranging from meat dishes to soups to standard forms of beans

and rice.

One pot dishes, or stews, are common to Puerto Rican cuisine.

These are often made of meats, and flavored with a variety of

spices and ingredients in addition to adobo and sofrito. Among

these are Spanish olives stuffed with pimiento, sweet chili

peppers, capers, potatoes, onions, garlic, fresh cilantro, and

occasionally raisins.

Chicken with rice is a dish that has become a Puerto Rican

specialty, with many families having their own special style,

handed down from generation to generation. Chicken is a main

ingredient of many criolla dishes, and these dishes, while

careful attention is given to spicing techniques, rarely are

they what could be termed hotly spiced.

Naturally, seafood is an important part of the island cuisine.

Fried fish is often served with a special sauce made of olives,

olive oil, onions, pimientos, capers, tomato sauce, vinegar,

garlic and bay leaves. Broiled, steamed or grilled fish is

lightly seasoned, if at all, during the cooking process and

served with a splash of lime juice with perhaps just a hint of


Puerto Rican cuisine has many facets, arising from the island’s

long, complex history. The blend of native culinary traditions

with those of the European settlers and the enslaved African

populations that they brought with them has resulted in a

unique and flavorful cuisine that is beloved by many.

About The Author: Kirsten Hawkins is a food and nutrition

expert specializing the Mexican, Chinese, and Italian food.

Visit for more information

on cooking delicious and healthy meals.

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