Friday, November 7, 2014

TOURIST FOR THE DAY in PUERTO RICO

Playing Tourist in Puerto Rico; Oasis goes to El Morro


Good morning and welcome to sunny El Morro. Did you know that Puerto Rico was under the Spanish flag for about 500 years until the United States came 100 years ago? Knowing that bit of information goes a long way in explaining the culture and attitudes of this beautiful island. El Morro was constructed on the protruding parts of the land surrounding the city to protect the island from invaders approaching by the sea, which explains why there is a wall going around much of the Old City (El Viejo San Juan). There is an El Morro in nearby Cuba, too, and it is made in the same style and material.


El Morro in San Juan is actually called Fort San Felipe del Morro but not by anyone on the street. I have a little confession to make; this photograph was taken a bit down the road from El Morro at another fort, Fort San Cristobal, though most tourists call all of these structures El Morro.

 I like this one near the entrance to the road leading up to the Old City because you can walk right into one of the sentries and take a look at the framed sea.
 

Come inside with me and let's take a look.






There is a mysterious story about one of these sentry boxes in San Cristobal, La Garita del Diablo (the Devil's Sentry). I must caution you that a legend has been circulating that says those who dare visit this most extremely situated and the first constructed lookout (1634) might mysteriously disappear. Though word on the street is that the only real disappearance was of a romantically involved couple who escaped by way of the sea in order to elope (Oh, how dangerously romantic!)

I'm feeling a bit hungry for lunch. Why don't we walk down the road and look for something to eat?

Or maybe first, we could cool off with a piragua? These traditional iced syrups are quite refreshing. Look at the selection on the glass. Spanish and English are respectfully placed side by side. Agua Fria/Cold Water! I think I will have an anise flavored PIRAGUA.

Do you see the large solid block of ice inside the glass cart? The man is shaving it with a special tool, which he uses to scoop up the ice into a cone and then pours flavored syrup all over the top. It's a handmade snowcone! I caution you to avoid the ajonjoli (sesame seed) flavored syrup,  except when selecting locally-made candy.






If you're like me, you might find the grainy texture disturbing in your cold piragua. Of course, there are a lot of healthy and calming B vitamins in sesame seeds so it's entirely your decision. The coco (coconut) flavored syrup is quite popular with the local residents.

For lunch, I would like to have a traditional pasteles with rice and beans. Pasteles are made from plantain and sometimes yucca root ground into a paste and filled with a spicy, but not spicy-hot, meat mixture. Unlike Mexican-style food, generally, Puerto Rican's do not enjoy hot peppers. The stuffed masa filling is wrapped in banana leaf, tied with string and boiled for about an hour. It's a tasty meal all by itself but presents a problem for vegetarians. (Be nice!) However, I have found several women who are willing to sell me a dozen garbanzo filled (chick peas), vegetable filled or sometimes soy filled pasteles. To be honest, I usually have to provide the textured vegetable protein meat substitute. If you are in FRESHMART in Condado on Ashford Avenue, you can pick up a half dozen vegetarian pasteles for about ten dollars.

Making pasteles is a grassroots (and underground) business that thrives during the holiday season. Obtaining the best possible pasteles is all about maintaining your local connections.

What meal would be complete without a side of crunchy salty tostones? Tostones are large unripe plantain bananas, sliced thickly and fried of both sides, flattened and fried again until golden (insert cholesterol warning here!). They are served with salt, ketchup, and/or a bit of garlic.

Yum! Warning: these must be eaten fresh or not at all because they can get quite dry and hard. Tourists who eat dried out tostones are often disappointed and left wondering what is all the fuss about?

~~~Make your own! If you make these at home, cut thick slices diagonally, fry in oil for 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove from pan, flatten -I use the bottom of a plate- on a board, and firmly press down. Return the plantain disks to the hot oil. Lightly cook on each side again, remove and place on an absorbent towel. Cook just one large green plantain banana at a time, and serve immediately.

Note: If your plantain's are turning yellow, they do not make tasty tostones. Let them ripen, slice, and gently fry them once on each side in hot oil. These are called amarillos. Also, when looking for plantains in the States, go to Chinese grocery stores and/or look for "macho bananas,"  which is a most curious name! ~~

For lunch or dinner, I can recommend an atmospheric restaurant in the Old City, Raices (Roots), which is known for its mofongo, which is mashed plantain filled with garlic spiced meat. The servers wear white traditional costumes with headdress, and serve food on old fashioned looking tables, complete with a wood and tin service. Two recommendations here: arrive before you are hungry and bring your credit card because service can be slow and the food pricey. That's okay. Afterall, you are getting a taste of Puerto Rico from the past. Just drink a Pina Colada and enjoy the atmosphere. If you don't want to sit in an air-conditioned space, you can eat at an outside table while listening to Puerto Rican folk music. Street life in Puerto Rico is always entertaining but may be somewhat overwhelming. If you prefer a more authentic experience, you can try Cafe Manolin on 251 San Justo in the Old City. In fact, I prefer the diner feel of Manolin's and enjoy plain mofongo surrounded by a plate of salad. You will notice that many local residents enjoy this restaurant, which serves hearty portions at economical prices.

I should clarify a point here, traditional foods are not special occasion meals. These foods are eaten every day all around the island. Why just this morning, I had freshly made hot tostones with a sprinkle of sea salt crystals and a tiny bit of ketchup. (Plantains are available all year, but in season locally grown freshly cut plantains are of the highest quality and flavor.) Back to the subject of restaurants, Raices servers dressed in costume and rustic tables set with tin cups and wooden dishes are not commonly used anymore -  except for festive decorations at various cultural activities. Puerto Ricans have access to many of the same stores as those in the United States; consequently, most people ordinarily wear the same clothes as the US tourists and use "regular" cups and plates. One exception is that sometimes US tourists dress in safari clothes - complete with a hard wide-brimmed hat, a many pocketed vest and tough leather boots. I think these tourists thought that they were going to a jungle! What a surprise it must be to discover that Old San Juan feels like an old European city.

Today, there is a blend of both old and new in foods as well as with all things related to culture. For example, take the traditional El Noche San Juan festival, which is both formally and informally celebrated during the summer solstice, specifically on the birthday of John the Baptists (San Juan/St. John). This wild night combines all things pagan and Catholic into a modern synergistic mix. If you can handle crowds and would love to throw yourself backward into the cleansing surf a few times after midnight, come to any of San Juan's beaches on the night of June 23, throw yourself backwards into the ocean three times, and be blessed with good fortune by Yemayá, the Ocean Mother, or St. John (as you wish).


Another cultural blend is found in reggaetón music, touted as the real Puerto Rican music of today, I remain reserved. (Follow the link to read about Puerto Rican culture and music.) Have you heard of the group Calle 13 (Street 13)?  I located a Calle 13 reggaetón video that has an interesting sound when combined with the well known salsa singer, Ruben Blades. You can see the barrio (neighborhood), La Perla (The Pearl) just below El Morro. As a matter of fact, it's right over the wall and next to the sea. I have been down as far as that atmospheric old graveyard (seen in the video), but probably tourists would not be welcomed (read safe) inside this neighbor.


Warning: these lyrics are not tourists friendly. Yes, it's true, we are said to be in the way. Listen carefully to these Spanish lyrics, which say tourists are blocking the view while they take pictures of the view. If like me, you don't particularly like reggaetón music, you should still take a look at this exceptional video. Ruben Blades, you're worth it!



It's time for farewell and goodbye.

Would you just look at that sign in the photograph which coincidentally reads, Oasis El Morro .

Visitors and potential tourist alike, though we are finished with our Oasis El Morro tour, I hesitate to overload your royal reading patience with anymore today. Stop by for future
Tourist for the Day posts and enjoy playing tourist with me.

© Cynthia Pittmann
2014

31 comments:

  1. I found that this is a very complete and enlightening way to showcase what Puerto Rico is all about. It’s very fun to read even for me, being so familiarized with the island. I have a good friend who lives in the Netherlands to whom I’ll be sending a link of this post since I think its so wonderfully insightful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing the post, Estefany. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I look forward to reading your tourist post as well!

      Delete
  2. Hi Cynthia! I really enjoyed reading your post, because I, as a puertorican, felt glamorous reading about all what you said about our traditions and mostly, food. The way you integrated our famous foods, places, was like reading a "Top10 places to eat around the world" magazine, and it was very nice to read. It's also very informational, all what you said (for me) it's true, so I will recommend this post to anyone who wants to know more about our foods, places, recipes and even music. I think you should publish it more to the world, because it is an excelent job what you did with this blog!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice job with your comment, Kevin. (I wish your name were here. Did I get it right? ) I understand what you mean about the writing style. Thanks for appreciating and sharing with me.

      Delete
  3. These are great insights on the Capital City! Sometimes we, as Puerto Ricans, don't give much attention to what we have so close to us, or if we do, we don't give that much importance to it as a tourist would do when they come and visit these places. I am also doing my activity on San Juan, but in a more "nightlife for a tourist" type of way!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great Geraldo! I look forward to reading about the nightlife. I appreciate your insights about how a tourist notices what we no longer think about.

      Delete
  4. I enjoyed reading your post, professor. I have to admit that I got hungry while reading it. Haha! San Juan is a beautiful city that has a lot to offer not only to the tourists, but also to the locals. Sometimes we do not appreciate our island and being a tourist for a day remind us how wonderful it is. I just came back from doing my activity and I really enjoyed it. I invite you to read my experience! http://ticketstoparadise24.blogspot.com/2014/11/tourist-for-day-in-puerto-rico.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your comment reminds me of the practice of gratitude. We often fail to notice the beauty around us (and inside us) because we are fixated on problems (and possibly solving them). Our disposition makes us look at the world we live in with critical eyes. Thank you for your comment, Alessandra. I look forward to reading your post!

      Delete
  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I felt as if I was there with you through the entire day, and Raíces is one of my favorite Puerto Rican traditional restaurants! I love our food, but it's not the healthiest, so I rarely include it in my diet. However... I'm craving some tostones now! haha

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Like me, Keyla, you watch your diet carefully. (Fried food is a no-no as is meat. haha) Still rice and beans are a staple for vegetarians, and bananas provide a lot of potassium. Sometimes we make exceptions for french fries, but we could do the same for tostones! That's my rational, anyway...take it with a grain of salt! (or a few grains, haha!) Raíces is fun but I prefer Cafe Manolín.

      Delete
  7. Great post about our little island. As a Colombian who has lived here for several years I completely understand how you felt as you tried the typical food and visited places like old san juan. Seeing places we are accustomed to with new eyes is a really pleasant experience. I will be writin about my experience in old San Juan very soon! Hope you like it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Valeria, I'm glad that you are able to relate. I have made looking with new eyes a regular practice. It provides me with lots of fresh perspective. I think reading a lot about other places and cultures does that as well. I look forward to reading your post about Old San Juan. Send me a link?

      Delete
  8. How much fun to be a tourist in your own home! This post is making me hungry. November is bleak in Maine. Thanks for the vicarious vacation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Sarah. I remember how bleak it was in Michigan during the period after the leaves fall and before the snow. I think it's the time to get cozy in front of the fireplace and write. Thanks for commenting.

      Delete
  9. I can say, from my experience working first hand with tourists, that there is some misinterpretation of what Puerto Rico is. The first timers (tourists) always arrive with a vision and by their last day they are wondered by the experience they had. During this activity I related to what I have do to become the tourist so I can help to make their experience here a good one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jose, are you still working with tourist? I think you have a good position to observe how people see the island including their expectations and disappointments. I'd like to hear more about that subject.

      Delete
  10. Very nice insight of our beautiful capital, even made me feel hungry at this hour. Tourists that come to the island have big expectations, and you have described one of the most important: our traditional foods. With this blog it sure gives a positive feedback on what the tourist will encounter, rather than if they watch the local news the first day of their vacation. I'm very familiar with Calle13 since I listen to him, however he is not a reggaeton musician. He started his career singing reggaeton to gain the interest of the youth society since there was a big movement of the genre at the time, incorporating with it a sort of consciousness to the songs. His strategy was clear, and that was to captivate the attention he needed so that people would be interested in listening to what he had to say at that time. Since then he has used different types of genres including alternative rock, tango, salsa, jazz, and even techno music because the group wanted to mix diverse styles of world wide genres into their music.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your input, Antonio. About Calle 13, all real musicians go where the music takes them and do not keep themselves in a genre box. However, most critics recognize the aspect of reggatón in their work. For example, read this article about the group: http://www.mtv.com/artists/calle-13/

      Quote: "It took the Puerto Rican duo Calle 13 roughly one year to catch on, after quietly debuting stateside in 2005 on White Lion (a small reggaeton label in partnership with Sony BMG) -- but catch on they certainly did. By the end of the following year, Calle 13 had become the hottest new artist in popular Latin music, garnering Grammy attention as well as widespread critical notices and steadily mounting album sales. Comprised of vocalist Residente (born René Pérez Joglar) and producer Visitante (Eduardo José Cabra Martínez), the duo wasn't a standard reggaeton act, which partly explained why the pair went unnoticed for some time. Reggaeton certainly influenced their music to a degree -- the unmistakable "dem bow" rhythm often anchored their songs, for example, and Residente did rap over the beats as one might expect -- yet Calle 13's material featured elements of other styles as well. Visitante's beats were inventive, incorporating aspects of hip-hop and characteristics of electronica, while Residente's rapping eschewed reggaeton's clichés, showcasing a healthy sense of humor and an almost clownish approach to sarcasm (à la Eminem) -- again, a world apart from the kingly bravado of most reggaeton vocalists, not to mention the obligatory glimmers of misogyny and violence that accompany such streetwise... "

      Delete
  11. It's incredible how much we can learn of Puerto Rico in one visit. I had been in Old San Juan several times but I never felt like this post made me feel: amazed. Reading this post made me feel in love with Puerto Rico. We have a lot of good things in here but we never see it. We are so rushed about living the workaholics life that we forgot how amazing is PR. thanks you.

    PS: I did my activity in Ponce with my friends and we had a blast!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Noheli,
      I'm glad that you realized how truly amazing Puerto Rico is and why it's a tourist destination. We have to remember how much we appreciate this lovely island and take care of it.
      I bet you did have fun and actually, you were a real tourist there, don't you think?

      Delete
  12. I like the way the reading makes me part of the journey like as if I were there. Even though I live near San Juan I haven't had the experience from El Morro and the Old San Juan restaurant hunting in such a long time, so it's inspiring me to visit anytime soon. If this occurs to me, that I am living in Puerto Rico, other people from around the world could also be interested in our island, especially with the delicious food. Professor, you forgot to mention "MayoKetchup" for tostones which is very famous here in Puerto Rico. I was reading an old blog and it had a post titled: (MayoKetchup: THE Puerto Rican condiment) where she narrates her experience with "Fat Sauce", it was kind of funny. http://studentinsanjuan.blogspot.com/2008/06/mayoketchup-puerto-rican-condiment.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Génesis, yes, travel writing can make us feel we are in the place we are reading about. It also provides a kind of escape and/or learning experience. I know you must realize that from our class themes and material.
      About the famous "MayoKetchup," it's true, I didn't include it. You know that it's a food blend of US/PR culture, right? Since it has eggs in it, I cannot eat it. :/ Still it is a sauce people enjoy here on many items. Who could imagine Surullitos (corn sticks) without it?
      (http://www.goya.com/english/recipes/surullitos-puerto-rican-corn-stick)

      Delete
  13. Great insights for the tourists and even me as a resident on the island. I really like how you described and even gave instructions of some of the traditional plates we have and the non-traditional. I agree with you as to keep your local connections obtaining the best possible pasteles as I have mine too! (My grandmother makes the best pasteles, I love them! ). My brother worked for some time in Raíces and he told me tourists love the place, and he even had the same tourist come in more than once to the restaurant in the time they were vacationing. I haven't been to Cafe Manolin, but from the things described it sounds really interesting, I would love to go soon! Thanks for such great insights!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I really enjoyed reading this entry about Puerto Rico's most defining features. The vivid description brought many memories to my mind about the times I have visited the Old San Juan, and I also realized many aspects I had not noticed as a resident of the island. Many of the places I have not visited either and after reading your experience I would love to visit them. Thanks for this writing about our island, and for the inspiration given to us, readers, to visit these places in Puerto Rico.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hello there! This is a Blogpost very complete about PR culture. It is especially interesting, the mixture of ideals and concepts about it. I agree in some point, when it says “Today, there is a blend of both old and new in foods as well as with all things related to culture”. Although some people show great resistance about sharing culture, being Boricua is indeed to be a combination. Hypothetically, analyzing the Puerto Rican psyche, we are living in a dialectical relationship with our origins (African, Spaniard and Taino) and the influence of USA tendencies. Puerto Rico is diversity, even though that a great part of citizens disagree with it. The parties and sharing events, where these same citizens participate, construct us and define us as a nation. I appreciate so much the way this post example that characteristic of our identity. The mixture of cultural facts which many people just gets resistance.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Hahahaha. Obtaining the best local pasteles is definitely dependent on maintaining connections with people. This was a really in depth blog, I'd definitely love to have this to read if I were a tourist; it definitely gives an idea on what the tourist could go and do for the day and enjoy the most out of it. You can definitely get to know a places culture by eating their food~

    (PS: Loved that you linked "None of the above" I've read it before for another class and it's just great for knowing how the music of the now came to be and all of the influences.)

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hi Professor! This blog seems perfect for both a tourist and a resident. Without a doubt, an excellent place to go to eat is “Raices”. It is a very nice place that transports you to another time and the food is really good. My favorite dish is mofongo with skirt steak. Oh God! I’m already hungry! I also want to mention that our island is full of "chinchorros". The “chinchorros” are a small business that are mostly outside the metropolitan area. I'm from Yabucoa, and in my town you find them in the area of the coast and they are literally one next to the other. You can find drinks, food, and music in a good environment. I invite you to pass a Sunday along the coast of Yabucoa, you will love the view. It is an adventure!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. http://learningfromthejourney.blogspot.com/2014/11/a-night-in-old-san-juan.html

      Delete
  18. Hi professor. Loved this. You covered a little bit everything. The food, the beverages, the forts, urban legends and festivals. I found it funny how you warned about the cold tostones and how disappointing they can be unless eaten fresh from the frying pan while they're still crunchy. A feel many tourists leave the country thinking they're not that big of a deal because of this. One cannot over emphazise how important it is to keep connections for getting good "pasteles". Many of us find it annoying when we lose those connections, especially around christmas time, because then you have to try the "Pasteles" from new people; and you know how we don't buy just one but the dozen! This was a nice introduction to Old San Juan and to the island. I would recommend this blog to anyone visiting Puerto Rico. Good reading!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Lizz, thanks for the feedback. It's fun to find out what a local Puerto Rican would think of the insights I offer. I'm glad I highlighted some of the culture you find valuable.

      Delete

Start a conversation with your comments here...