I freely admit I have a soft spot for Puerto Rican cuisine. For one, I am a transplanted New Yorker, once married to a Nuyorican. I also learned my Spanish (and salsa dancing) from other Nuyoricans, and Puerto Rican cooking from my former suegra. Not to mention all those years spent shuttling back and forth between NYC and San Juan for cheap, romantic and unforgettable weekend getaways.
Plus, it seems that the cuisine gets a short sell, as though it were a paler cousin of Spanish food, perceived by some as less exotic somehow than Cuban or other Caribbean cuisines. But not so; Puerto Rico’s food, like her people, is a fabulous mash-up of Spanish, African, and indigenous Taíno and Arawak foodways, resulting in the best of many worlds. Roots and tuber, peanuts and pineapple, soursop (guananabana), guava, calebaza (pumpkin) maize and chiles are all ingredients indigenous to the island. The Europeans (Spanish) introduced, wheat, garbanzos, onions, garlic, basil, sugarcane, citrus, eggplant and beef, pork, lamb, goat, chicken and dairy, just as they did when they conquered Mexico, changing these cuisines forever.
Other ingredients important to the island’s cuisine came to from Africa, much of it as a result of the slave trade. It was African slaves also introduced deep-frying and from Ethiopia came the signature bean in one of Puerto Rico’s most popular dishes, Arroz con Gandules (Rice with Pigeon Peas). So, too, from the continent came yams, tamarind, bananas,and coffee. (My very best memories of Puerto Rico are of the coffee!)
So, it is with a watery mouth and great anticipation that I am pleased to share the following, from llyanna Maisonet, currently an Oakland-based Web Editor @brokeassstuart. Her misadventures can be found in her writings at Eat Gorda Eat, where she shares recipes, her crush on Andy Ricker and how she hella loves her cat, Che. She is currently working on a Puerto Rican cookbook.
“We’re here, we made it. After months of testing on unsuspected victims, I’ve finally committed to a month long pop-up. What comes after is anyone’s guess.
I finished culinary school in 2012 and in 2013 my brother-in-law said, “You should do a cookbook.” Yeah, that was a great idea. Until it wasn’t. Three years later and it’s still a proposal, but now it has found its way into the hands of my mentor and editor, Lesley Tellez, who published 2015’s in-depth love letter to the food of Mexico, Eat Mexico. She also has a tour company, by the same name, that gives tours in Mexico City.
Doctor’s Lounge is a bar in the Outer Mission ran by Rochelle McCune, who (whom?) I met in a women’s social group. She graciously allowed me to possibly burn down her kitchen, and in return I promised to get the word out about the pop-up and promise that you would buy booze from her.
When you walk inside, the bar is to the left and this is where your drinks and cocktails can be ordered. To the right are the tables, seat yourself wherever you want. Everyone gets the same thing.
Bacalaitos | Codfish Fritters
Empanadas | Picadillo (seasoned ground meat with olives), inside a pastry shell.
Enselada de guineo | Pickled green bananas, avocado, olive oil, herbs, chilies, fried yautia
Arroz con gandules | Rice with pigeon peas
Carne Guisada con Calabasa | Braised pork in tomato sauce, Spanish olives, pumpkin
Brazo Gitano Cake | Coco Rico, guava, cream cheese, coconut, Ron del Barrilito salted caramel, fresh fall fruit, walnuts
It’s soft opening. The reason the tickets are discounted is because you’re being used a guinea pigs for us to work out the kinks. Some of the people who are helping with serving and cooking are in the food industry, some are not. Hell, some might not even show up. Rest assured, I have practiced cooking and serving at least six people at a time on my own. Seven at a time and I might be in the weeds.
Why the Mission? While the Mission was the first (and second) neighborhood I lived in when I first moved to San Francisco in 2005, I initially wanted to do the popup in the East Bay. I reached out to a lot of folks and finally chose a spot. But, the owner was hard to keep track of and by the time he returned my calls, I had already locked down the Doctor’s Lounge, which was a painless process. The fact that the Doctor’s Lounge was in the Outer Mission was all the more appealing.
Why the brown paper kraft boats lined with banana leaves? Budget. Also, I couldn’t get bowls made out of coconuts, so the kraft boats kind of mimic that feel. And banana leaves are used so much in the Caribbean, women will use them to form their fritters and slide the fritters from the banana leaf into the hot oil.
Why the super traditional preparations and a more modern dessert? Unintentionally, the meal worked itself out to tell my story. The first time I met my great grandmother, she made me codfish fritters and it gave me some insight into her and my grandmother’s estranged relationship. Though estranged, my great grandmother had obviously left a rather strong impression on my grandma, because their codfish fritters tasted exactly the same. The carne guisada is the first recipe I dared to recreate after watching my grandma make hers. The green banana salad is a riff on my mom’s favorite dish (that my grandma used to make for her): a salad of bacalao, raw white onions and olive oil, with a side of boiled yucca, yautia (taro) and plantain. The dessert is all me.
The reservations are staggered, so please arrive on time. Your dinner is timed to be consumed and completed within 2 hours. If it gets crowded (which is unlikely) you may be asked to surrender your table. People cannot be added at the door, please have them purchase their tickets ahead of time. No substitutions. Any allergies should be announced ASAP. There are no refunds. The whole purpose of purchasing your tickets ahead of time allows us to realize the budget we’re working with and purchase the proper amount of ingredients for the proper amount of servings. We’re more than happy to reserve you a seat on another one of our dates.
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