Sunday, August 4, 2019

First Impressions - Life in Puerto Rico

Beautiful flowers on my morning walk
Well, we’ve been in Puerto Rico almost a month and I thought I’d jot down a few first impressions of life on a tropical island.

A friend from the States recently suggested that I should write a new blog titled, “My New Life in a Banana Republic.” I’m pretty sure she was referring to the recent government upheaval surrounding former Governor Ricardo Rossello, and the ensuing musical chairs of “who wants to be the next Governor?” Answer: almost nobody. But as this is primarily a travel/food/baking publication so I will skip my personal feelings about the political climate here.

What we have found in the last few weeks is that fresh produce here is in scant supply, and what is available is not great. When I quizzed a local business owner about where we could find “good” fresh fruits and vegetables, she said most of the locally grown produce is shipped to the US. What is not sold to US vendors, comes back to the island but (A) it is not the best of the best, and (B) it is now subject to the 1920 Jones Act (here’s a short, concise read of this ridiculously antiquated law) and so it is exorbitantly high-priced. She suggested we seek out small town squares where local farmers come to sell their wares. So that will be our next mission!

One bright note in the fresh fruit category is the multitude of roadside fruit trucks — we have gotten terrific pineapples and perfectly-ripe papaya at pretty good prices by stopping at these trucks. 

There is a small grocery chain called “La Hacienda,” with stores primarily in upscale San Juan neighborhoods. We visited two of these stores last week and were impressed with the availability and quality of produce and meat here. The prices were similar to Whole Foods in the states. 

I think we will be buying most of our food in Costco…

People have asked me how the restaurants are here. Just like anywhere else, they have ranged from very good to mediocre. Last night, we visited a Mexican restaurant focusing on cuisine from the Sonoran region. Everything we tried was very good; from the excellent margarita (a steal at five bucks!), to the al pastor and carnitas tacos, to the specialty quesadilla called “Carmelo.” The service was personal and efficient (chef/owner, Isaac, came over to make sure everything was to our liking), the restaurant was clean and neat, and the meal delicious. When we go back, I need to ask Isaac about the restaurant name (Goongi’s), which I totally don’t get, but there must be something behind it. They’ve been open only five months so I’m hoping they succeed.

Closer to our residence is Don Pepe, a family-run restaurant in what would be considered a strip mall back in NJ. Here, it’s clustered next to a sushi restaurant, a run-of-the-mill Mexican place, and a souvenir store. Don Pepe focuses on traditional Puerto Rican cuisine and does it very well. And, they have a killer wine list, something not found at most local restaurants on this part of the island (I have yet to find a BYO restaurant here).

Speaking of wine, liquor/wine shops as I know them do not seem to exist here. Every supermarket here sells beer, wine, etc., and the corner “bodega” has a selection of alcohol, but a wine shop along the lines of Total Wine or Bottle King are not to be found. However, during a short road trip to Guaynabo to check out a vet for our cat, we came across The House. Lo and behold, a real wine store with a wide selection from great vintners. In addition, they offer a nice variety of cheese, salami, crackers, etc. 

What we’ve found in the short time we’ve been here, is that like anywhere, you’ve got to find your “go-to” purveyors, be it butchers, wine shops, hair salons, etc. We’ve also found that, so far, our life here is not all that different from our life in NJ - sure, the government here is going through major changes and it’s a little unsettling. But the same can be said for the US government. All you can do is “keep calm and carry on,” eat well, and drink good wine. And that’s our plan. 

Hasta la próxima vez! (Until next time!)