Puerto Rican Food: Cultural Fusion

There’s a reason they call Puerto Rico the Island of Enchantment. It’s truly a magical landscape teeming with rich culture. The island itself is lush with tropical greenery and boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. And the people are as resilient as they are proud of their heritage. You’ll never meet a group more willing to rep their flag!

With a melding of Taino, African and Spanish influences, the island offers a truly one-of-a-kind cultural feel. Like much of the Caribbean, the island was invaded by the Spanish in the early 1500s. They brought with them more European settlers and enslaved Africans. Sadly, the colonizers suppressed much of the Taino and African cultures. But as the time wore on, there was eventually a fusion of all three cultures to make way for the modern-day Puerto Rican.

Legacy of Puerto Rican Food

Today, Puerto Ricans can trace their heritage back to those three major influences. And despite the erasure of Taino and African culture, they still left a major mark on the island’s cuisine. Of all the points of pride Puerto Ricans laud, the food is without a doubt one of the most iconic. Let’s take a closer look at some of the traditional dishes of Puerto Rico and where they find their roots.

Barbacoa

Puerto Rican

The predecessor to the modern barbecue we all know and love, barbacoa is an invention of the Taino people of Central America and the Caribbean. Generally, this meal is prepared by slow-cooking meat over an open fire or in a hole dug in the ground. Eventually, this tradition made its way to Texas and laid the groundwork for BBQ foods such as brisket and ribs.

Tostones

Puerto Rican

A favorite island side is the tostone or fried plantain. Found complimenting almost any Puerto Rican dish, it’s a major staple for any Boricua. It’s unclear where the origins of this fried treat lie, but it’s thought that Africans introduced the plant to the island and played a great hand in creating this beloved classic dish.

Mofongo

Another dish synonymous with Puerto Rico is mofongo. This was dish highly influenced by both Africans and Tainos. It’s made by smashing plantains using a classic Taino tool, the pilón, with garlic, olive oil, and chicharrón. The mixture is molded into a bowl and served with meat or veggies. With roots tracing all the way to West Africa, you’ll find dishes similar to this one on Dominican and Cuban menus too.

Arroz con gandules

Anyone who grew up in a Puerto Rican home is no stranger to this dish! Arroz con gandules is their bread and butter. Rice was brought to the island by the Spaniards. Pigeon peas are another crop brought over from West Africa. If there’s any food that represents the fusion of cultures on this island, it’s this one!

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