Monday, June 7, 2010

A Day in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Blogland Lane Re-post-View from my Puerto Rican Oasis
Hi neighbors! Will you please excuse the resident of number 70 who has been out of town for a while? I want to share with you some of my everyday summer views of Puerto Rico. Many people think of Puerto Rico in a traditional somewhat nostalgic way, similar to this Sugar Cane painting that hangs on the walls of a local Old San Juan restaurant, Manolin Cafe but the reality is quite different.
Last week, I went to Old San Juan with Mr. Oasis where he is teaching for the summer and so much is happening at the Esquella Artes Plastica (Art School). The students have joined in with the University of Puerto Rico students to protest the government wide-budget cuts, and they are camped out on the lawn of El Morro. (Click here if you want to read an Oasis post about El Viejo San Juan.) What a lovely place to camp-even if it is illegal! I met my bff, Ms. D, for lunch at Manolin Cafe- a traditional Puerto Rican restaurant that locals frequent. I enjoyed the mofongo and Yaucono cafe served with hot milk. If you haven't tried Puerto Rican coffee, it's time to be adventurous. In my opinion, it is the best coffee in the world. Confession: When I visit state-side relatives, I find the unopened Christmas present coffee still in storage. Why is that? (My Michigan cousin, Tammy, says it's strong and they prefer coffee-tea! Her coffee drinking quirk is to mix instant chocolate into a cup of weak morning coffee, which apparently gives her more wake-up power.)
My friend, Ms. D, knows where to go and how to spend money wisely. She suggested lunch at the Manolin Cafe because it has the best local food at the most economical prices. However, the value is not a secret! We had to wait at the door for a few minutes to be seated. And of course we ran into a friend because Puerto Rico is small, and you run into friends everywhere. Deeply immersed in conversation with our former co-worker and now world traveling friend, Mr. G, we completely forgot to compete for our place in line. After noticing we were still not seated, I took the initiative to be the rude one and excused us from an extended talk about the political situation and policy at the University of Puerto Rico. Finally, we were seated and it was well worth the wait. The photo is a half serving of mofongo, served with white rice and a mixed salad. I recommend that you do not order the rice with mofongo. It's too heavy. What was my waiter thinking? I find that being a vegetarian in Puerto Rico is a challenge. Often perfectly nice servers will give me starch with starch served with a side of starch. My growing middle may be blamed on such eating experiences as these!
Aside: Friends you have to try making mofongo. It's not too difficult as long as you have access to green plantains. Yes, you have to peel them with a knife, but it's worth it to try. Yes, they have to be sliced in one inch pieces, fried in oil until both sides are golden, and then briefly cooked again-but here is where you change your tostones to mofongo.
Place the fried plantain in a container and smash them with lightly roasted garlic until they are broken down into a nicely textured rounded pile. Flip unto a plate and serve with a little salad and Spanish olive oil. Delicious! (Click here if you want to try a more traditional recipe that includes meat.)
What I do differently in this recipe: I allow the plantains to get crisp so that when they are mashed, they continue to have texture. Also, I drop the garlic cloves in oil until they are a bit crunchy as well. Both of these changes make even the meat-eating Mr. enjoy the days when I serve his traditional food vegetarian style.
~~~~~~~~~~~ These Spanish looking baked clay tiles are on the floor of the Art School. Above them, an old picnic table on one side, and just behind the table, a scrap pile of boards and disgarded art projects. In spite of their neglect, I find the tile pattern beautifully arranged and pleasing to the eye. Doesn't it give you a feeling of another time? The art school is losing funding-drastically-and the students continue to work on their projects even though it feels as if the roof is caving in. It's a highly competive art school that produces students who can create in both the classical style art and more modern media, such as computer graphics. What a shame that art is the first to go when money is scarce.
Blogland Neighbors, thank you for sharing a cup of cafe con leche and some traditional Puerto Rican food with me. If you want to borrow a cup of sugar, please stop by whenever you are near Blogland Lane # 70 -or if you prefer azucar mascabada o negra (cane or brown), come over to Oasis !

Reposted from Blogland Lane


  1. Mmm. The mofongo sounds so exotic and delicious. It's always fun to savor a little slice of your life, Cynthia.

  2. Hi Cynthia,
    this sounds like a very good day and i would like to try this scrumptious mofongo dish!
    I wish you a very happy and sunny summer !

  3. Willow, you're adventurous- why don't you try to make it? I enjoy reading about your Willow Manor life too!

    Lala, I think maybe there is some version of mofongo in Spain? I hope you get to try it. Wishing you a creative, productive and playful summer, Ms. Lala!

  4. I think one of the reasons I enjoy reading your blog (apart from your style and lovely personality) is that I know NOTHING about Puerto Rico beyond the references in West Side Story! (blush) So I am learning something new every time you post.
    Those tiles at the art school are gorgeous - perhaps you'll show us more of the place in another post?
    Hoping those contract troubles (bad fairies indeed) get sorted out without too much trauma!

  5. I think I would like these without the pork cracklings, though I'm sure they bring a unique flavor to the dish. It all looks and sounds delicious. I would not let your coffee gift waste in a cabinet. We don't drink "why bother" coffee in our house.

    Have a great day, Cynthia!

  6. I must say that I miss my mofongo and tostones. Old San Juan is a historical jewel, 500 years in the making.

  7. Frances, so glad you appreciate my efforts and the art school. I'm in love with the setting and the entire atmosphere there. (I do have a bit more to show of the school.) I think your fairies would love to float around all of those arches. :-) Thanks for the lovely comment and your visit!!

    Rudee, you should send me an email with your address. I have a sample bag of coffee, I'd be happy to pass on to you.

    Mr. PC, you must have plantains out there in cowboy land? Share your gifts, Mr. PC! OSJ is so rich in history. I have to go there more often!

  8. Cynthia, the comment below Rudee is a link to adult-only sites. I had to go through all my old posts to find and delete all traces of my unwelcome guest.

  9. How nice to have coffee and lunch with a friend, but I’m sorry to hear that the strike and issues still continue. What a beautiful floor!

  10. Sarah, yes, the strike continues but I had a such a nice day that I returned to mofongo con ensalada a couple of days ago. It's quite filling! We walked in the hot sun blessed with intermittent rain. When the sun is shining and it's also raining people say that witches are getting married! A lot of witches got married on that walk through El Viejo San Juan!

  11. Thanks for the information, Frances. I'm turning on comment moderation for a while.

  12. I enjoyed my cup of cafe con leche with you this morning, dear Cynthia. With all the cooking I've done, I've never cooked with plantains. I really husband loves them. Wishing you a lovely weekend,

    P.S. I was just thinking about you yesterday! You beat me to it.

  13. Don't you hate Spam? Sigh.

    Thanks for sharing such a warm, funny, insightful glimpse into your world, Roland

  14. Everything looks fabulous - I have somewhere to add to my great destinations list :0)

  15. Cynthia, years ago I had a cup of coffee in Old San Juan, and I still remember it as the best I've ever had. I spent years trying to copy that cup at home and I never could. I drove around in a taxi in Miami, trying to find a special coffee maker...ya da ya da. When I returned to Puerto Rico, I went to the same coffee place and was still as wonderful as I remembered it. What's the secret?


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