<---- SO WHAT THE HELL IS THIS THING?!?!?
Puerto Rican shrimp taco
The first time I ordered a taco in Puerto Rico, I was totally confused. I thought that the person had confused the phrase "taco, por favor" for some island phrase meaning "throw something in giant wonton wrapper and fry the crap out of it." Fine, I took a few bites and then dumped it. I actually hate deep-fried foods, which has been a big problem for me in Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans love to deep dry everything. I actually had a waiter the other day ask if I wanted my agua deep fried. He thought he was hilarious, I just thought he was a cheeseball. But in all seriousness, the Puerto Rican love for this cooking method, while producing a delicious cuisine, has had some serious health effects, both in island and mainland populations.
Anyway, turns out that thing really was a taco, at least according to Puerto Ricans. Puerto Rican tacos are nothing like Mexican tacos. Generally they involve some sort of wrapper, which really reminds me a lot of a wonton or egg roll wrapper, which they fill with a variety of things, including meat, seafood, or cheese, wrap up like a burrito, and deep fry. The texture of the wrapper (and the shape) is what distinguishes it from the more popular Puerto Rican pastelillo (or empanadilla, if you are in western PR), which is more flaky, like a turnover. I actually prefer the pastelillos, especially when they are filled with picadillo, which is basically ground beef spiced up with some Puerto Rican ingredients, such as sazón , capers, and sofrito.
These pastelillos are bubbling away in a giant vat of lard!pastelillo. Although I have been searching for good Mexican food on the island (Taco Bell and Taco Maker just don't cut it), I've been relatively unsuccessful so far. Perhaps the long-standing boxing rivalry has made Mexican food undesirable around these parts. Actually, now that I think of it, I never saw any Puerto Rican restaurants in Mexico...
Pastelillos are fairly easy to make at home. Wrappers can be found in many Latin markets, or you can find a recipe here. You can fill it with just about anything, meat, cheese, crabs, conch, shrimp, or fruit (like guayaba) if you want a dessert turnover. They even serve pizza pastelillos everywhere, and they are usually one of the better sellers. There's really no escaping the American influence on this island. Anyway, pastelillos are then fried in small batches to allow room for expansion. They can be fried in oil, but a woman in Fajardo advised me that they are best when fried in lard (see above picture).