Puerto Rico’s Kiosk Cuisine
The roadways all over Puerto Rico are dotted with countless lean-tos, shacks, pavilions, tents, and trucks where enterprising cooks sell a variety of mostly fried local delicacies. For the uninitiated, the assortment of fried blobs, discs, and turnovers can be daunting. But if you want a truly traditional Puerto Rican experience, muster your courage, pop an antacid, and dive into an adventurous array of some of the freshest, tastiest dining on the island.
Most items sell for as little as a dollar apiece, are served not on plates but wrapped in napkins, and are eaten standing up. A variety of hot sauces is usually on hand to spice things up if desired, and nothing washes it all down better than an ice-cold Medalla beer.
One of Puerto Rico’s most well-known kiosk rows is the Luquillo Kiosks. Some of the most common items served include:
Alcapurria: Grated, mashed plantain and/or yautia (taro root) stuffed with crab or beef and deep-fried. They look like small fried sweet potatoes, fat in the middle, tapered on the ends.
Arepa coco: South American in origin, it’s made from mashed or grated coconut mixed with corn flour, formed into a small round patty, and fried. It looks like a small fried disc.
Bacalaito: Mashed codfish mixed into a flour batter and deep-fried. Looks like a big, irregularly shaped funnel cake or “elephant ear” like the kind sold at amusement parks.
Barcazas: Whole plantains sliced lengthwise, stuffed with ground beef, topped with cheese. They look like banana boats.
Coco dulce: An immensely sweet confection of fresh, coarsely grated coconut and caramelized sugar. Looks like a brown craggy praline.
Coco frio: Chilled coconuts still in their green husks. A hole is cut in the top and a straw stuck through it. Inside is a refreshing thin coconut milk. After you drink all the liquid, ask your server to chop it in half and scoop the coconut out with a spoon if it’s unripe and soft, or you can chunk it out with a knife if it’s ripe and hard.
Empanada: Savory circle of pastry stuffed with meat, crab, lobster, shrimp, or fish, folded into a half moon, thickly crimped along the rounded side, and deep-fried. Looks like a giant apple turnover.
Papas rellenas: A big lump of mashed potatoes stuffed with meat and deep-fried. Looks like a fried baseball.
Pastele: Traditionally eaten around the Christmas holidays, the pastele is a Puerto Rican version of a tamale featuring mashed plantain, green banana, yucca root, and pork or chicken, wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. Don’t eat the leaf!
Pastilillo: Smaller version of the empanada with a thinner, airier crust. Looks like a small apple turnover.
Pinchos: Chunks of chicken, pork, or fish threaded on a skewer and grilled. Looks like a shish kebab.
Pionono: A thin, lengthwise slice of plantain lightly fried and then wrapped around a patty of meat and egg and deep-fried. Looks like a giant deep-fried crab cake.
Taquitos: Chicken, ground beef, crab, or fish rolled up in a piece of dough and deep-fried. They look like big fat cigars and are sometimes called tacos, but they’re nothing like the Mexican version.
© Suzanne Van Atten from Moon Puerto Rico, 2nd Edition