Before our trip, Judy sent me an article, "Ten Must-Try Puerto Rican Foods." I listed them in our itinerary and we were able to eat five of the listed items. Three were at Los Pinos, a previous post (lecon, arroz con gandules and tembleque), and two were at El Kempestre in Levittown (mofongo and asopao), a restaurant within walking distance of our hotel, west of San Juan.
One of my favorite aspects of traveling is trying foods of the local culture and Kampestre was a great spot for that. None of the items we ordered were things I would normally try, except lecon (roast pork), but because of the desire to eat the local food we branched out and had our food vocabulary and Puerto Rican cultural knowledge expanded.
Mofongo is described as Puerto Rico's "quintessential dish," the dish to try if you can only try one of the ten dishes. It is mashed fried green plantains with pork cracklings mixed in. Mofongo relleno, or stuffed mofongo, has added ingredients within it. This restaurant offered mofongo relleno with beef (carne), chicken (pollo) or shrimp (camarones). We picked shrimp. It came with tostones, fried green plantains. The nearest thing I've ever eaten to it was a breakfast tortillo I ate in Ajo, Arizona about a month ago, very heavy and thick with corn. This was that on steroids. It was very thick, very heavy and very bland (we had some mofongo later in the trip which was less dense and I liked it much more). The only thing that saved it for me was some good vinegary local hot sauce, El Jibaro que Pica (I think it means something like the stinging mountain peasant - perhaps some kind of a hot sauce equivalent of moonshine). I applied it liberally and it moistened up the mofongo and gave it some flavor. I liked the mofongo with this transfusion.
|Shrimp mofongo. About five or six pieces of shrimp were embedded in the corn mixture. The tostones were pretty bland. The whole heavy corn culture would take some getting used to.|
|The hot sauce moonshine.|
Asopao is described as the equivalent of Puerto Rican gumbo. It is described as a chicken and rice soup with garlic, onion, sofrito (a tomato based sauce), ham and other seasonings. Kampestre offered asopao with chicken (pollo) or shrimp (camarones). We opted for the traditional chicken. The soup was good, but bland. I'd already learned that the hillbilly hot sauce could cure all ills and it helped the asao pollo too. I quite liked it with the vinegary and spicy addition. The dish also came with soggy vegetables which I enjoyed, even though I wish they'd retained a little more texture.
The best food of the night was the drink Judy and I shared. It was a combination of orange, pineapple and grenadine (a pomegranate base, but often made with blackcurrant). It was quite thick and sweet.
This was the beginning of our indoctrination into Caribbean food culture, meaning relax and enjoy, this meal is going to take two hours.