Our third port of call = Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
This stop on our cruise’s itinerary was the only one we spent AWAY from the beach (gasp). Instead, we did our second favorite thing to do after “bumming on the beach” = stuffing our bellies with food. Some realllllly good traditional Puerto Rican food, I might add.
A little background: For those of you who have been following this blog for a while, you may recall that I lived in NYC for couple of years. During that time, I went on my first ever walking food/chocolate tour of NYC and had such a blast. The concept of the tour was simple: we walked around the city making stops at different chocolate boutiques, tasted various creations of chocolate and learned some interesting facts about NYC’s history along the way. Pretty much all the NOM without the guilt because walking counts as fitness, am I right? Or am I right?
Fast forward three years later to the couple of weeks leading up to our cruise trip when Charles and I were brainstorming ideas on what to do at each port stop and boom! Going on walking food tour of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico popped into my head and Charles was all about it.
Decision made, I hopped on our laptop and googled different food tour companies in Puerto Rico. After doing some research and reading reviews for a couple different companies, we settled on Flavors of San Juan Food and Culture Tours and booked their walking food tour of Old San Juan. With that said, let’s get on with the tour!
Once our cruise was docked at the port of San Juan at 9:00am, Charles and I were off the ship 30 minutes later and headed to the address where we were supposed to meet our tour guide for the day. The walk was supposed to take 10 minutes… Unfortunately, we got lost along the way making a couple wrong turns here and there.
Fortunately, our tour guide, Keila, had my phone number and called me around 9:55am to check and see where we were since the tour was scheduled to start at 10:00am. Once I described to her the surrounding landmarks from where we were standing, she was able to direct us to the meeting location over the phone. Come to find out, we right around the corner haha. #facepalm
^^ Our tour guide, Keila. Isn’t she cutest?
When we finally made it to the meeting location and joined the tour group, Keila introduced herself and had everyone go around and introduce themselves as well. Once that was done, she went over the list of five restaurants we would be stopping at during the three hour tour. After double checking with the group to see if anyone had food allergies, she started walking in the direction of the first of many stops to come and everyone followed behind excitedly in anticipation.
** Disclaimer: I wouldn’t continue reading the rest of this post if you haven’t eaten anything because you’re about to get an onslaught of photos filled with food and a couple not so flattering photos of me stuffing my face.
^^ First Food Stop: The Aroma’s Coffeehouse where we were introduced to the local sweetbread, Mallorca, which was served in sandwich form with jamon (ham), powdered sugar and a side of cherry juice, made from arecola cherries that are native to Puerto Rico. To me, Mallorca was similar in taste to Kings Hawaiian bread but with a fluffy, croissant like texture. Add in the ham and powdered sugar and you have the perfect combination of sweet and salty. Breakfast devoured, Keila rounded us up and led the way to our….
^^ Second Food Stop: Senor Paleta where everyone in the group was able to grab an ice pop to go. Senor Paleta is Old San Juan’s first ever artisan ice pop shop and their pops are made fresh daily using locally sourced fruits or premium nuts and chocolates. I got the watermelon and mango ice pop while Charles got the strawberry cheesecake ice pop. After selecting our ice pops, Keila led us to a shady park nearby to take in the views from Old San Juan’s fortress walls.
As we ate our ice pops in the shade, Keila shared with us a quick synopsis of her country’s history. Puerto Rico was discovered by none other than Christopher Columbus during his second voyage into the unknown in 1493, making it a Spanish colony up until the Spanish-American War in 1898 when Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory. In 1917, the Jones Act gave Puerto Ricans U.S. citizen status however, despite their status as citizens of America, the country doesn’t have representation in Congress and they don’t have the right of electoral votes for the President.
I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t know anything about the country’s fight for representation in the U.S. until Keila brought it up during our ice pop break. It was a sobering bit of info to digest but very educational and I made a mental note to research more about Puerto Rico’s history and ties with America later as Keila led us down the blue cobbled streets of Old San Juan, past the Pigeon Sanctuary to our…
^^ Third Food Stop: Cafe El Punto, a super cute art gallery/restaurant cafe/gift shop. While there, Keila brought out two trays of food for us to taste. First, we had tried the Alcapurria, a meat filled fritter dish. It was almost like an empanada but instead of the flaky flour crust, the dough surrounding the meat was made of green bananas and cassava. After finishing the alcapurria, Keila brought out the second tray which had soup spoons filled with the freshest ceviche I have ever eaten. This marked Charles’s first time ever trying it and he really liked it too!
After purchasing a map of Puerto Rico (that we plan to frame and hang a.k.a. still haven’t hung yet ’cause we’re slow) from their gift shop area, Keila led us out of Cafe El Punto to our…
^^ Fourth Food Stop: Rosa De Triano. A super cool fact about this restaurant’s construction is that it initially served as Old San Juan’s first city hall dating back to 1523. What was even cooler was that our tour group was seated in the area of the building that used to be the jail cell. Our stop at Rosa De Triano was one of the major highlights of the tour (in my opinion). We spent the most time here and had the opportunity to get interactive with our food. On the menu for our tasting was one Puerto Rico’s most popular and signature dishes: mofongo = fried green plantains that are mashed and served with a side of meat.
Everyone in our tour group was given pilons (wood mortars and pestles) filled with fried green plantains and various seasonings. We were then instructed by Keila on how to correctly mash the plantains with our pestle so that the aromatic seasoning made up of butter, garlic and chicken broth got mixed in evenly. From there, we added in some chicken and ate the mofongo directly from our pilons. Mmmmm, my mouth is watering just thinking about it.
As if that wasn’t enough… Following the mofongo, small plates of arroz con habichuelas (rice and beans) were brought out and holy moly, that ish was so tasty too. The rice was perfectly cooked (I’m a stickler about over or undercooked rice) and perfectly balanced out the seasoned sauce of beans. And of course, I finished everything despite feeling pretty full… Thank goodness for free flowing dresses that hide bloated stomachs haha.
After “clearing our palette” with a glass of sangria, Keila rounded up the tour group and led us around the corner to…
^^ “So you think you can dance?” ^^ Who posed it better? Charles or the Lady in Red??? Let me know in the comments below ;)
^^ Fourth & A Half DRINK Stop: Patio De Ana – Rosa De Triano’s sister cafe located in an open air cafe behind the restaurant. Once everyone found a seat in the middle of the patio, a waiter came out with a tray filled with pina coladas for our tasting pleasure! A creamy blend of coconut cream, pineapple juice and rum, this drink is another signature cocktail that originates from Puerto Rico and was so refreshing to sip on considering the how hot it was that day.
Drinks drank, we sluggishly got out of our seats (the food coma was really starting to settle in) and followed Keila through the main square of Old San Juan to our…
^^ Fifth and Final Food Stop: VacaBrava for some dessert = Flan. Puerto Rican flan to be exact. Keila emphasized the difference between Puerto Rican flan vs. the more well known (in the U.S. at least) Mexican rendition of flan. The difference being that Puerto Rican flan is more creamy than the flan of Mexico which is a bit more watery and jello like in texture. After taking one bite out of the flan that was passed around, Charles and I immediately tasted the difference and both agree… Puerto Rican flan is sooooo much better than Mexican flan. Creamy texture for the win!
Unfortunately, this is where the tour came to end. Once our tasting plates were cleared, Keila shared a few closing words with the tour group and wished everyone a wonderful rest of their time in Puerto Rico!
^^ After the tour, Charles and I wandered around San Juan for another hour or so (and found this cool chalkboard that I couldn’t resist writing on) before heading back to our cruise ship to take a nap (hellllo itis!). When we woke up a couple hours later, the ship had already pulled out of port and was cutting through the sea, making its way to our last port of call of the trip: Grand Turk. More on that to come later…
In the meantime, make sure to add Flavors of San Juan Food and Culture Tours’ walking food tour of Old San Juan on your list of to-do’s should you ever visit Puerto Rico. What’s nice about the tours at Flavors of San Juan Food and Culture tours is that they switch up which restaurants they stop at in Old San Juan which keeps things dynamic. So you might get the same itinerary as Charles and I did or you might try something different at another restaurant. Either way, I’m sure the food will be amazing.
Considering the fact that we only had a couple hours at port to explore, our culinary adventure through Old San Juan served as the perfect vehicle to give us a (big) taste of the country’s culture and history through it’s food. Considering how satisfied our stomachs were after the tour, I’m sure it doesn’t come as a surprise that we are 100% interested in coming back to visit Puerto Rico for a second filling.
Have you ever been on a food tour before? If so, what city/country did you tour? If not, get on the web and google walking food tours in your town, city or area and sign up for one right now! :)
** Charles and I received 2 complimentary tickets from Flavors of San Juan Food And Culture Tours in exchange for my honest review. We had already decided we were going to book a walking food tour with them when Charles suggested that I reach out and see if they were interested in partnering with setarra.com. This is the first time I’ve ever pitched anything before in regards to this blog and to my surprise, they responded positively to my proposal! Thank you Flavors of San Juan Food and Culture Tours for this opportunity. And thank you. Yes, YOU – reading this post for supporting the brands that support setarra.com. No matter the cost or comp, all opinions are and will always be my own.