The Strange Foods of Puerto Rico

Exotic Delights for the Adventurous Diner


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So many traditional dishes in Puerto Rico are delicious, and, these days, they are increasingly rich in creative fusion flavors inspired by many cultures overseas. It's to be expected that a culinary tradition this diverse would come with its fair share of exotic items, and there is no shortage of truly interesting dishes that might make you think twice before diving in. Here are just a few examples of the unusual, and just plain weird foods of Puerto Rico (such as the Mavi drink) for the adventurous diners among us.

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Most Westerners shy away from organ meats, but all around the world, they are utilized for their distinctive flavor, and to maintain the "nose to tail" principle of never wasting animal protein. 

Gandinga is a thick, heavy stew made from pig organs. The heart, liver, and kidneys all go into this dish, along with much less frightening ingredients like capers, Manzanilla olives and sofrito, a sauce made from garlic, onion, paprika, and tomatoes cooked in olive oil. Sofrito's usage goes well beyond this stew, as it serves as a base for most classic Puerto Rican dishes.

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Pork Bits

Continuing with the pig-centric theme, let's move on to pork bits. Pork bits are not so much a Puerto Rican "dish" as a culinary practice.

On this island, the locals can't seem to get enough pork. If you've spent more than a day visiting, you've probably have heard about the famous lechón (roast suckling pig), but you may not be familiar with "less desired" pig parts that are incorporated into many of Puerto Rico's dishes.

It's extremely typical to find the tail, snout, ear, and skin of pigs offered as menu items at any number of local restaurants, and they are all considered to be choice cuts of meat. One very popular item on a local menu is patitas, which is pigs' feet served in a Creole-style sauce.

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Ahh, tripe. The gourmand's choice sweetmeat. Tripe in Puerto Rico comes primarily in the form of a stew called mondongo. Add lemon juice, ham, tomato sauce, taro root, plantain, (or yautia, as it's known here), cassava (or yuca), and the right seasoning, and you've got yourself a 'Rican classic. Mondongo is served at many Puerto Rican restaurants around the island, so if you're hankering for some tripe stew, be sure to ask for it by name.

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Okay, so maybe this isn't so unusual. Certainly, it's tame compared to some of the other dishes on this list, but tripleta belongs on this list because a triple-decker sandwich with three types of meat just doesn't come around every day.

Those aforementioned meats are beef, ham, and chicken all crammed together along with lettuce, onion, and tomato. It's an island favorite, and something people remember as their snack of choice growing up. As for where you can locate them, look no further than your nearest panadería to satisfy your craving. 

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Wash down all those exotic foods of Puerto Rico you've sampled with a special kind of drink. Most locals from the Caribbean know what Mauby is, but on this island, it's known as Mavi.

Mavi is a drink made with sugar and the bark or fruit of the Mavi tree found in the northern Caribbean. Mavi can be drunk fermented or unfermented, and either fizzy or still. As to what it tastes like, think of it as a kind of root beer with a slightly bitter kick. Also, for the uninitiated, be warned: Mavi acts as a diuretic and it can "go right through you".

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