One of my favorite aspects of travel is to uncover a country through the food it’s known for. This is why, over the last year, food tours have become a must for me while traveling, or even in my own backyard. They are about so much more than just the food, they are also about uncovering the history of a place, as well as learning more about the culture of a destination. Knowing that Puerto Rico is famous for its food, I began looking up food tours as soon as I booked my trip. Eventually, I found Spoon Food Tours and gravitated toward their driving tour. It was different than other tours I had been on and would allow us to cover a larger area in a shorter amount of time.
We met our guide, Paulina, at Plaza Colon in Old San Juan and were excited by the small group size. It was just one other couple along with Diana and myself, which meant we’d really have time to interact with Paulina and find out as much as we could about the area and the food. After introducing ourselves, we hopped in the van and were on our way.
Our first stop was La Jaquita Baja, a little restaurant in the Miramar section of San Juan. The environment was light-hearted and fun, and I immediately took a liking to the place. The staff was enthusiastic about having us there, and the decor was bright, and in the corner, there was even a little shop, which in my mind, created an atmosphere of a place where locals would dine.
But, my experience was made even better when the food came out. First, we started with our choice of red or white sangria, and a pigeon pea dip with plantain chips. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was one of the highlights of the day, and I found myself reaching for more, even though I knew I had to leave room for all the food I would be eating on the tour.
Then, we were treated to pork, rice, and arañitas, shredded and fried plantain chips. The pork was tender and delicious with the accompanying onions, and the addition of the fresh avocado was one of my favorite aspects of the dish. Considering that this was only our first stop, I was surprised and impressed by how much food we were given. It was hard not to finish it all, especially the rice, but I knew we still had more places to visit.
After good conversation, we left La Jaquita Baja and headed back to the van. The conversation continued on the way to our next stop, in the area of Pinaonas. Had it not been for the tour, Diana and I probably wouldn’t have ventured here, and I would have been disappointed had I heard of its existence once I was already home.
Among the colorful shacks on the beach that serve food and drinks is Soliel, one of the larger venues that feels exactly like the place you wouldn’t mind being stranded at. Tables are spread out and there are hammocks, along with a view of the beach.
It’s the perfect little island spot, and one you can’t miss when visiting San Juan. Here, we were greeted with a table in the shade and refreshing coconut water, straight out of the coconut. It was the perfect drink to wash down the dish we were able to sample: mofongo.
Mofongo is the dish that Puerto Rico is famous for, and you can find it all over the island. Traditionally, it’s made with mashed plantains, but here, we had it made with cassava, or yuca. It was beautifully presented to us with chicken on top, and a plantain chip for decoration; it tasted just as good as it looked.
As soon as we finished, we found ourselves being drawn to the ocean. Pinoñes has prime real estate and the gorgeous beach views are plentiful. There’s a path between the restaurants and beach, where people and bikers were passing us by, taking advantage of the beautiful day.
Our last stop had us hopping back in the van, and on our way back to Old San Juan. We were dropped off right by Castillo El Morro, where we started our walk and made our way to Hotel El Convento. Along the walk, Paulina pointed out her favorite restaurants and bars for us to visit, along with several important buildings and sights.
We arrived at Hotel El Convento, and learned about its unique history. Over three hundred years ago, it was a Carmelite convent, and in the 1960’s, it was turned into a hotel. Understandably, as we walked inside, it felt as if we were stepping back in time. We headed upstairs to El Picoteo for my favorite part of any meal, dessert.
We sound a spot under a flowering tree that overlooked the open courtyard, and watched the fans spin overhead, as we sipped on iced coffees and waited for our final dish. Then, we all got quiet as soon as our flan and tres leches arrived, and even though we were all full, we couldn’t help but finish the entire dessert.
From here, we all parted ways, and Paulina helped by giving us directions and recommendations for a few of our meals. After experiencing the places she took us to, we knew her suggestions would be worth listening to. Paulina was so passionate and knowledgable about the culture, history, and food, that I wanted to bring her along to each place I visited for the rest of my stay. Although, I guess by following her suggestions, in some ways I was able to.
The tour seemed to fly by faster than I anticipated, and even though I was full, it was hard to say good-bye, as I would have loved to have continued spending the day eating every dish Puerto Rico had to offer. Still, I loved the fact that we didn’t visit too many places, and that we never once felt rushed to finish our food and get to the next stop. We were able to truly soak up the experience and our enjoy our time uncovering some of San Juan’s best dishes.
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I was a guest of Spoon Food Tour, but that in no way affected my opinion of the tour or establishments we visited. As always, all opinions are my own.