It did not come with any additional sauce which I found slightly perplexing, but the flavor of the plantain base was indescribably moist and juicy while still maintaining a crunch quality. It was absolutely delicious and was a phenomenal entree for sixteen bucks.
It slowly dawned on me that I was the only customer in the place. I should have been somewhat alarmed by this fact, but instead, I was comforted once again by my sense of adventure and perhaps, a lack of expectations.
The young girl returned with my cold drink. "Gracias," I answered as I placed my order in Spanish. "Una alcapurria y una empanda de carne. Ay, y un mofongo con camerones a la parilla. Muchas gracias, senorita."
She took my order and chuckled, most likely at my pathetic stab at Espanol.
In fact, I had to give the sign a second glance to be sure it was indeed, advertising a restaurant. Tropical Taste.
To be frank, I was skeptical. I re-read the sign and balked at being led through the Kamel International Bazaar in order to get to a restaurant I knew nothing about. And once in, how would I extricate myself politely if I found it to be less than appealing? What if I disappeared without a trace?
Okay, all episodes of Locked Up Abroad aside, as is usually the case, my sense of adventure outweighed my common sense, and in I plunged; dodging brightly-colored red scarves and wide-eyed saleswomen eliciting my business with a rapid-fire dialect I couldn't begin to decipher. Twisting and turning amidst narrow aisles, I negotiated my route by sheer adrenalin alone when quite suddenly, I popped out into a little room the rear of the bazaar.
...amongst dozens of hungry pigeons I take my place on the same wrought-iron park bench, eagerly tearing into the brown, grease-stained paper bag that holds my treasure.
The sounds of waves lapping against the city's protective stone walls; the frangrance of the tropical breeze; the high-pitched cackle of foreign tongue; come together to create to the perfect setting to enjoy my midday feast.
I've been fortunate enough to enjoy the city's historic splendor on at least a half-dozen occasions, and with each visit, I try to absorb a little more understanding of the local culture on a somewhat deeper level.
And each time I do so; having scratched beneath another layer of the surface of the city's facade, I feel I come away with a firmer grasp on the pulse of Old San Juan.
In Old San Juan, that usually means I head instinctively towards the open-air market near the water's edge.
...alcapurias, empanadas, pasteles, bacalaitos, papa rellanas, sorullos, and arepas - are but a few of the offerings made fresh and sold each day by these street artisans.
The diet of the original island’s inhabitant's consisted of corn, tropical fruit and seafood, and with the Spanish arrival in the late 1400’s, so arrived an introduction to beef, pork, chicken and rice
The setting for my last visit to Old San Juan was not unlike my previous visits, with two exceptions ~
One - I walked the entire city for the better part of five hours and hunger was setting in while I was still quite a distance away from anywhere familiar.
Two - it was getting late, a heavy storm was brewing amidst darkening, omnipotent skies, and I was still quite a distance away from anywhere familiar.
I asked with hesitation, "Is there a restaurant here?" All three heads turned and smiled in unison.
I looked up and saw a man in his mid-twenties sitting at a small, formica-topped table, quietly playing cards with two young girls. I asked with hesitation, "Is there a restaurant here?"
In a petite Spanish accent, she gently offered, "I just made some fresh lemonade. Would you like some?" Her smile and demeanor were so disarming, I could not refuse. It seemed all my previous trepidation melted away without a further thought.
For those who do not know, Mofongo is generally made from fried green plantains which are mashed together in a pilón (a wooden mortar and pestle), with broth, garlic, olive oil, and pork cracklings or bits of bacon. It is usually filled with vegetables, chicken, crab, shrimp, or beef and is often served with fried meat and chicken broth soup.
My entree did not disappoint. .
Tropical Taste made it easy to venture out into that tropical rainstorm. And rest assured, I'll be venturing in for Mofongo once again on my next visit.
156 Calle Cristo
Old San Juan, Pureto Rico