Pasteles – Nothing Says Christmas in Puerto Rico Quite Like ‘Em
Trinidad & Tobago has black cake and ponche de creme. In Jamaica, it’s sorrel and gungo peas and rice. For a true taste of Christmas in Puerto Rico, you’ll want to pair your coquito with pasteles, the tightly-wrapped palatable present pictured above.
What Are Pasteles?
The Spanish word “pastel” literally translates to “cake” in English. This treat, however, is no dessert. Quite the contrary, actually. Inside its banana leaf and parchment paper shell is a hearty and often spicy mash. This mash usually consists of plantains, yams, pumpkin, potato, and pork. All of it is seasoned with adobo and other tropical herbs and spices. Boiled for an hour and served piping hot, pasteles are a real treat.
Easily among the oldest culinary traditions still enjoyed throughout the Caribbean, pasteles date all the way back to the days of the Taino Indians. You’ll find them on Holiday Season menus everywhere these Indians used to roam – from the Dominican Republic on down to Trinidad & Tobago.
For Next Level Pasteles, Head to Puerto Rico
In Puerto Rico, though, the practice of preparing pasteles has been elevated to an art form, with ever-inventive chefs substituting traditional ingredients for cassava, rice, raisins, olives, and more to create exciting new flavors.
One of the best times to visit Puerto Rico and savor all these inventive new pasteles is late-November, right at the start of the Holiday Season. Head to the town of Orocovis, located right smack dab in the middle of the island in the Central Mountain Range. That’s when and where you’ll find the Festival del Pastel.
The three-day festival is surely among the most uncommon and yummy food festivals held annually in the region. We’ll have to make a point of checking it out soon.
How to Make Pasteles
If you want to add pasteles to your Christmas menu now, though, check out this recipe, or try to find a Puerto Rican restaurant in your area that serves ’em.
Here in South Florida, I bought a few at La Cocina Puertorriqueña last night. They’re not quite like mom used to make, but they’re plenty rico enough to fill me with good cheer.
¡Buen provecho y feliz navidad!