The Food and Wine Hedonist

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Maybe it’s all Puerto Rican food that sucks.

Trigger Warning:  This article contains information about Puerto Rican food which may be triggering to Puerto Ricans or others who love Puerto Rican food. This especially holds true for my real-life friend/blog commenter Max Doinel, who was born and raised on the lovely island.  Max, if this offends,  let’s open some Pinot and you can try to convince me otherwise.

Outside of getting my pork fix on the first day, all of the meals we had that week were either Puerto Rican cuisine-inspired or just not Puerto Rican at all.   We were riding around on a little sailboat and the guy from the hotel was waxing somewhat eloquently about some of the traditional dishes of the island.   He was right.   As a foodie I have the responsibility to get off the hotel property and eat like the locals do. And it’s not like we were in some place where eating like the natives involves grubs and other assorted insects stuffed inside fish bladders.

He suggested we go to the very edge of the Ritz property and walk a couple blocks into the town of Dorado.   On the beach road there are few blocks of small, open-air restaurants serving fresh fish and other local favorites.   He said the best of the bunch was Katrina Sea Food as they had the freshest fish and best mofongo – the mashed plantain dish that’s the pride of the island.

 

Katrina front

 

The front of the restaurant was an insane maritime/native museum that made absolutely no sense.  Which in some ways is good because it’s more of a hole in the wall as opposed to some slick decor of a restaurant that spent more money on a decorator than a chef.

 

Katrina museum

 

They had some t-shirts and other knick-knacks for sale and I almost got a bag of the coffee they were selling.

katrina coffee

 

I had no idea whether it was any good, but I’m pretty sure the name translated to Motherfucker Coffee.

 

What We Ate

As a complimentary amuse-bouche of sorts, we each got a styrofoam cup with their signature fish broth.

katrina broth

It was pure umami, that fifth flavor taste best described as “savory”.   It tasted like shit. I know it’s a liquid, but calling it piss would be too generous.

 

Meat and shrimp empanadillas

Katrina empanadilla

 

The dough was nicely done – light and flaky. The meat was just ok, not very spicy, and the shrimp one was had 85% less flavor.

Boom Boom got the fried Grouper with mofongo

katrina fish

 

Not good. Downright awful.  All the locals we spoke to consider this the best way to have the fish.   But this thing had the living daylights fried out of it.   There was nothing left to eat on it.

I ordered the mofongo stuffed with octopus.

Katrina oct mofongo

The octopus was fresh, but was a little rubbery and the sauce was just bland and lifeless.

As for the mofongo… I’m assuming that this is a good representation of it and I can certainly appreciate the dish.   It’s starchy and can see where it’ll be a good with a better sauce or gravy on it.

But….

I don’t get it.   To hear natives there rave about their “national” dish you’d think it was like a Big Mac, hot dog, or slice of pizza.   This is a side dish.    It’s essentially mashed potatoes with more flavor.   Not good flavor, mind you, just more.    I’m SURE there’s some wonderful grandmother somewhere on the island that can make a mofongo that’ll stir the spirits, but I don’t want to sample any more of them to try to find that great show-stopping mofongo.

It’s hard to judge whether what he had was a true indication of how good Puerto Rican cuisine is, but evidence is pointing to Puerto Rican food just downright sucks – the preparation, the flavor profiles, the textures.  Everything.

Except for the roasted pork. Because… well… ROASTED PORK.

Are you a fan of Puerto Rican food?   Do you like mofongo?  Am I right on that translation of the coffee label?

 

 

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About thefoodandwinehedonist

I don't know everything about the world of food and wine, but I'm not going to let a small detail like that stop me from blogging about it.

27 comments on “Maybe it’s all Puerto Rican food that sucks.

  1. Go Jules Go
    September 23, 2015

    My reader says this post amounts to exactly 666 words. I think you’re in for a lot of Pinot (although no worries about an inflammatory response here; I’m not sure I’ve ever had anything that can be specifically labeled Puerto Rican cuisine…maybe it was too bland for me to remember?).

  2. armchairsommelier
    September 23, 2015

    Tepid beige broth in a styrofoam cup . . . what’s not to love? N-A-S-T-Y!! Kinda set the tone for the rest of the meal, though, huh?? That grouper looks like fish jerky. I’ve never had Puerto Rican food before . . . don’t think I will seek it out any time soon! Was the beer at least palatable??

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      September 23, 2015

      Palatable in the sense it was cold, wet, and didn’t taste like that fish broth. Only one available is Medalia, which is like Bud light without the attitude.

      • Max D.
        September 23, 2015

        I’ll say this: once I landed in PR, the ONLY thing I drank was Medalla. It is like Bud Lite, but when it’s humid and 95 degrees, nothing feels better. It is a lite beer, and I swear it must have less than 2% alcohol by volume. Many a morning I would wake up and feel like drinking 2 or 3 cans right away. It is refreshing the way Gatorade is refreshing, but it is also foul and tasteless the way that Gatorade is foul and tasteless.

  3. Max D.
    September 23, 2015

    While I’d be more than happy to get a bottle of Pinot from the FWH, the fact is that there’s nothing here that offends me. I should probably pretend I’m seriously hurt, like you’ve insulted my mother or something, just so I could get a bottle of Charmes-Chambertin out of you, but the fact is this: the odds were against you all along. God bless the people of Dorado, but it’s not exactly a culinary paradise. It’s not even a culinary purgatory. Not even a gas station rest room stop. But to be fair, the island is peppered with lousy–and I mean lousy–restaurants. I went to a restaurant in Fajardo, the easternmost town of the island. The restaurant was literally right across the street from the ocean, and it was a one-lane street. I could sit in front of the restaurant and cast a fishing line and with luck catch something. But no, when I asked, all their fish came from Miami. their specialty? Chicken Alfredo. I shit you not. Thank goodness they made awesome piña coladas.

    I had not been in PR since 2011, and this summer I stayed there a month. I ate at home (well, my mother’s home) all the time, and ate incredibly well. My younger brother set up a diy BBQ pit and smoker, and his pork shoulder and turkey were phenomenal. When we ate out, it was hit or miss, more often than not miss. I never once had good mofongo in a restaurant. I blame overambitious “chefs” who want to put a modern spin on an old classic. If you’re name is Ferran Adria, you can pull it off. If not, you’re gonna end up with. . . well, you already showed us in vivid color.

    The lesson? Next time, we take the families to PR and go straight to my mother’s. You won’t be impressed with her kitchen, appliances (electric stove), utensils (very dull knives), but she’s been cooking since the 1950’s, so she knows a thing or two about PR food and flavors. We could try going to Guavate, pig heaven, but even there we’d have to go with someone who really knows what’s what.

    One thing is for sure: exquisite or deplorable, PR is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of healthy eating. Despite hiking through rain forests and deserts (yep, PR has deserts), going to the beach on a daily basis, walking up and down Old San Juan, I gained ten pounds in a month, and my cholesterol level rose to insane levels.

    If I can make one feeble attempt at an excuse/apology, we have to remember that the island is in an economic shithole. Sales tax is now 11.25%, unemployment is probably closer to 20%. Electricity rates are the highest in the US. Water has been rationed due to a drought. A restauranteur has to deal with lack of running water one or two days in a row, huge expenses, and diminishing sales due to high unemployment plus competition from good ol’ American chains. they end up hiring college graduates because college graduates can’t get jobs in their fields. You can imagine the front and back of house atmosphere is always tense: a room full of college-educated people arguing over whose turn is it to check the temperature on the meat that has been sitting out all day. A restaurant owner has to cut corners, and if it means hiring a second-rate chef (because all the good ones are now in Orlando) and buying second-rate produce, then so be it.

    Our best meal was at Marmalade, a restaurant in Old San Juan, and it is run by a guy from Iowa City. Yes, there are good and authentic places to eat, but your odds of finding them on your own, or in Dorado, are very, very slim.

    PS Mofongo is a side dish made of unripe (green) plantains (sometimes yucca or cassava), salt, pork rinds, and lots of garlic. Traditionally, it is served in a mortar-shaped bowl. You can add some chicken broth, or maybe even some small bite-sized pieces of chicken, but THAT’S IT. If you have access to an actual ocean and actual fresh seafood, I can see using octopus or snapper, but you’re pushing your luck now. Let some classics be classics, and let true professionals play with them. I”m sure there’s some wicked way to make French fries in a reduction pig snout sauce topped with baby kale shoots and sea salt from Bosnia-New Zealand, but just give me a bottle of ketchup, and I’m happy.

    I’m sorry this is so long. I guess what I’m really trying to say is: you’ve insulted my heritage and my honor. You must make amends by making an offering a bottle of 1998 Bernard Dugat-Py Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru. I’ll make the mofongo.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      September 23, 2015

      Sounds like a deal. Maybe I’ll make a seared duck breast to go with my Burgundy and hold the mofongo. Unless you think you can get u ripe plantains at Kroger.

      Agreed on Marmalade… That was terrfic

      • Max D.
        September 23, 2015

        Green plantains aren’t that hard to find here, surprisingly. But I wouldn’t pair mofongo with Pinot. I would pair it with beer, or some good yeasty/bready Champagne. Cava’s good too.

  4. bluehourblonde
    September 23, 2015

    This is actually my problem with food and travel. I love food. I love good food. I love food that peoples’ moms and dads and grandparents cook. But when I travel, finding places with that level of food – real, good, honest, food – is so much work and a such a crap shoot (hoping that your tastes align with those of others who you rely on for recommendations like locals, blogs, yelp reviews, tripadvisor reviews, articles, etc.), that even in a place like Italy I felt like the vast majority of my meals were disappointing. I wish there was a way to make the culinary experience abroad more satisfying. I know how to make seeing sights better for myself (going at off times, finding ways to bypass lines, reading about the sights ahead of time so I know what I want to see and what I am looking at, hiring a private tour if necessary), but I am at a loss for food. Sigh.

    • Max D.
      September 23, 2015

      If memory serves me right, the FWH blogged about this same problem not too long ago. I had the same problem in Puerto Rico, and I was born and raised there! It’s hit or miss. I’m not going to say that I went to Cuba during the 90’s, but I’ll just say that I can vividly imagine not knowing where to eat without some sort of reference point. I will say that I can also vividly imagine meeting a young man in one of Havana’s squares, and I can also imagine that person taking me to his tiny, tiny apartment where he lived with his extended family, and finally, I can imagine having a great, humble, unpretentious, authentic, and did I say great meal. So apparently outside the US, the best place to eat is at someone’s home.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      September 23, 2015

      Yes, it’s always a crapshoot. As max mentioned, I did write about this – https://foodandwinehedonist.com/2015/03/24/whos-your-restaurant-sherpa/. I’ve had pretty good luck with gaming Yelp and Trip Advisor – reading between the lines and looking for key words. Unfortunately you have to eat at a bunch of bad meals to calibrate.

      Thx for stopping by!!

  5. John Toti
    September 24, 2015

    Come on man, one restaurant review does not do a good job of defining an island’s cuisine. Not a fair assessment at all.Do your home work next time and enjoy!

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      September 24, 2015

      That’s fair. But we did get the glowing recommendation from the boat guy and two others. We were on vCation so we’re trying to avoid the Internet at all costs. Checked now and this got so many positive reviews. Oh well, can’t always get the great local experiences – have to suffer thru some bad ones. Thx!

  6. thewineraconteur
    September 24, 2015

    I can’t help you, on the cuisine of PR, as I have only had lunch at the historic El San Juan Hotel and Casino once, many moons ago.

  7. Pingback: Leaving Puerto Rico – Cafe Avila | The Food and Wine Hedonist

  8. Mark
    April 18, 2016

    Y’all hungry without eating for days will eat your own shit bunch of hypocrites food is food same thing is cooked everywhere.

  9. Chrissy Jones
    June 12, 2016

    I was very disappointed with the food I had in PR. The black beans and rice were almost totally unsliced and flavorless. This was supposed to be one of their points of pride in Old San Juan. Bleh.

  10. eric morales
    September 11, 2016

    You are 100 million percent right. The best food on the island comes from a grandmothers kitchen! Most food here is cooked down to a price at restaurants with very untrained places. Best bet is finding a place owned by someone that forces their mom to cook.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      September 27, 2016

      Was starting to think the same applies here on the mainland, but have experienced way too many awful home cooked meals. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. EB
    November 12, 2016

    Yes – you are spot on. Have been living here for 4 years. Worst cuisine ever!! It is very difficult to find a decent restaurant. And the worst part – no seafood! An island in the caribbean, and they don’t have fresh seafood!

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      November 15, 2016

      That lack of seafood surprised me, too. Fish I had were deep-fried to rocks. They do a good job with pork, though.

  12. Pal
    January 30, 2017

    I lived in PR for a short time in Ricon and visited surrounding areas. In disclosure I moved from South America so I have an exposure to Latin Food beyond a single trip to PR. At first I thought I would give the PR a year trial and see if it was a place to stay awhile. In short it did not take me that long to decide it wasn’t worth the costs IMHO.

    Put side foreign food chain restaurants as they are not Puerto Rican. Overall I just wish to say that I had some good meals in PR but I had a lot more disappointing meals. For me I always have to measure my review of a food/meal taking into account costs aka price. I don’t expect a $2 empanadilla to deliver like a $25 fresh fish entre…I think I am being fair in my appraisals. In general I found PR meals expensive for what you got in terms of serving and execution.

    Very disappointed with seafood options in PR. Very pricey and usually not that well executed. Though an island it’s not a place for seafood in any capacity.

    Pork seems to be the most well executed option in PR.

    Transportation in PR is a real bummer. Expensive place to get arround compared to almost every place I’ve been in Latin America. Traffic in a horrible problem for the entire island, no nationwide bus system, no options in general beyond rent a car at USA mainland prices+ or use a local private car or taxi.

    PR is not all bad but I doubt I would every return except if required to.
    I just dont consider PR a good value.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      January 30, 2017

      Interesting…we were there on a work trip so all of our expenses were paid. So I didn’t really notice prices too much. I thought they were a little high but attributed that to our being in touristy areas. Thanks for the insight.

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    July 29, 2017

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  14. thaliaresidente
    September 14, 2017

    As someone who lacks culture you probably shouldn’t be disrespecting my culture. Many Puerto Rican restaurants don’t heavily season their food so that you white tourists won’t complain about our non-spicy food being too spicy. Ya’ll shouldn’t be going to our island anyway, ya’ll have done enough damage. I’m glad you didn’t like our food, saves it from any of ya’ll white people from wanting to take that too.

    • thefoodandwinehedonist
      September 15, 2017

      First time I’ve been accused of being white…

    • Max D
      September 15, 2017

      Er, the Food and Wine Hedonist I said many things, but white ain’t one of the them! And as a borinqueño born and bred, as someone who visits the island and still stays in the house he grew up in and thus eats cocina casera, I can attest that many, many of my beloved Puerto Rican restaurants suck. I can imagine how hard it is for travelers to find food authentic local food, because even with family and friends still living there, it’s still hard as hell to find a good restaurant.

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This entry was posted on September 23, 2015 by in Dining, Travel and tagged , , , , .
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