Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Preserving our traditional Puerto Rican cuisine

Preserving our traditional Puerto Rican cuisine. . .

by Erisbelia Garriga

Puerto Rican Foods

Each ethnic group considers its own typical cuisine as the best food in the world. At the same time virtually all cuisines have had foreign influence. Puerto Rican cuisine has been no different, with contributions from Spanish, French, African and more recently American food. One pillar of Puerto Rican cooking is its seasoning, sofrito, which gives it its distinctive flavor.

I was born and raised in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. I grew up among women who loved cooking, always in the kitchen preparing all kinds of dishes. Mention that you had a particular craving for something and one of them would get up and begin preparing it, without recipes. And whatever they made, it would taste wonderfully great. Today we still crave some of those traditional dishes.

Puerto Rican food is very delicious, especially when you remember the smoky flavors provided by using wood as heat when our mothers and grandmothers cooked. This was food eaten with your fingers, licking them as you finished eating. I savor the opportunity I had to taste and remember those dishes. It‘s harder today to recapture that distinctive flavor due in part to the equipment use in the modern kitchens. People seek out kiosks or come y vetes (old-fashioned fast food places) and order alcapurrias, sorullos, empanadillas, among others. In every town in the Island and in almost all states in the United States where Puerto Ricans live, there is always a local who can point you to those eateries.

Puerto Rican Cuisine

Puerto Ricans’ passion for food and their culture is expressed through their cuisine. Nearly every occasion is celebrated with food and music to enjoy the moment, especially traditional cooking: lechón asado or pernil (roast pork), rice with pigeon peas, rice with chicken, pasteles, asopao de gandules, de camarones, de pollo, among others, even when it’s not the season for some of these dishes. Needless to say, the “fast food” influence has changed the way we eat. We seem not to have enough time to cook and enjoy delicious traditional dishes the way we used to with our families.

Yet, chefs have been revolutionizing our traditional food, using their skills to create new dishes, opening the door for others to do the same by using their imagination. Increasingly, there is a fusion of cuisines, combining our traditional with that of other ethnic groups using locally produced ingredients. Our typical “pastel”, which used to be prepared with green bananas only is now prepared using breadfruit, ñame, yautía, calabaza, apio, malanga, rice, often in combination. There are festivals in various towns in Puerto Rico celebrating individual ingredients creating exciting new dishes, such as pigeon peas cake, pigeon peas custard, and pasteles de apio.

It’s safe to say our traditional dishes will never disappear as long as there are people who wish to preserve them, who are willing to pass them on to their children, passing on their knowledge from one generation to the next. This is their legacy, and one venue is through the written word. This, then, is the purpose of Sabrosuras Boricuas and Homestyle Puerto Rican Cooking. ¡Buen provecho! Enjoy!

Eris Carriga

Erisabelia Garriga, a native of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, did her undergradutate studies at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus, and graduate studies at New York University. After some years in high school and college teaching, shes worked for the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation, from which she is now retired.

Ms. Garriga has published two cookbooks: Homestyle Puerto Rican Cooking, Traditional Recipes with a Modern Touch! and Sabrosuras Boricuas, Recetas Criollas Puertorriqueñas con un Toque Moderno.

You can visit her website

Homestyle Puerto Rican Cooking

This family cookbook will introduce the reader to our treasured classic Puerto Rican recipes as well as new ones. It is a collection of family recipes and the result of my experimentation with them. It is about innovation, taking simple ingredients and playing them off each other. The majority of the recipes are from my parents, others are personal and a few others from family members and friends. There are variations and familiar dishes were recreated, sometimes using substitute ingredients. Though family members, using the same ingredients, will prepare similar dishes in a different way, the end result is, nonetheless, a delicious, enjoyable dish.

You can buy this book at the Puerto Rico Store On line

Buy this Book at the Puerto Rico Store On Line

Sabrosuras Boricuas

Sabrosuras Boricuas, Puerto Rican Recipes with a Modern Touch is a family recipe's collection with a lot of pictures and easy to prepare. Sabrosuras Boricuas received an "Honorific Mention" in the "9th International Latino Book Awards" celebrated in the Javits Center, in New York, on May 31, 2007. Also won in the category of the "Better Latin Book Cuisine" in Latin America, in the contest "Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2006" celebrated in Madrid, Spain. The book will be at the "Olympic Exhibition" of cuisine books and wines that Gourmand will exhibit in Beijing during the Olympic year from August, 2007 to August, 2008. Sabrosuras Boricuas is a gastronomic trip to the Island of Enchantment without the expense of the trip. It is the ideal gift for any occasion as birthday, weddings, or to give your thanks to that special person.

You can buy this book at the Puerto Rico Store On line

Buy this Book at the Puerto Rico Store On Line

Puerto Ricans in the US and the 2010 Census: 100 years and still counting … A reflection

By Victor Vázquez-Hernández

In the closing days of 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau began to release the data collected earlier this year. For Puerto Ricans in the Diaspora (US-based), the 2010 census has a particular historical meaning --- it marks the 100th anniversary since the first US Census, back in 1910, started counting Puerto Ricans as a separate group. It would be a good time for our community to take stock of where we are and how far we have come in one century. For the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights (NCPRR), which will be hosting its 9th National Puerto Rican Convention in Miami on October 7-9, 2011, these new data present us with the opportunity to put together a status report on Puerto Ricans in the U.S..

What will the data from the 2010 Census tell us? What long-term comparisons can we make about our presence in the US? Puerto Ricans were present in the US since before 1910, and have been here, in some cities in particular, for some five generations. What will the Census tell us about how we fare compared to other migrant/immigrant groups in the U.S.? These will be important questions to ponder as we struggle to make sense of the Census data and what it tells us about our communities stateside and, if recent data is any indication, the results of the 2010 Census are going to be a mix bag for us.

On the one hand, the data already released confirms what Angelo Falcón, President of the National Institute for Latino Policy told us back in 2004: there are now more Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. than on the Island. The Census also confirms that Puerto Rico lost 2% percent of its population since 2000, a significant loss. We know, at this point, that most of those who left the island have come to live in the U.S., mostly to other Puerto Rican communities. But, we can also see that the Census will confirm that the Puerto Rican Diaspora is, well, more diasporic, i.e., more dispersed. It now appears that Puerto Ricans have followed the general pattern in the U.S. of internal migration from the Northeast and Midwest to points South and Southwest. Florida is now clearly the state with the second largest Puerto Rican population in the country. In addition, states like Texas, Arizona, and California are now among the ten states with the largest Puerto Rican populations in the U.S.

In terms of socio-economic factors, the 2010 Census is likely to reflect some significant gains for Puerto Ricans but also some troubling areas as well. Among Puerto Ricans in the U.S., there are probably more college graduates than ever, more homeowners and more who have moved into middle-class status. But these trends are probably going to vary from region to region. For instance, in terms of education, recent studies conducted in Philadelphia and New York City have found that Puerto Rican youth are graduating high schools at a 50% rate. In those cities, Puerto Rican youth are being outperformed even by newer immigrant groups, namely Dominicans and Mexicans. And while Puerto Ricans made national news with the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor, a second-generation Puerto Rican from the Bronx to the US Supreme Court, and José Acaba, the first boricua astronaut in outer space, there are disproportionately more young Puerto Ricans incarcerated than in college.

So, while we have much to celebrate and contemplate after 100 years of Census data, it's time to take serious stock and determine where we go from here. For its part, the NCPRR will convene a working group to produce this status report and calls upon anyone interested in participating to contact us. We also invite everyone to attend the convention in Miami where the report will be made public and call upon our communities to engage in a conversation about ... "¿dónde estamos y hacia dónde vamos?" (Where are we and where are we heading?).
Let the conversation begin.

Victor Vázquez-Hernández, PhD is President of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights (NCPRR) and an Associate Professor of History at Miami Dade College. He is co-editor of The Puerto Rican Diaspora: Historical Perspectives (2005). Dr. Vázquez-Hernández can be reached at