Before the Spanish arrived, the Taíno diet consisted mainly of corn, birds, fruit, capsicum peppers and seafood. The colonists opened a new world to the natives when they introduced pigs, chicken, several new vegetables, wheat and sugarcane, however. And later, when Africans were brought in as slaves, they were able to introduce their own cooking styles (and were perhaps responsible for bringing rice over as well) [source: Smith]. Out of this cultural exchange came new food traditions that are unique to Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican cuisine uses fresh vegetables and other ingredients, and often incorporates cloves, ginger, cilantro, garlic and lime. Curiously, Puerto Rican food is generally not as spicy as the food in their Caribbean counterparts.
The native Taínos used a cooking cauldron, called a caldero, that is still ubiquitous in Puerto Rican kitchens. It is traditionally made of sturdy cast-iron and used for cooking everything from rice to stews. Rice along with beans make up the most important staples of Puerto Rican food. Beans are often made in a sofrito sauce, often consisting of tomato, cilantro, chili pepper, recao, bell peppers, onion and garlic. Plantains and bananas are also very popular. Often ripe plantains or green bananas are boiled for a starchy side dish. Another favorite is tostones, which are unripe plantains that have been fried to crispy perfection.
Pork, beef and chicken are all popular in Puerto Rico. Meat and poultry are often prepared by rubbing in adobo, which is a crushed spice mix of black peppercorns, oregano and garlic. Pork is cooked in a variety of ways, including stewed pig tripe in sofrito sauce, in a dish called mondongo, or stewed pig heart, kidneys and livers in a dish called gandinga. A Puerto Rican beef pot roast is carne mechada. Chicken is often served in asopao, a soup with rice. Seafood, especially crab, lobster, prawns, octopus, red snapper and mahi mahi, are also common on the island.
Deserts are another point of pride in Puerto Rican cuisine. Many center around the coconut, such as coconut pudding and bread pudding as well as a custard desert known as flan de coco. Another popular desert consists of guava jelly with queso blanco (white cheese).