In San Juan, Puerto Rico, the fried alcapurrias and banana leaf-wrapped pasteles of comida criolla, the local blend of Indigenous Taíno, African, and Spanish ingredients and flavors, are everywhere. They are at the kiosks of Piñones and in the glossy restaurants of the city’s best chefs. But to come to Puerto Rico for only Puerto Rican food would be a disservice to the imagination, the bar scene is constantly expanding with new venues for cocktails that rival the stalwart La Factoria, and the city’s cafes are perpetually invigorated by the growing nation.
This ever-growing dining and bar scene has thrived despite ongoing crises both natural and political. The archipelago has been under the control of the United States since 1898, and that colonial control has had long impacts on agriculture and culinary culture. Serving local produce requires commitment and the development of relationships with farmers, and the same goes for seafood and fishermen. Part of the Jones Act of 1920 requires all trade to be done on U.S.-owned boats staffed by U.S. workers, which makes many imports quite expensive. Taking care with cuisine under these conditions requires persistence and knowledge. Luckily, many chefs are willing to put in that work.
Update May, 2022:
After Hurricane Maria in 2017 and the COVID-19 pandemic, new restaurants and bars are opening in San Juan, and the city has fully come back to life — perhaps better than ever. More chefs are focusing on local ingredients, and new importers are bringing in natural wines that have enlivened a scene previously focused on Spanish and Californian bottles.
Alicia Kennedy is a San Juan, Puerto Rico-based writer. She is at work on a book about eating ethically for Beacon Press.Read More