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We could have driven to Cataño from our home in Río Piedras, San Juan, but instead, my wife and I drove to Old San Juan and from there took the ferry to Cataño.
It was a very nice Sunday morning. Cool(er) temperature, blue skies, soothing tropical breeze. So we decided to go to Cataño, a nearby coastal town, for their Festival del Pescao (Fish Festival).
The ferry ride was nice and once we got there we could hear the music not far away and the smell of food being cooked. So we let our ears and noses lead us! Once in the festival area, we realized it wasn’t what we expected. Small, practically no food, and definitely no fish. The man on stage announced a fish cook-off for 1 pm, other than that, the festival did not look promising. So we decided to get a beer and keep walking. I wanted to try an Alcapurria. This is a type of fritter very popular in Puerto Rico. It is made by mashing green bananas and yautía (eddoe or taro) a root starchy vegetable used in other types of cooking. Eddoe and taro are very similar. Yautía (taro) has its origins in Africa and South Asia. Eddoe (malanga) has its origins in Japan and China.
Once the banana and yautía are mashed together, the mix is seasoned with salt, pepper, achiote for color, garlic and really pretty much whatever you want to put in it. Then that mix is stuffed by, again, pretty much anything you want in it: ground beef, pork, shrimp, crab or anything else. Then they deep fry it until dark golden brown. Delicious!
So I ordered mine stuffed with shrimp. On my first bite I realized, it was stuffed with ground meat. I didn’t take it back, just ate it. It was still good. They gave me a homemade pique (hot sauce) and that made it better.
After the Alcapurria, we walked down the waterfront. We found an art and tequila house. We got excited, and they were rolling cigars right in front of it. I was so excited for the cigars and was hoping that the cigars were made with Puerto Rican tobacco. They weren’t. They were using Nicaraguan and Dominican tobacco. Dominican tobacco is usually very high quality, top of the line. I know this because a long time ago in New Orleans I worked at a cigar factory selling them.
Once inside the art and tequila house, we discover that there was no tequila. It may be a tequila house someday, but it wasn’t that day. Still, it already had the signup.
After no tequila and no cigar we headed to Don Tello Restaurant. The place was packed with large families and all kinds of Fish Festival escapees that went looking for refuge in what it seemed like a very good place to eat. It was!
No disappointment there. The founder of the restaurant, Mariela learned, was from Utuado, the town I grew up in. It amused me, that fact. And I started wondering what inspired Don Tello a long time ago to start a restaurant right by the sea. Utuado being a mountain country town.
We ordered the mixed seafood in garlic sauce with tostones (fried plantains) and the tasajo stuffed avocado. Tasajo is usually dried meat, it could be tough, but if prepared right, it is good. Tasajo came to Puerto Rico from Spain. There, it was deer meat. In Puerto Rico since we have no deers, it was mostly done with beef. Some people call it carne vieja (old meat). And in other Latin countries, they use other animals for it, like horse in Cuba. Tasajo is more a style than it is a type of meat. It was one of the foods given to the slaves back in those years.
At Don Tello, it was served just right, like in a stew, over the avocado. The sweetness and creaminess of the avocado contrasted with the saltiness of the meat.
The Seafood mix was cooked in garlic butter. Oysters, clams, fish, shrimp, and calamari stewed together, it was delicious!
No dessert as we wanted to stop by Café Cuatro Sombras in Old San Juan.
After that, we walked across the street, literally, to the ferry terminal. We had fun in Cataño, we did. We just didn’t get, in the most part, what we thought we were going to get. Don Tello was better than we thought.
On the other side of the San Juan Bay, we walked to a bookstore, Librería Laberinto, to see if they had a book I have been trying to find. They did have it! El Cocinero Puerto – Riqueño. A copy of the first recipe (more like directions) book published in Puerto Rico. It dates to 1859, the original publication.
After that, we did make our way to Café Cuatro Sombras to finish the afternoon. Good coffee done right!
By visiting events, festivals and restaurants, I am hoping to connect today’s food with our past. I want to find out how food has changed. I want to find out if it still is Puerto Rican food with Puerto Rican ingredients.
If you liked this blog, buy me a coffee, breakfast, lunch or dinner! Maybe your meal will create another blog!