Thanks to a combination of an inaugural JetBlue flight last year and a small amount of United award miles that wasn’t going to be added to anytime soon, in booking a brief trip to Caracas and Quito earlier this year I had to be creative with my routing.
Considering the demographics of New York City, I figured that there would be plenty of JetBlue flights to Puerto Rico. Due to the lack of availability of United partner flights – yes, planning a trip the day of has its cons – and limited time, I scheduled a thirteen hour layover in San Juan.
It was too early to find any local eats in downtown San Juan, so after wandering around for a few hours I indulged in another hobby, checking out the public transit systems. Being disappointed that San Juan’s fare card was similar to NYC’s, I nevertheless took advantage of the free bus-rail transfer to spontaneously visit a suburb called Bayamón. The goal – to find a menu without any English – was much easier over there…
I stumbled into a dive bar that also happened to have a decent amount of Puerto Rican staples from which to choose. Come to think of it, before this meal, I had never tried this cuisine.
So, let’s break down the picture. The ochre (yellow-orange) monolith next to the lettuce is called mofongo. That’s the inspiration for the title of this post. I’ve had that before, but in a Dominican restaurant. From that one meal, I was full for many, many hours.
Usually it’s just a few, few minutes.
Mofongo generally consists of fried mashed green plantains, garlic, broth, and pork cracklins’, aka chicharrones. It was likely inspired by fufu, the cassava-based meal from West Africa.
Below the mofongo we have pernil. Pernil is roasted pork shoulder with garlic. If the meat comes right off of the bone, then it was a success. Sure enough, the chef that day got it right.
Lastly, the condiment on the left is called pique. It’s a sauce made with hot peppers (traditionally, ají caballero, but habaneros and others are alright substitutes), garlic, oregano, and vinegar. The contents aren’t mixed, but I could still taste each of those four main ingredients. By the time I left the bar, the bottle of pique was almost empty. Clearly, I should be making my way to East Harlem to buy a vat of it.
By the way, Puerto Rico, my liver shares your appreciation for garlic, but she does not.
How does this meal sound to you?