Nearby on Aguadilla Street is the sweet and homey cafe Man Escondido, serving a menu that takes you from breakfast through snacks, soups, mofongos, and jibaritos, fried plantain sandwiches of roast pork, steak and cheese, and more. Farther afield are places like Izzys Restaurant, serving Cambridge since the 80s; stylish La Fbrica Central, where Giovanna Huyke, a longtime cooking-show host in Puerto Rico, is chef; and La Lechonera, a Roslindale cafeteria that might be out of its weekend specialty, lechn asado, if you dont get there early enough. Tiny tubs of mayonnaise mixed with ketchup sit at the ready; Puerto Ricos favorite condiment tastes good on anything fried.
Ive been eating my way through Bostons Puerto Rican restaurants lately, trying to recapture a taste of San Juan. I spent a few days in the city earlier this month, as the power blinked back on after the Jan. 7 earthquake that devastated Ponce, in the south. On the other side of the island, life went on: cruise ships docking, super-stylish local teens taking Polaroid selfies beneath flowering trees, restaurants reopening. I was there for business, not pleasure, but pleasure was inevitable, because at some point I needed to eat.
There was an early breakfast at the historic La Bombonera, with its tiled floors, red leather booths, and a marble counter where I perched for caf con leche and a mallorca, a sweet, coiled bun buttered and pressed on the griddle, then showered in confectioners sugar. There was lunch at Kasalta Bakery, where it turned out Obama had eaten a medianoche during his 2011 visit (I had the Cubano). And then there was dinner.
Like chefs all over the country, those working in Puerto Rico have embraced the farm-to-table movement. On an island where, for complex reasons (see: colonialism, the sugar industry, industrialization, large-scale agribusiness . . . ), the majority of food is imported, there has been a resurgence in local agriculture. That has taken on new importance since Hurricane Maria, which wreaked havoc with food-supply chains. Maria made it evident that we need agricultural sovereignty, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yuln Cruz told the website Food Tank in 2018.
Jose Enrique, one of the islands most celebrated chefs, works with whatever local ingredients he can get his hands on. At his namesake restaurant in the Condado neighborhood, he weaves them into gorgeous soups, vibrant salads, and main dishes such as yellowtail with batata (white yam) mash and swordfish schnitzel.
At Cocina al Fondo in Santurce, each of chef Natalia Vallejos dishes from hen broth with mofongo balls to the tiny fish called cet, stewed in coconut and tomato was somehow better than the last. There are so many ways to put culture on the plate.
I spoke with Enrique this week, to find out how things are going. The power is still in and out in San Juan, he says, but life continues. Were just going to keep going forward. Im excited about whatever product is coming in tomorrow and what Im going to be cooking, and are there going to be waves to go surfing tomorrow.
Food feels particularly meaningful in extraordinary times. I think thats the reason I got into cooking, he says. "In life, if its a birthday, you go out to eat. When somebody dies and youre mourning, you go out to eat. When youre sick, you think of what to eat, or what not to eat. If youre sad, Im going to make you feel better through food.
If youre Puerto Rican, if I give you that rice and beans, something thats homey, it does a lot for you. Not just physically but mentally. It brings a smile to someone. Thats where food becomes important. . . . In times of need it does a lot.
People on the island are coming together, helping one another, he says: After all, who knows better what a community needs than the community itself? Families are heading out on weekends to offer assistance in the south, where people are still displaced from their homes and the earthquakes continue. There was a 5.0 magnitude quake on Jan. 25.
One local I talked to put it more cynically: After Maria, he said, people expected the government to help. This time around, they dont, so theyre helping themselves. (And this was before a warehouse full of unused emergency supplies was discovered in Ponce.) If were gonna die, were gonna die, he said with a shrug. Then he told me about his favorite restaurants.
Lucha Puertorriquea / Orgullo Borincano, as the sign in Plaza Betances says.
In 1998, the Boston Herald ran an editorial arguing viciously against Puerto Rican statehood, in words that dont bear repeating. It sparked protests and boycotts of the paper. On Monday, in an Orlando Sentinel op-ed, presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg came out in favor of statehood. Times change. Or do they? I wouldnt presume to argue this complex issue one way or the other, but I agree with at least one thing Bloomberg wrote: Puerto Ricans are American citizens. And on the mainland, we should see their challenges as our challenges.
Ive been eating my way through Bostons Puerto Rican restaurants not just because the food is delicious, but because I dont want us to forget about the island, no matter how unrelenting the news cycle. There are ways to help; the website Charity Navigator has a list of highly rated aid organizations working in Puerto Rico. And for dinner, there are plenty of restaurants serving up rice and beans, comfort and sustenance.
Vejigantes, 57 W. Dedham St., South End, Boston, 617-247-9249, http://www.vejigantesrestaurant.com. Man Escondido, 68 Aguadilla St., South End, Boston, 617-266-0900, http://www.manabostoncafe.com. Izzys Restaurant, 169 Harvard St., Cambridge, 617-661-3910, http://www.izzysrestaurantcambridge.com. La Lechonera, 342 Cummins Highway, Roslindale, 617-323-0311, http://www.lalechonerarestaurant.com.
Devra First can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.
Go here to read the rest:
- Islands of Ireland: Whiddy in the same boat - Irish Examiner - June 1st, 2020
- Mackinac Island eases into summer season with soft, soft opening - MLive.com - June 1st, 2020
- Watch Rivers Cuomo cover Jesus Christ Superstar song for Islands In The Zoom sessions - NME - June 1st, 2020
- Hundreds gather at Brown's Island: 'We are going to protest peacefully' - wtvr.com - June 1st, 2020
- New COVID-19 case with ties to San Juan Island under investigation - SanJuanIslander.com - June 1st, 2020
- Meet kumu the whitesaddle goatfish - Thegardenisland.com - June 1st, 2020
- Cruise the Greek Islands with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon - The New Yorker - June 1st, 2020
- No new COVID-19 cases reported on Big Island - West Hawaii Today - June 1st, 2020
- Staten Island obituaries for May 31, 2020 - silive.com - June 1st, 2020
- Staten Island ShopRite melee ignites feuding factions on masks in pandemic - silive.com - June 1st, 2020
- Allow Staten Island students to have outdoor graduation ceremonies, city official says - SILive.com - June 1st, 2020
- The island that can save America | TheHill - The Hill - June 1st, 2020
- Long wait to reopen is over for Vancouver Island gyms Vancouver Island Free Daily - vancouverislandfreedaily.com - June 1st, 2020
- A Vancouver Island Road Trip of Crisp Wines and Gigantic Trees - Cond Nast Traveler - May 15th, 2020
- Up-Island towns uneasy about summer influx - Martha's Vineyard Times - May 15th, 2020
- Rock Island County reports another COVID-19 death - Quad City Times - May 15th, 2020
- Kite-surfing and social distancing, but no Sullivans at Castle Island - The Boston Globe - May 15th, 2020
- A grand opening - Thegardenisland.com - May 15th, 2020
- Long before Covid-19, these islands were a refuge from plague - CNN - May 15th, 2020
- Booth doing 'virtual' concert to raise Trooper Island funds - WTVQ - May 15th, 2020
- Love Island's Finley Tapp creates Scottish lockdown survival kit while isolating with Paige Turley - Daily Record - May 15th, 2020
- The Womens Jail at Rikers Island Is Named for My Grandmother. She Would Not Be Proud. - The New York Times - May 15th, 2020
- Top Cuban Official Accuses America Of Committing Acts Of Terrorism Against Island Nation - CBS Miami - May 15th, 2020
- Grand Island Public Schools Foundation launching Give GIPS Week - Grand Island Independent - May 15th, 2020
- District Court judge: City of Bellevue cannot engage in 'island annexation' - Omaha World-Herald - May 15th, 2020
- Rare blue dragons are washing up on the Padre Island National Seashore - CNN - May 15th, 2020
- Staten Island Home of the Week: Privately-gated community with panoramic views, $3M - SILive.com - May 11th, 2020
- Antibody testing begins on the Big Island - West Hawaii Today - May 11th, 2020
- Hardwood logging on Manus Island has not delivered promised local benefits, report finds - The Guardian - May 11th, 2020
- Coronavirus claims 11 more Staten Islanders; more than 2K released from Island hospitals - SILive.com - May 11th, 2020
- South Padre Island properties unphased by COVID-19 housing market, realtor explains - KGBT-TV - May 11th, 2020
- Love Island's Malin Andersson felt 'shame' for staying with abusive ex after he 'beat her up' - Mirror Online - May 11th, 2020
- Love Island 2020 could be set for surprise return this Autumn after cancellation - RadioTimes - May 11th, 2020
- Tunnel to Towers Foundation working to take care of Staten Island - SILive.com - May 11th, 2020
- Staten Island obituaries for May 10, 2020 - SILive.com - May 11th, 2020
- Reveling in the Enigmatic Beauty of Easter Island - The New York Times - May 11th, 2020
- Help for parents and teachers; author gives tips - Shelter Island Reporter - Shelter Island Reporter - May 11th, 2020
- NYC's Coney Island Beach in Cyclone of Confusion for Summer - THE CITY - May 11th, 2020
- Danny Dyer says Love Island is a "pile of s**t" and leaves The Ranganation viewers - digitalspy.com - May 11th, 2020
- Island Luck CEO: No logic or rational in govt. decision making - EyeWitness News - May 11th, 2020
- Staten Island Zoo to host virtual meet and greet with exotic animals: How to attend - SILive.com - May 1st, 2020
- Artists campaign against Bristol Spike Island eviction of Howard Silverman - The Guardian - May 1st, 2020
- Coronavirus: Woman took son to Greek island to 'protect him from COVID-19' - Sky News - May 1st, 2020
- TSB investigation into Island Queen III incident issues three concerns - The Kingston Whig-Standard - May 1st, 2020
- This Tech Conference Is Being Held on an Animal Crossing Island - VICE - May 1st, 2020
- Island COVID-19 confirmed cases rise to 19 - Martha's Vineyard Times - May 1st, 2020
- VIRTUAL TOUR Island Farm: Going back in time to coastal farm life in the 1800s | The Coastland Times - The Coastland Times - May 1st, 2020
- Car thieves flocking to Staten Island during pandemic, many of them repeat offenders - SILive.com - May 1st, 2020
- Coney Island Hospital Treated To Record-Breaking Meal Donation For Staff - BKLYNER - May 1st, 2020
- Analysis: Staten Island has the highest rate of people tested in NYC for COVID-19 - SILive.com - May 1st, 2020
- John Grisham Returns to Camino Island, This Time in Hurricane Season - The New York Times - May 1st, 2020
- Naples, Marco Island beaches to reopen Thursday - Wink News - May 1st, 2020
- New confirmed case brings Island total to 18 - Martha's Vineyard Times - May 1st, 2020
- Grand Island's mayor wants to know how the feds will help, says city 'has paid a price' - Omaha World-Herald - May 1st, 2020
- Pete Davidson & Judd Apatow Movie King of Staten Island Skips Theatrical, Hits VOD This Summer - Deadline - May 1st, 2020
- ITV considers filming Love Island in Cornwall or cancelling series - The Guardian - May 1st, 2020
- Elderly fisherman rescued from Niagara River near Grand Island - Niagara Gazette - May 1st, 2020
- Bali is worlds most Instagrammed island - The Jakarta Post - Jakarta Post - April 28th, 2020
- Staten Island coronavirus hospitalizations hold steady; death toll increases by 23 - SILive.com - April 28th, 2020
- Small Island crews return to work - Martha's Vineyard Times - April 28th, 2020
- Staten Island Sports Hall of Fame will once again honor 4 at annual golf outing - SILive.com - April 28th, 2020
- South Padre Island reopens but some locals think its too soon - KXAN.com - April 28th, 2020
- Grand Island-area residents urged to avoid church services; Health Department worker tests positive - Omaha World-Herald - April 28th, 2020
- New York City's Hart Island: An overlooked final resting place - CBS News - April 28th, 2020
- COVID-19 testing rolls out on island - Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber - April 28th, 2020
- Increased halal, kosher options offered at Staten Island meal sites - SILive.com - April 28th, 2020
- Greg Hardy ready to live on Fight Island, knockout all 15 heavyweights en route to UFC title - MMA Mania - April 28th, 2020
- Staten Island Home of the Week: Multiple large balconies and terraces, $2.9M - SILive.com - April 28th, 2020
- Lone Residents of Little Bay Islands Share Tips for Living in Times of Isolation - VOCM - April 28th, 2020
- On Fishers Island, protocols in place to limit spread of virus - Suffolk Times - April 28th, 2020
- Running for her hometown; Alex Graham completes marathon on the Island - Shelter Island - Shelter Island Reporter - April 28th, 2020
- How Staten Island nursing homes stepped up to face hospital coronavirus overflow - SILive.com - April 28th, 2020
- Grizzly bear just relocated from Vancouver Island shot dead - Nanaimo News Bulletin - April 28th, 2020
- Fears of Coronavirus Catastrophe at Rikers Jail - The New York Times - March 31st, 2020
- Ahead of the Curve? - Big Island Now - March 31st, 2020
- COVID-19: What's closed on Marco Island? - Marco News - March 31st, 2020
- During the coronavirus outbreak, a tale of two Rhode Islands - The Boston Globe - March 31st, 2020
- A Group of Islands in Northern Scotland Have Too Much Clean Energy, so They Are Producing Hydrogen Power - Interesting Engineering - March 31st, 2020
- Civil Defense Announces 11th COVID-19 Case on Big Island - Big Island Now - March 31st, 2020
- In the time of coronavirus, Vancouver Islands gardeners grow resilient - The Globe and Mail - March 31st, 2020