How to Celebrate a Puerto Rican Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Dinner With a Latin Twist

Caramel, dulce de leche
••• Dulce de leche is a great way to end a Thanksgiving feast. Yoann JEZEQUEL Photography / Getty Images

Thanksgiving is just about the most American holiday of all. And even though Puerto Ricans weren't a part of the original festivities, they have embraced it eagerly. Although they are U.S. citizens, most Puerto Ricans in this U.S. territory have their roots in Latin traditions and they've put their unique cultural twist on the classic American Thanksgiving tradition. Much of the Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated in Puerto Rico in the same way as it is in the States: Most businesses are closed, family members get together, there is a ridiculous amount of food, and people go shopping afterward.

But there's a big difference in what's for dinner—Puerto Ricans create a feast all their own. 

Plantain Appetizers

For starters, traditional Latin plantains, a type of large banana, are served as appetizers. Guineos en escabeche, or pickled bananas, are green bananas tossed with sauteed onions, green olives, olive oil, and vinegar combined with savory herbs like oregano and bay leaves. This dish is commonly served on birthdays and holidays like Thanksgiving.

No Puerto Rican meal is complete without tostones, and Thanksgiving is no exception. This plantain-based starter is common to Central America and the Caribbean and tastes completely different from guineos en escabeche. The plantains are sliced, then deep fried till crispy and golden. They can be dipped first in garlic water before frying for extra taste or served with a garlic dipping sauce.

Turkey and Fixin's Island Style

Thanksgiving is all about the turkey even in Puerto Rico, but on the island, it's cooked a bit differently.One method is known as pavochón, which involves roasting a turkey or large chicken that's been seasoned like roast pork with garlic, oregano, and adobo, a Spanish paprika seasoning blend.

Sometimes the turkey is stuffed with mofongo, a plantain dish that is often considered the most popular Puerto Rican dish, made with fried mashed green plantains, mashed garlic, and small, crunchy pieces of fried pork rinds, or chicharrón.

For sides, expect morcilla, or blood sausage, and arroz con gandules, rice with pigeon peas, the Puerto Rican version of rice and beans.

What's Thanksgiving Without Dessert?

Instead of the traditional American pumpkin pie, Puerto Ricans typically finish off their Thanksgiving meal with tembleque, a cinnamon-coated coconut custard. Another custard favorite is dulce de leche made from caramelized milk.

The Aftermath

The Thanksgiving holiday kicks off the Christmas season in Puerto Rico, a wonderful time of the year on year on the island. After the Thanksgiving feast, Puerto Ricans like to take it easy... just like mainland Americans. Many go to the beach or find a hammock to relax in.