What is lechón? Ask any Puerto Rican and their eyes will probably mist over with longing. People here tend to love their pork, and lechón, or roast suckling pig, is the crown prince of pork dishes. It's the popular choice for any large gathering, and certain restaurants draw lines of hungry families when they break out their lechón.
Lechón isn't exclusive to Puerto Rico; Cubans will argue that their version of this dish is just as good as any out there. But Puerto Ricans display a fierce territorial pride when it comes to their favorite pork recipe, and it's probably well deserved. How good is this dish? One woman actually broke her vow of no pork in her diet just to try it... and she had no regrets.
Lechón is no easy dish to make at home. For one, you'll need plenty of open space or a very large oven. It's also a time-consuming dish to prepare, but when done right, it delivers a smoky, delicious, carnivorous feast. Here's a recipe from Healthy Latin Eating.
Where to Find It
There is one place in Puerto Rico that stands out as the Lechón capital of the island (and possibly the world). And that place is Guavate. In this hilly town in Puerto Rico's central region is a road called "La Ruta del Lechón," or the Lechón Route. And along it are dozens of roadside eateries that serve up hearty chunks of roast suckling pork. Thousands of visitors make the pilgrimage to Guavate every year, where they're always joined by happy throngs of locals enjoying some true Puerto Rican flavor.
Many Guavate lechoneras also have live music on the weekends, making this an ideal place to get away from the resorts and beach and dive into the local culture.
Lechón is perhaps the most popular holiday food on the island; as such, it can always be found on restaurant menus at Thanksgiving and Christmas (not to mention weekend cookouts and large family gatherings). If you're visiting Puerto Rico during the holidays, one of the best ways to enjoy the dish without venturing too far off the beaten path is to check with your hotel for their holiday brunch specials. Many hotels all over Puerto Rico will have a lechón roasting merrily over an open fire.
Most people will recommend that you try lechón at least once while you're here. There's a good reason it's among the favorite foods in Puerto Rico.