Tuesday, July 22, 2008

TACO?!?!?!?!

People who know me well know that I am practically Mexican. At least 10 Puerto Ricans in the past 2 months have asked me if my family was Mexican because of my accent. So, I suppose, I speak "Mexican." I also eat Mexican, and at home, at least 50% of the food Scott and I prepare is Mexican. We're Mexican food snobs, actually, and turn our noses up at Tex-Mex joints. Cheddar cheese on a flour tortilla? No, my friends. No.

<---- 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!

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).

Scott could not resist. Look how guilty he looks!

So there you have it, Puerto Rican tacos and their cousin, the 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...

14 comments:

Edgardo said...

Hello again,

Its my duty as a Puerto Rican to give you some tips in order for you to satisfy your Mexican food cravings. So here is my list (not comprehensive by any means):

1. Mejico Lindo (De Diego Ave., next to Aurorita's)
2. Aurorita's (De Diego Ave., nexto to Mejico Lindo and Majere. Very popular, very busy.)
3. Tijuana's (Ashford Ave. in Condado. Go for the beer, stay for some food.)
4. Margarita's (Plaza Las América, Ave. Roosevelt and a few other places. Try to avoid it but many people like it.)
5. Frida's and Diego's (Domenech Ave.)
6. Cielito Lindo (Condado, forgot the street name, close to La Concha)
7. Tacolandia (Guaynabo).

And speaking of tacos... have you seen the 'cheesedogs' or 'hot dogs empanados'? Its a hot dog and some cheese wrapped in the empanadilla's wrapper and fried! Ummm! I just got hungry!

Speaking Boricua said...

I've never tried to eat Mexican in Puerto Rico--the fact that nearly every comment I've heard about Mexicans was full of even more stereotypes than comments from Americans was enough to discourage that thought--but I applaud you for trying. Congratulations on that find!

Seriously, that is hilarious.

Jokes aside, I'd like to add that there is a really common brand named Kikuet that sells PR-Mexican food (some a combination, some one or the other). Or you can go around telling people you're Mexican and a relative of Luis Miguel and you miss Mexican food. You mention his name and any woman would stop what she was doing to help you. Seriously, they LOOOVE Luis Miguel and will start telling you how he's actually Puerto Rican if they get a chance. Take advantage of this.

Boricua said...

Same way you put hot spice and sauce on everything you mexican cook, we like to deep fry almost everything we cook. Nothing wrong with that, it is a culture thing.

Boricua said...

Same way you put hot spice and sauce on everything you mexican cook, we like to deep fry almost everything we cook. Nothing wrong with that, it is a culture thing.

Marie said...

I really don't know where you get the idea that everything we cook is deep fried. I cook criollo and hardly ever fry, except for tostones. Now, if you're talking about our "fast foods" then yes, they are fried. By that I mean pastelillos, alcapurrias, bacalaitos,tacos. One normally eats a couple of those and that's it. That isn't dinner to me. But please, almost everything fried? Not really. How about trying a nice plate of arroz y habichuelas with biftec encebollado? Why would you expect our food to be similar to Mexican food? Other than some Spanish influence in both of our cuisines, our food is nothing like theirs. There is no rivalry, it's just different influences. Our cuisine is heavily influenced by the african slaves which were brought to the island as well as Taino and Spanish influences. I hope you can enjoy our cuisine without comparing it to another country's.

Renee said...

Marie,
First of all, I don't think that everything you cook is deep fried. It is true however, that traditional Puerto Rican cuisine leans more heavily towards this cooking method than some other world cuisines, including Italian and Vegetarian, which I am used to. Second, I have a problem with the suggestion that people interested in both food and culture cannot draw parallels between diverse ethnic groups. The reason I even thought of Mexican food is because here in the United States, we have a specific notion of what a taco is, and I was surprised to see that Puerto Ricans also use the word "taco," but for a different dish. This doesn't have a negative connotation whatsoever.

I applaud you for limiting your use of deep frying in your own cooking. This was not the case with the few families I lived with in Puerto Rico and several of the restaurants I visited while there, but people within a culture always use different methods, that is what makes people different.

I would just like to emphasize, first, that there is obviously no rivalry, and if you reread the post, you will see that I in no way even suggested one. Second, I will not heed any person's advice suggesting that I cannot compare the cuisines of two countries, that is completely ridiculous. People compare foods and flavors all of the time, it's how we share experiences. When I lived in Mexico I would always point out the similarities and differences between their food and my Italian food, it's how people connect with one another. Which, by the way, is why I was in Puerto Rico in the first place, so that I can better connect with my Puerto Rican patients, understand their unique culture and health risks, and advocate to make them a healthier, happier, better off people. Closing the door to people who are interested in your culture is not doing a favor to anyone.

jessicas said...

pero es verdad que la gente tiene cojones,,,primero te burlaste del taco boricua ,,,what tha hell is this?,, mira mija aqui la gente tiene caracter!!!! y las mofas se toman rapido,,, si tienes que hacer un comentario negativo o positivo!!
haslo pero con educacion!!! ,,no burlandote,,,o criticando ,,ok las cosas fritas engordan es cierto ,,pero que em dices tu de las tortillas ,,, que todo se come con tortillas y no solo una varias ,,, una pregunta esas, son muy saludables!!!! yo no lo creo!! si no estas abierta a nuevas experiencias!!! de lo variada que puede ser la comida de un lugar a otro,,, pos quedate comiendo en mexico o comida italiana!!!!!como dice la fina!!!! any way solo me molesto la forma en que te espresaste del taco la empanadilla y todo lo demas,,, porque para ti es una cosa rara tu no cresiste con eso,, y para muchos puertorriquenos ,,,como yo los adoramos!!!!! y no es justo que tu por las puras ,, lo taches de cosa rara!!!!! say soorryyy to the taco bitch!!!!! (a y mi marido es mexicano y yo bien boricua) si es goya tiene que ser bueno!!!!!

Renee said...

So let me make this very clear for the last time. I'll outline it for easy reading.

1. This is not "making fun of" Puerto Rican tacos or "criticando" Puerto Rican tacos. This, if anything, is making fun on one white girl's journey into the land of Puerto Rican food, where there are surprises at every turn.

2. If you read this entry and this blog and you think I have no respect for Puerto Rican people or am not open to new experiences, kindly click the X in the right hand corner of your screen. I have devoted my life to learning about and helping cultures other than my own, and I will not have anyone speak to me that way because I didn't like a taco. It's completely ridiculous.

3. If you are going to comment on something I say or do, at least have the decency to do so in an educated way. If it is an issue of language, or that you don't follow the story of girl meets taco, girl is surprised by taco, girl doesn't like taco but does research to learn more about taco because she cares about the people she serves, please e-mail me and I will be glad to explain it in another way that makes more sense to you.

4. There is also nothing wrong with frying foods sometimes. As I wrote in the blog initially, fried foods in moderation is part of what makes Puerto Rican food delicious and unique. I ate more fried food in Puerto Rico than I've probably eaten in my entire life combined.

5. People seem to get testy about the fact that I expected the taco to be like a Mexican taco. If you went to China and ordered "pizza" and they gave you fried rice dish, you would probably also be surprised, as I was. Different cultures have different words for different foods. It's such a ridiculous concept that I should be embarrassed or harassed for not knowing the name of a local Puerto Rican food.

6. I will not "say sorry to the taco bitch," but plan on leaving your comment up so that others can judge who among us comes across as uneducated or "not open to new experiences." I have great respect for the pride of the Puerto Rican people, but when that pride turns into something that alienates others and deters them from learning and sharing in your culture, everyone loses out. How very, very sad for you that you feel so intently proud that you can not participate in intellectual dialogue and the sharing of cultural experiences.

vero said...

Lo que pasa es q si se entiende como burla. Es todo. Y yo soy puertorriquena y casi no cocino comidas fritas. Las "frituras" son como un snack no una cena o pa' "jartarse"... Yo si en la forma en que lo narras lo veo como parte burla.

Vida said...

Hello, I just want to say that Mexican cuisine is very vast and varied. I am a Puerto Rican who has traveled extensively in Mexico. I think there is a lot of misunderstandings about Latin American foods in the USA. A lot of non-Latinos don't really understand that Latin American food is tremendously different from nation to nation. Many Americans who are not Latino assume Mexican food and Mexican tacos are the standard food in many nations. It is not. Puerto Rican Cuisine is Puerto Rican. Salvadoran pupusas are not Mexican gorditas and Cuban frijoles are not Mexican frijoles. Good luck to all those Americans who expect many Latin American nations to be predictable and uniform in food traditions. They are not.

Unknown said...

Puertoricans are sensible people man. Don't bother explaining.

Soy nacida y criada en PR, por si acaso.

Mika said...

Puertoricans are sensible people man. Don't bother explaining.

Soy nacida y criada en PR, por si acaso.

Wanda Riera said...

First let me say sorry you missed the great authentic Mexican restaurants we have in the Island.In another token let me clarify to you and everyone that everything we eat or cook isn't fried. We have excelent creole food,Island cuisine. PR is known for the best gastronomy cuisine. Im sorry to informed you that you missed out big time!! You missed the best of the Island, by taking a trip to the cheapest and fast food areas of the Island. Even thought we called that (frituras) they are very delicious! And with this I closed Mexico is not the only country who has tacos sir.
You missed out!!!!

Wanda Riera said...

First let me say sorry you missed the great authentic Mexican restaurants we have in the Island.In another token let me clarify to you and everyone that everything we eat or cook isn't fried. We have excelent creole food,Island cuisine. PR is known for the best gastronomy cuisine. Im sorry to informed you that you missed out big time!! You missed the best of the Island, by taking a trip to the cheapest and fast food areas of the Island. Even thought we called that (frituras) they are very delicious! And with this I closed Mexico is not the only country who has tacos sir.
You missed out!!!!