Burt Wolf's Table: Ponce, Puerto Rico - #217

WOLF:  The  Puerto Rican city of Ponce, called the “Pearl of the South.”  For three hundred years it has been one of the artistic and literary centers of the New World. We'll visit the finest classical art museum in the Caribbean and see what it can teach us about good eating, and we'll learn the recipes for some of the best tasting dishes on the island. So join me in Ponce, Puerto Rico at Burt Wolf's Table.

WOLF:  Ponce is Puerto Rico's second largest  city with a population of just under two hundred thousand people. It was founded in 1692 and recently spent some four hundred and fifty million dollars in restoration projects to help celebrate its three-hundredth birthday.  The city was named after Juan Ponce De Leon, who arrived on Puerto Rico with Christopher Columbus.  He was the island's first governor and more than anyone else responsible for its early development.  The city of Ponce is situated on the south coast of Puerto Rico and faces the Caribbean Sea rather than the Atlantic Ocean, which runs along the north coast. The Caribbean gives Ponce a much more gentle and picturesque shoreline. Ponce is also located in what meteorologists call a rain shadow. The rain- filled clouds coming down from the north are pushed up or trapped behind the peaks of the central mountain range.  As a result, Ponce has some of the best weather in the Caribbean.  That good weather has allowed the town to develop a fascinating blend of open architectural styles. Isabel Street is a perfect textbook example of the seven basic architectural styles that are found throughout this community. If you've ever been to the old French Quarter in New Orleans you’ll recognize these buildings, and that's because the people who originally built the French Quarter in New Orleans came there from this part of the Caribbean. 

The core of the city is the Plaza Central -- actually two plazas landscaped with giant Indian laurel trees that shade the local residents.  In the middle of the Plaza is the Cathedral Of Our Lady Of Guadeloupe.  The Cathedral concentrates most of its activities on the delights of heaven -- but directly behind it is a structure that is concerned only with the fires of hell. It is the Parque De Bombas; Ponce's Victorian firehouse and one of the most photographed structures on the island of Puerto Rico. It was originally constructed as part of a fair and exhibition that opened up in 1882. The architecture was meant to echo the Arab and Moorish influences that are so much a part of Spanish history, not only in architecture but even more important, in food. 

The reason that rice is a basic part of many Spanish dishes results from the fact that Spain was under Arab control for many years, and it was the Arabs who brought rice to Spain from the Middle East.

Rice is one of the world's most important foods. It's also quite healthful, low in fat, no cholesterol, no salt and a good source of complex carbohydrates. Chef John Carey of San Juan, Puerto Rico's El San Juan Hotel combines rice with fiber-filled crunchy walnuts to make the stuffing for a classic Puerto Rican dish of stuffed beef. Two cups of cooked rice go into a mixing bowl; two cups of  chopped walnuts are blended in. A two and a half pound eye round of beef is set on a flat work surface and a long, thin knife is used to poke a hole down the center.  Stuff the rice and walnut mixture into the beef. Close the ends of the meat with toothpicks. Pour a little oil into a pan. Put the beef in.  Add a sliced onion, some sliced peppers, tomato cut into strips, plus a half cup of beefstock. Into a three hundred and seventy degree fahrenheit oven, uncovered, for two and a half hours. When it comes out... it's sliced into rounds and served with a tomato and onion sauce on top.

WOLF:  The Arabs also brought sugar and coffee to Spain and gave the Spanish an introduction to the idea of sweet desserts.  You can see that influence here in Ponce by looking at the city's seal.  The leaves on the left represent a coffee plant. The right side has a group of sugar canes.  For centuries these were the crops that made Ponce rich.  Directly across the street from the old firehouse is a shop that is famous for it's use of sugar.  It is the King's Cream Store which makes sorbets from the local fruits and nuts.

Quite frankly if there was nothing else going on in Ponce, I'd make the hour or so trip from San Juan just for this place. They make their sorbets from coconuts and almonds and peanuts and lots of exotic fruits from the island.   The sugar that sweetens those treats was responsible for one of Puerto Rico's most important industries: rum. 

WOLF:  It was during Columbus's second voyage to the New World in 1493 that he first set foot on the island of Puerto Rico.  That was also the voyage during which he brought sugar cane to the Caribbean.  He brought it here from the Canary Islands, which are in the Atlantic just off the coast of Africa. By 1515 the Spanish colonists on Puerto Rico had planted fields of sugar cane and were very busy building up a sugar export business. Columbus's introduction of sugar cane to Puerto Rico has had a longstanding impact on the island's economy.  The actual production of sugar for export has come and gone, but a byproduct of sugar refining has become a permanent and important part of the island's economy. It was actually during the early 1500's that the owners of the sugar plantations noticed that when they were taking sugar out of the sugar cane, the molasses that was left over had a natural tendency to ferment into a kind of wine. Yeast in the air would turn the sugar in the molasses into alcohol.  The Spanish would distill the molasses and produce rum.

For decades rum was the single most important distilled spirit in the American colonies.  Not only did we import it from the Caribbean but we actually had our own distilleries all over New England. We only began to reduce our consumption of rum when the English government introduced an outrageous tax on sugar and molasses.  We stopped drinking it as part of the American Revolution but things are changing; our taste for rum is coming back. Over the years, the federal government has passed a series of laws to encourage the production of rum in Puerto Rico. As a result, Puerto Rico is now home to the largest distiller of rum. 


For almost five hundred years, rum has been the most important distilled alcoholic drink in Puerto Rico. It's been a major item of export from the very beginning of its manufacture in the 1500's.  As a drink it's fame is legendary, but it is also a basic part of many recipes -- especially in the area of desserts.  Chef John Carey of the El San Juan Hotel uses rum to make a rum and banana sauce that he pours over ice cream to make a fabulous dessert. Two cups of sugar are heated in a pan.  The heat causes the moisture in the sugar to come out and turns the sugar into a liquid sauce.  Stir the mixture as it starts to brown.  The process is called caramelizing and that's perfectly descriptive.  The sugar develops a caramel flavor. Next add in two tablespoons of butter and a quarter cup of Puerto Rican rum. Quarter cup of heavy cream and a few sliced bananas; mix that together for a few minutes. Pour the sauce over vanilla ice cream. Sugar, rum, bananas... that's about Puerto Rican as it gets.

WOLF:  The first people to arrive on the island of Puerto Rico showed up about forty-five hundred years ago.  They may have come down from Florida or over from Mexico. No one's quite sure.  Second group to arrive, however, clearly came from the Orinoco Valley of Venezuela in South America.  They took up residence here about three hundred A.D., settling along the coasts and rivers and developing a rather advanced culture.

The basis of their agriculture was the cassava plant, also known as yucca.  It's a starchy vegetable that grows as a root plant, usually about two inches in diameter and ten inches long.  They used it to make a bread and a wine -- very much the way the people in Asia use rice, or farmers many years ago in Europe used wheat to make their bread and a beer. It comes in two forms. One is sweet.  One is bitter.  The sweet form is edible all the time.  The bitter form is poisonous until you cook it. 

The Tibes Indian Ceremonial Park is situated just outside the Puerto Rican city of Ponce. The ancient native inhabitants of this island lived on this site until some time in the 1100's, when flooding from a series of hurricanes forced them to move to higher ground. Their village remained covered with earth for over six hundred years until 1975, when another hurricane came through, flooded the area again and this time uncovered the site.

A team of archeologists, historians, engineers and geologists moved in and started studying the tract. Carmen Martinez is the resident archeologist.

CARMEN MARTINEZ:  And... as you can see there are two different types of... huts. The round one was made for the... common Indian and the casique or the chief, he lived in the rec... rectangular one.

WOLF:  Why is that?

MARTINEZ:  Number one, status symbol. Also he was allowed to have more than one wife. So he needed a bigger space.

WOLF:  For more kids, more wives, it gets longer.

MARTINEZ:  Um hmm.

WOLF:  (LAUGHS) Okay.  It's building an extension. Carmen, what's planted over there?

MARTINEZ:  That's yucca. That was the main staple of the Indian diet and it's very interesting to point out that when the Spanish arrived they used it also as their diet and it was called pan de las indias.

WOLF:  Bread of the Indians.

MARTINEZ:  Um hmm.

WOLF:  Was the translation of that.


WOLF:  I gather that when the Spanish got here they had a lot of trouble getting there regular staples from Spain.

MARTINEZ:  Um hmm.

WOLF:  There was no Federal Express at the time and they adapted a lot of their eating pattern to the foods that we available from the Indians.

MARTINEZ:  Yeah.That's correct.

WOLF:  What's happening here?

MARTINEZ:  This is a ball court we call the horsubate [?]  and it was used by the Indians to play a ballgame which was like a volleyball...but there were not allowed...allowed to use their hands. They played with a ball that sometimes weighed forty pounds and it was made from grass... roots and leaves and the purpose of the game was to keep the ball in the air without hitting the ground.

WOLF:  The Taino tribes that came to Puerto Rico from South America were skilled farmers who had developed a series of planting methods that were ideal for their environment.  They planted a number of different crops in the same mound of earth.  Those that required lots of water went on the bottom, those that needed great drainage went up on top. They actually grew quite a series of different vegetables. They had yams and corn, a whole bunch of different squashes and beans. They gathered fruits and nuts from the trees.  They made nets and fished the waters around the island and they used bows and arrows to hunt for small game.

One of the old Taino recipes calls for the frying of fish in corn oil. John Carey is going to prepare this red snapper dish much as it was done a thousand years ago. Snapper goes into a pan containing a quarter cup of heated corn oil and cooks on each side for five minutes. While it's cooking, a black bean salsa is made.  The salsa goes on to the plate and the fish goes right on top. 

The Museo De Artes in Ponce is clearly the finest classical museum of art on any Caribbean island. Louis Ferre, a former Governor of Puerto Rico, is responsible for the museum's coming into existence and it was his own collection of paintings that became the basis for the original exhibitions.  Today the museum contains an amazing collection of  works by outstanding Dutch and English artists, and of course the finest collection of classic Puerto Rican artists.  For me, however, there is one central question about a work of art that makes it truly interesting:what are they eating in that painting? Doctor Carmen Ruiz Fischler is the museum's director.

WOLF: This one's one of your favorites.

CARMEN RUIZ FISCHLER:  Of course. It's from...a Ponce artist from Puerto Rico named Miguel Poe. I think he could not have...paid a much gallant homage to...young peasant girl in the...60's when he painted this work.

WOLF:  He was from Ponce and the young woman was from Ponce too.

FISCHLER:  Yes she was, because he always would look for specific characters of the countryside, of the town, people everybody knew and they immediately recognized 'em in the paintings.

WOLF:  Oh, interesting... and those are mangoes in the  bowl.

FISCHLER:  Yes they are, and they're delicious -- especially the ones he's showing there. These... they're very important in this area, in the south and western part of Puerto Rico.  This is a  still life of the Spanish School. It was painted at the end of the sixteenth century by Alonso Vasquez and he's very interesting... for me because of the many textures and feeling for different materials, that you almost feel like you can touch each one of them and feel in your own hands how they are.

WOLF:  The painting scares me a little. It's filled with saturated fats, and that chicken in the top corner there that's dead, it may be a warning to have more complex carbohydrates in our diet and less saturated fat.

FISCHLER:  That would be very interesting for the sixteenth century. (LAUGHS)

WOLF:  The mango is celebrated in the art of Puerto Rico but it is also an important part of the gastronomy.  Chef Ramon Rosario of the Sands Hotel has a favorite recipe for chicken breasts in a mango sauce.

A mango that had been peeled and sliced into small cubes goes into a saucepan.  Then in goes a quarter cup of rum, two cups of pureed mango and two tablespoons of sugar.  That's heated and stirred for a few moments and left to simmer over a very low flame. While that's simmering, a skinless boneless chicken breast is lightly floured. A little vegetable oil is heated in the saute pan. Chicken goes in to the pan, cooks for three minutes on one side and then cooks for three minutes on the second side.  It's very important to make sure that the chicken is fully cooked all the way through. It's the only way to be sure that the chicken is safe to eat. Professional restaurant chefs are aware of the problem and make a real effort to protect the public.  At home be careful. Make sure your chicken is fully cooked. When it is, it goes onto a serving plate and the mango sauce goes on top. 

Well, the mango is known as the “apple of the tropics” and it is certainly as popular in the warm parts of our planet at the apple is in the colder areas. People have been growing mangoes for so long that we've actually forgotten where they got started, but the general consensus is that it began somewhere in Asia -- probably in the most eastern provinces of India.

All mangoes start out green, but as they ripen they change color. A ripe mango can range in color from green to rose to red.  The best way to tell if a mango is ripe is to press the outside skin. It should yield to a gentle pressure. Mangoes range in weight from about ten ounces to over four pounds, and considering the fact that they are not the easiest fruit in the world to peel, bigger is better.  A ripe mango is eaten as a fresh fruit. It also goes into pies and drinks and ice creams, uncooked relishes and salsa.  An unripe mango can be used in a cooked chutney.  The people of Puerto Rico often refer to the mango as the “king of fruits” and I think it certainly deserves its royal reputation.

WOLF:  The people of Puerto Rico also extend royal treatment to their favorite entertainers, including Nydia Caro, who is a superstar of  Puerto Rican music and television. 

WOLF:  Tell me a little bit about yourself.

NYDIA CARO:  I was born in New York City. I was raised in the Bronx.  When I was... seventeen my dad passed away and my mom wanted to come back to Puerto Rico.  What I thought I'd do was come here, get her settled, become twenty-one and  go back to New York.  I wanted to be an actress.  The funny thing is that... t's very dif... difficult to be indifferent in Puerto Rico. People... stay here. I said I was going to leave when I was twenty-one and I wound up staying and I never went back.

WOLF:  What kind of work did you do?

CARO:  I came to Puerto Rico and I started working on television...on a teenaged show that was  called “The Coca-Cola Show” and I would sing rock and roll in English... and two years after that I had my own show.


CARO:  The show was called “The Nydia Caro Show” and it was a variety show, and since we had very little money to do it what we would do would be, you know, kind of be as creative as we could about getting... getting things to present on television that looked like a million bucks and maybe cost... you know, ten dollars. (LAUGHS)

CARO:  I think that that's really the best way to work.  It certainly saves... a lot of time and it makes you not be lazy about things, you know. You're... you're always exploring.  You're always....

WOLF:  You have to.

CARO:  ...looking, you know, where...the next piece of serendipity is going to come from.

WOLF:  What's special about Puerto Rico?

CARO:  I used to say to myself why... do  Puerto Ricans in New York wear... bright purple and bright green together for example... until I came here and I realized that that's Puerto Rico, that's the nature.  You know, when you're filming here it's... it's really hard to film during the day  when the sun is up because everything is so bright. You know, you see it. You go into the island, you see these... beautiful red anabolla flowers next to very rich green... anything that you plant grows here, and the color of the ocean.  I mean it's very rich... and it's also very passionate. It's a very passionate place to be.

WOLF:  If this was my first visit to Puerto Rico, what should I eat?

CARO:  Well, the rice and beans probably comes from our Indian heritage... and it's something that we eat every day almost.  For example, my son... needs to eat rice and beans every... you might serve him pasta and you might serve him anything else... they eat very well but... what they do like is to have that.  Which is great because it's very... nutritious and it's got a lot of protein and... it's a complex carbohydrate.  So actually it's... it's something good to have.

WOLF:  And Nydia's going to let us have her favorite recipe for it too.  Pot goes on.

CARO:  Pot goes on.

WOLF:  Pour the water in.

CARO:  Water goes in.

WOLF:  A few cups of water go into a sauce pan to heat up.

CARO:  Okay.

WOLF:  Some chicken broth.  Some pre-cooked beans.

CARO:  Oh.

WOLF:  And some sofrito. Sofrito is one of the traditional seasoning agents of Puerto Rico.

WOLF:  I love it.

CARO:  Sofrito are tomatoes, onion and garlic...green peppers and red peppers.

WOLF:  And they've been sauteed together in a little olive oil.

CARO:  They've been sauteed.  Right. And then we put salt and pepper in.

WOLF:  Right and they’re pureed...

CARO:  And then we...and we...puree them.

WOLF:   Right.

CARO:  Then we take...then we do...one... two. Okay. That's for two cups of beans.

WOLF:  Okay. And your mother made the soafrito for you today.

CARO:  My mother makes the sofrito.  She's wonderful with this.  What I do is I have her make a... a lot of it and then I freeze it.  And I take out a little bit at a time.

WOLF:  Time.

CARO:  Because in...my children eat this every day. Whatever else we make we have to have ri... a little portion of rice and beans. I guess it's like the Italians do with pasta,you know.

WOLF:  Oh you have to have pasta.

CARO:  Then we'll take a little bit... here of the... tomato paste... that's a big spoon, Burt.

WOLF:  Yeah, you can use a small spoon.

CARO:  That's a better one.  Why don't we just rub it off there. What that does is thicken it. Okay.

WOLF:  All right.

CARO:  And then we put some potatoes in.

WOLF:  Okay.

CARO:  Not so many, just a little bit, about one-fourth. Right.  And the potato also thickens.

WOLF:  Okay. The heat comes up and everything simmers together for twenty minutes.

CARO:  What this is served with is rice... white rice.

WOLF:  On top of it or the rice goes in...

CARO:  Just on the side of it. In other words you have the rice here and you have the...red beans is here and then you mix it as you eat it.  Okay.

WOLF:  Portion by portion as you...

CARO:  Portion by portion.

WOLF:  And...and is that just a polite...thing or is there a reason for that?

CARO:   Well it's usually the way it's done. I mean if you...you don't want to eat it that way you don't have to.  (LAUGHS) You can mix it up altogether. And then...that kind of accompanies every thing.You can accompany it with...with meat or with chicken... with fish.

WOLF:  What's really wonderful about it is that between the rice and the beans.....

CARO:  Um hmm.

WOLF:  ...you have all the amino acids that  you would find in a piece of meat or fish or poultry and none of the....

CARO:  And proteins.

WOLF:  ...saturated fat. Right.

CARO:  And then there's another ingredient that you have to put in it.

WOLF:  What is that?

CARO:  The most important one, you have to be happy when you cook it.


WOLF:  Well, I was so happy cooking the rice and beans that I asked Nydia to show me another one of her favorites.

CARO:  This is gazpacho.  Gazpacho comes to us... from Spain actually.  But Puerto Ricans like it a lot.  They serve it... before the rice and beans some times or you can serve it with anything you like and it's really easy to make.

WOLF:  Okay, let's make it.

CARO:  What we do... is in the blender we take some olive oil.

WOLF:  Okay, that's my job.

CARO:  Let's make some for four okay?

WOLF:  Okay.

CARO:  Which would be about...two big tablespoons, a little more.  Okay.  Okay.  Then we'll take... a little bit... tomato sauce.

WOLF:  All right.

CARO:  And then we'll take... four... tomatoes that we have boiled for one minute and peeled. Okay.  And then...what we do, we put this in the blender as well as the tomatoes. This makes a great first dish. Okay.  Then we'll put... green and red peppers... okay.  Then we'll put... a little bit onion, say we'll put... two of these in... then we'll put a little garlic in it.

WOLF:  Ummm.

CARO:  For taste...you like garlic, huh?

WOLF:  Ummm.

CARO:  Then we'll put...(LAUGHS)...a little pinch of oregano.  Like that.  A little bit of salt. There about half a spoon of that.  Then a little bit of pepper to taste.  Okay. 

WOLF:  That's it?

CARO:  That's it.

WOLF:  Okay. Top on.

CARO:  And then...we blend that.

WOLF:  Make sure that's secure so we don't wear any of it.  Okay.  Ready.

CARO:  Ready.


WOLF:  I can do that.

CARO:  Anybody can do that.  This is the easiest thing and it's very tasty. And what you do is you chill it. You put it in the refrigerator for about an hour.

WOLF:  Right.

CARO:  And... or if you... if you want to do it right now, let's say you want to eat it right now,you can put some ice in it and... then you put it... in this... in... in the blender again and chill it.

WOLF:  Oh so just drop ice in and thin it out a little and chill it.

CARO:  Exactly.

WOLF:  The same time.  Great idea.

CARO:  And then what you do is to take the ingredients that you've put in.... and... you chop it up real fine and then you...put a little tablespoon of that on top of the soup.

WOLF:  Garnish on... top of the soup.

CARO:  Exactly.

WOLF:  Great.

CARO:  And it's delicious.

WOLF:  Okay.

CARO:  And easy.

WOLF:  So what have we seen here out on the island of  Puerto Rico in terms of good food for good health?  Rice, low in fat, no cholesterol, no salt, a good source of complex carbohydrates. The native tribes had a diet that gave them more than half their daily calories in complex carbohydrates in the form of fruits, vegetables, grains and cereals; good idea.  The cooks of Puerto Rico are updating their traditional recipes to reduce the amount of saturated fat, very important. The lower your intake of saturated fat, the better off you are. 

Well that's what's happening in Ponce, Puerto Rico and out on the island when it comes to good food.   They're preserving their classic and traditional recipes and making it a real pleasure to eat here.  Please join us next time as we travel around the  world looking for taste good. I'm Burt Wolf.

Burt Wolf's Table: San Juan - #207

BURT WOLF:  San Juan, Puerto Rico, one of the most beautiful cities in the Caribbean, and home to some of the best cooking.  It's the place to see how the influence of the native tribes, the Spanish, and the Africans combined to produce some great dishes.  We'll get an overview of the famous walled city, discover Puerto Rico's healthiest snack foods, and sample the best local specialties.  So join me in San Juan, Puerto Rico at Burt Wolf's Table.

Sometime during the first century A.D., a tribal group from South America known as the Tainos settled down on the island of Puerto Rico. They appear to have been a rather peaceful group with a well-developed culture.  The biggest problems came from the aggressive Caribe tribes that moved through the area attacking the native islanders.

The Caribes considered the Tainos a local delicacy and tried to get them into their diet whenever possible.  As a matter of fact, the word "cannibal" came into European languages to describe the way the Caribe Indians ate. 

On November 19th, 1493 Columbus bumped into the island of Puerto Rico and claimed it for the King of Spain.  This was his second voyage, and he was really getting the knack of this “claiming thing.”

Like most people who visit the island, he was particularly interested in the local handcrafts, specifically the native jewelry.  It was made of gold.  In 1508, one of Columbus's shipmates, Juan Ponce de Leon, made a deal for the gold rights on Puerto Rico and moved in.  There really wasn't enough gold on the island to make anyone very rich, but Ponce did well selling supplies to the prospectors.  That, by the way, is a story that is continually repeated.  I can't think of anybody that made a great fortune in the California Gold Rush and kept that fortune after the rush was over, but the guy who sold the gold miners their pants? Levi, as in Levi jeans.

Anyway, when the little bit of gold that was in Puerto Rico ran out, the settlers turned to farming.

The children who were the product of the intermarriages between the Spanish and the natives, or the black slaves that had been supplied by the Portuguese traders, were unable to get land by grant.  So they settled up in the hills and farmed on small plots.  Thousands of their descendents are still there.  Those colonists who were considered by the Spanish authorities to be “the right stuff” were given plantations.  The cash crop of choice was sugar, which was worth big bucks back in Europe.  Sugar was also processed into molasses, and the molasses into run.  Settlers also built up a trade in coffee and spices.   

For the next 300 years or so the Spanish crown more or less abused the island's economy.  Then in 1898, with the conclusion of the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico became a protectorate of the United States, and today it is a Commonwealth.

Of all the cities built by Europeans in the Western Hemisphere, Puerto Rico's San Juan is the oldest, and it is also the most picturesque.   There's a seven square block area designated as Old San Juan, and it is a showcase of Puerto Rican culture and architecture, museums, galleries, shops, all placed within structures that give you  the feeling of old Spain. 

The Plaza Colon, a shaded square with a statue of Christopher Columbus in the center; it's an excellent starting point for a tour of the old quarter.  The Paseo de la Princesa.  During the 1800's, it was an esplanade where the who's who of Spanish colonial gentry strolled along to see and be seen. 

As part of the area's reconstruction, a statue has been installed that represents the Indian, Spanish and African origins of the Puerto Rican population.  Behind the statue is a former prison that has been turned into the office of Puerto Rico's tourist commission, a reflection of the fact that pirating is out, and tourism is in.

Plaza de Jostas, the domino heaven of the western world.   The City Hall, built in 1602 as a precise replica of the City Hall in Madrid.  And the Capia del Cristo.  Built during the 1700's, it comes with an interesting legend.  The story tells of two men having a horse race as part of a competition to win the hand of a young maiden.  As one came to the end of the street, he missed the turn and flipped off the cliff.  His miraculous survival is attributed to the intercession of Christ, and the chapel behind me was built as a commemoration to that event.  It also was perfectly placed to prevent a replay of the accident.

The San Juan Cathedral.  It was the site of the first consecration of a bishop in the New World.  The Cathedral also contains the remains of Ponce de Leon, the first governor of Puerto Rico.

It's interesting to note that outside of Puerto Rico, Ponce de Leon is remembered primarily for his travels in search of the Fountain Of Youth, which, in fact, he never found, and was actually killed by Florida Indians during that very search.  Off the record, my own recommendation for a fountain of youth is a low-fat diet and a regular aerobic exercise program.  Now, I don't think that's going to extend my life one day, but I do think it will help postpone my final illnesses until maybe the last twenty minutes, and after all, one of my objectives is to die in perfect health.

And speaking of perfect health, here's a recipe for shrimp asopao that is perfectly healthy.

Asopao is a gumbo-like soup made with rice and seafood or chicken, and it's as traditional a Puerto Rican specialty as you can find.  Here's how it's prepared by Chef John Carey at San Juan's El San Juan Hotel. 

A little vegetable oil goes into a hot saucepan, and a half cup of chopped onion is added and cooked for a few minutes.  In go two chopped tomatoes.  A few more minutes of cooking.  Then add ten large shrimp that have been shelled and cleaned.  The next ingredient is called recaito.  It's a seasoning mixture.  In Puerto Rico most cooks buy it ready-made in a jar, but you can make a fairly close duplication by mixing together equal amounts of chopped onion, chopped jalapeno pepper, and chopped cilantro with a little bit of olive oil.  Three tablespoons of the sauce go in.   Then three cups of warm chicken stock are added and brought to a boil.  Two cups of cooked rice, a little cilantro, a few stuffed olives.  Some cooked asparagus tips, and some cooked peas.  As soon as everything is heated through, the asopao is ready to serve.

One of the world's finest collections of tropical and semi-tropical plants is to be found in the Botanical Gardens of San Juan...  over 200 acres  of vegetation that illustrates the richness of this island's agriculture.  Within the landscape is an area filled with exotic fruits that were once a major part of the Puerto Rican diet. 

That's a Caimito tree.  It has a star-shaped fruit with a pulp that tastes like a sweet jelly.  It's eaten raw for a snack or a dessert. 

That's a tamarind tree which can live for over two hundred years.  The fruit is inside this powder-packed shell.  It's a bit sticky and has a flavor that will probably remind you of Worcestershire sauce ... which makes sense because tamarind is used to make Worcestershire.

This is a Spanish lime, or a key lime ...  much smaller, much more tart in flavor and much more difficult to find in the supermarket than a standard lime.  It's what the bakers really had in mind when they made the original key lime pies.  And if you ever get to taste a real key lime pie ... you'll see that it has a much more intense citrus flavor than the key lime pies we make with our standard limes.

That fifty-foot tree is a Quenepa tree.  The fruits are small ovals that look like lichee nuts and you eat them the same way.  Peel off the hard skin and watch out for the large pit. 

During the summer these fruits are sold along the roadsides as a snack ... and a healthful one too. 

Dr. Henri Liogier was born in France, but by the time he was in his early 20's, he knew that his major professional interest was going to be the study of tropical plants.  Since 1934 he's been in the Caribbean investigating everything that grows.

DR. HENRI LIOGIER:   Here we have a nispero tree, which is a native tree, much in use  here.  You can find the fruit in the market really all year long, and you can see the fruits on the tree....

BURT WOLF:   What do they use it for?

DR. LIOGIER:   Just for eating.  It's... it's a... it's a nice fruit.

BURT WOLF:   Are those ripe?

DR. LIOGIER:   No, not yet.

Not yet. They are not ripe.

BURT WOLF:   So I go to the market for a taste.

DR. LIOGIER:   Yes.  

BURT WOLF:   This tree is offering its fruits to us, eh? 

DR. LIOGIER:    Yes.

BURT WOLF:   What is this?

DR. LIOGIER:   This is what we call a jobo, or cijuelo and this is also a native tree in... in the... all the West Indies.

BURT WOLF:   Hmmm.

DR. LIOGIER:    It... it has a... a tasty pulp, though the Puerto Ricans practically don't use it.

BURT WOLF:   I got the feeling that the people in Puerto Rico have to a certain extent lost touch....


BURT WOLF:   ... with the earlier fruits. 

DR. LIOGIER:   (OVER) That....

BURT WOLF:   (OVER) Is that because of the Spanish influence?

DR. LIOGIER:   Probably the Spanish influence, and also the American influence.  We had the... the apples and the pears, and the... all the fruits from the United States. Of course it's much easier to pick up the fruits at the supermarket than go to a tree and... try to down them.

BURT WOLF:   So the ease of access to North American fruits in the supermarkets....

DR. LIOGIER:    Yes.

BURT WOLF:   ... have helped them to lose contact.

DR. LIOGIER:   Yes. I think so.

BURT WOLF:   Ah, true, but sad.  (LAUGHS)



BURT WOLF:     Many of the chefs working in San Juan have come to Puerto Rico from other parts of the world.  But instead of trying to reproduce the cooking of their homeland, they quickly fall in love with the traditional dishes and ingredients of the island.  Example, Peter Ivanovick.  He came from California, and he's cooking fish with Puerto Rican limes at the Sands Hotel.

A little vegetable oil goes into a non-stick pan.  While that's heating up, a boneless, skinless filet of sole or flounder, or other firm-fleshed white fish, is given a light dusting of flour, and a coating of beaten egg.  You can use a whole egg or just egg whites.  In a recipe like this you can skip the yolks and the dish will still turn out fine.

Next the fish cooks for three minutes on one side, a gentle flip, and three minutes on the other. Then off to a serving plate.  The sauce is made in the same pan by adding in two cloves of garlic that have been chopped, the juice of half a lime, a little white wine, some chopped cilantro, a few capers, and a few slices of onion, carrot and green pepper.  That cooks for a minute and goes onto the fish.

The recipes and kitchen techniques that make up today's Puerto Rican cooking are really the result of three distinct culinary trends that have all been blended together . The first and the oldest was the cooking of the Taino Indians, who have been doing their cooking here since 300 A.D.   Superimposed on the work of the Indians is that of the Spanish, who came in during the 1500's.  And finally there are the dishes of the Africans.  The Africans have been cooking here for at least 400 years. 

The chili peppers, the root vegetables, corn, local fruits and fish were here with the Tainos.  The Spanish brought in beef cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, olive oil, and some new fruits and vegetables, including coconuts, bananas, plantains and citrus fruits.  They also brought in sugar and coffee.  The West Africans brought in an entire cooking style based on the slow cooking of one-pot dishes.  Many of the great soups and stews of Puerto Rico have their origins in the pots of West Africa.

The Africans brought okra to Puerto Rico, a vegetable that has become a basic part of many southern soups and stews.  The African word for okra is “gumbo,” so every time you're looking at a dish described as a gumbo, you're looking at a recipe that had its origins in West Africa, and was originally made with okra.

The faces of the people of San Juan tell the story of the major migrations to this island.  The Taino tribes of South America.  The Spanish.  The Africans.  They can be seen on the streets of the city, and the culinary traditions that each group brought can be seen in the town's pots and pans. 

Chef Ramon Rosario is the executive chef at the Sands Hotel.  He's preparing a Puerto Rican gumbo with a recipe that started in West Africa with okra, and finished off with the Spanish who gave Puerto Rico chickens, olive oil and carrots.

A little vegetable oil goes into a stockpot to heat up.  As soon as the oil is hot, Ramon adds in a half cup of chopped celery, a half cup of chopped green pepper, and a half cup of chopped carrots.  That cooks for a few minutes  Then in goes a boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces. That cooks for a few minutes.  Then in goes a half cup of sliced okra, a quarter cup of sliced green onion, six cups of chicken stock, and finally two medium-size potatoes cut into small cubes.  All that simmers together for about 30 minutes, and then it's ready to serve.

Of all the elements in Puerto Rican cooking, none is more Puerto Rican than sofrito.  Sofrito is a seasoning sauce that's mixed into soups, stews, rice dishes and just about anything else that the chef feels is appropriate.  It's mild and delicate and it really deserves the big-deal reputation that it has here in Puerto Rico.  Traditionally it is made with pork fat, but I adapted the recipe and made it with vegetable oil, which is low in saturated fat. 

It's very important to remember that the less saturated fat that you have in your diet, the better off you are.  So here is a healthful version of the classic sofrito.

Some vegetable oil goes into a pan, and a little anado seed oil.  Anado are the seeds of a tropical plant which are used to flavor and color cooking oils.  If you can get anado seed oil in your market, fabulous.  If you can't, just add in a couple of tablespoons of paprika.

Next some chopped onion, garlic, green bell peppers, tomatoes, oregano, coriander,  30 minutes of cooking, salt and pepper, and the sofrito seasoning is ready to go.

The history of the native tribes, the Spanish and the African cooking will give you a good picture of the foods you'll find in San Juan.  But for a real overview of the island, it's helpful to spend some time with Bill Duncan of Hill Helicopters.

BILL DUNCAN:   The...first thing you'll notice as we take off from the airport is that on your left is the old city of San Juan.  As we approach El Morro, as you see on the high ground off to your right, you'll also begin to be able to see the walls of the old city.  Originally the city was completely surrounded by 50-foot walls that in many places are in excess of 20 feet thick.  Puerto Rico itself, or “rich port,” was a holding point for the riches that were brought from the New World that were being transported to Spain.  They would amass a tremendous amount of wealth here, and then put it on the treasure ships to take it back to Spain.  The problem is, once you get a bunch of wealth in an area, you also get a bunch of bad guys.  And so the pirates came along, and ... the pirates couldn't even keep their troops on board the ships, because it's such a beautiful place, the pirates would jump ship.  And as you see, the small little village of La Perla, formed in the late 1500's, and has been there every since.  The Spaniards didn't want these people living within the walls of the city, so they allowed them to develop the little barrio that still exists today outside of the city of Old San Juan.

As we round the corner, you'll see the Governor's mansion.  That's Fort Talesa, that's the white building with the green turrets.  It was the first building built officially in the city of San Juan after the completion of the fort itself.   It is the... was the original residence of the first Governor of San Juan and is currently the residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico today.

As we continue on, you'll be able to see the area of Candado, which is the nightlife portion.  The... high-rise hotels, casinos and the convention center, that are very famous in San Juan.

On your right-hand side, you'll see the Bacardi rum factory, one of the largest rum manufacturing plants in the world.  The land areas around the facilities at Bacardi are very beautiful.  The... open areas that you see on your right with the tents are available for weddings and open-air concerts, and anything that... that you wish to do in that area.

The beaches of Luquillo are probably the most beautiful beaches on the north side of the island.  As we approach it you'll see the water is quite shallow, the active live reefs off the beaches provide excellent skin-diving and scuba diving, for those that are interested in it.  Sailing, wind-surfing.  This is the site of the wind-surfing championships of Puerto Rico each year.

In the distance, as you look up to the south, and to your right, you can see El Junque, the rainforest, and the highest point on the eastern end of the island.  As you can see today, it's enshrouded in clouds.  It rains there almost every day of the year.  And...in... in my time here in the islands, I've only seen it clear twice, and that didn't last but just a few hours.      

As we approach back to the airport, we now have a ... a beautiful vista view of the... of the harbor, and the Bay of San Juan, a very beautiful picturesque view.

BURT WOLF:   And in keeping with the scenic beauty of Puerto Rico, there is the El San Juan Hotel.  

The El San Juan Hotel was originally built in 1959 on some of the most beautiful beachfront in Puerto Rico.  Since then it has been through a number of renovations and architectural updates.  Today it is clearly the resort and casino property in San Juan, and the only hotel in the Caribbean to be included in the listings of both the Preferred Hotels and the Leading Hotels of the World.

The man primarily responsible for this unique standing is Andreas Meinhold, the managing director.  He grew up traveling through the great hotels of Europe, and decided that he wanted to keep on living that way.  You definitely get the feeling that Andreas is personally watching out for you, and has told everyone on staff to attend to your needs.  It's quite a place.


The Hotel El San Juan has the casino and disco and great restaurants and sports facilities and shopping gallery that you would expect from a first-class property.  But it also has a number of special things that you would not take for granted.  Example:  in 1989, Hurricane Hugo came through Puerto Rico and pretty much devastated the area, including the hotel's 125-year-old prized flowering fig tree. 

The hotel spent 75 thousand dollars nourishing the tree back to health.  They even built a special sprinkler system that waters each root separately.  The garden area around the tree now contains over 440 different plant species with little signs that tell you what you're looking at.  When the flowers are cut, they become decorations in the hotel.  The grounds make a marvelous place for relaxing, and the same attention to detail that is put into nourishing the gardens goes into nourishing the guests.

John Carey is the executive chef at the El San Juan Hotel.  When he first arrived in Puerto Rico he realized there was an extraordinary local cuisine, and he's been collecting the recipes and adapting them to our latest information on good health.  His chicken with mint sauce is a perfect example.

Start by blending together a seasoning paste.  John uses an old-fashioned mortar and pestle to crush together two tablespoons of peppercorns, a little salt, four cloves of garlic, a little dried oregano, a few tablespoons of chopped fresh mint, a little olive oil, and the juice of half a lime.  That paste is spread onto a boneless, skinless chicken breast.  Both sides.  A few tablespoons of vegetable oil go into a hot saute pan.  And as soon as the oil is hot, in goes the chicken breast.  Shake the pan a little to keep the chicken from sticking to the surface.  After three minutes of cooking, open the chicken breast, keeping the seasoning paste up.  Add the juice of the other half of the lime, a few more minutes of cooking until the chicken is done, then onto a plate with the pan juices on top. 

Some of the best places to get a look at what traditional Puerto Rican cooking is really like are the local fandas.  They're modest small restaurants that cater to the tastes of their neighborhood.  A perfect example of this type of place is La Casita Blanca, near the resort area of Isla Verde Beach in San Juan. 

Jesus Peres takes care of the front of the house, and his mother's doing the cooking in the kitchen.  The foods on the table are the most customary and familiar in Puerto Rico.  Tostones, plantains deep-fried, then flattened out and fried again.  Easily as addictive as the ultimate potato chip. 

Bacalaitos.  Fried salt codfish fritters.  Pastalon, which is like a lasagna, but the pasta is actually replaced with ripe plantains. 

Arroz con Pollo -- Chicken with rice.  Virtually the national dish of Puerto Rico.

And to drink, a mabi.  A mabi is made from the fermented root of the mabi tree.  Water, sugar, a little cinnamon and some cloves.  It's very similar to an alcoholic beverage made by the Taino Indians, who arrived here in the year 300.  Well, if this was their favorite drink, and their primary mode of transportation was the canoe, I certainly hope they had a program for a designated paddler.

Clearly the strongest influences on the cooking of Puerto Rico are to be found in the traditions of the Taino tribes, the Spanish and the Africans.  But let's not forget that Columbus, who came to Puerto Rico in 1493, was Italian.  And the culinary heritage of his place of birth is not without representation on this island.  Most clearly it is to be found in the work of Chef Giuseppe Acosta, who directs three restaurants, including one at the Sands Hotel.

A little vegetable oil is heated in a saute pan, and in goes a few cloves of garlic that have been sliced, a little oregano, some chopped onion, and chopped anchovy.  Pinch of crushed red pepper.  Some slices of pitted black olives and stuffed green olives.  A half cup of white wine.  A cup of tomato sauce.  It cooks together for a few minutes.  And in goes a half pound of precooked linguini.  Everything is mixed together and heated through.  Finally a little grated parmesan cheese.  The pasta heats up, it's ready to go onto the serving plate.  I'm ready to eat.

So what have we seen here in San Juan?  Clearly the gastronomic base is a 2000-year-old culture that's been eating lots of fish, fresh fruits and vegetables.  Colonization by the Spanish introduced rice, pork, beef and olives.  West Africans brought in their one-pot cooking skills.  These days the native, Spanish and African influences have been blended together in the areas in the middle of culinary renaissance. 

There are excellent local recipes that take a little bit of meat, fish or poultry and make it go a long way by adding in lots of complex carbohydrates from rice and beans.

As I walk through the city of old San Juan, and see the statue of Ponce de Leon, I am reminded that it was Ponce who set sail from these shores looking for the Fountain Of Youth.  He never found it, and he actually died during the search.  Quite frankly, though, his best shot at the Fountain Of Youth would have been to stay home, eat a diet that was low in fat, and keep up a regular program of  aerobic exercise.

My first visit to San Juan took place in 1965, and it's amazing to see what's happened since then.  San Juan has become a sophisticated city, but it's been able to preserve and refurbish its most important historical neighborhoods.  It's also been able to hold onto its traditional foods, and in many cases, introduce new and healthier cooking techniques for those recipes.  As a result, San Juan is a great place for food lovers.

Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for foods that taste good and are good for you.  I'm Burt Wolf.

Gatherings & Celebrations: A Barbeque in Puerto Rico - #102

Puerto Rico is an island in the middle of a chain of islands that run from just below Florida to just above Venezuela. It has a north coast that faces the Atlantic Ocean and a south coast that looks out on the Caribbean Sea.  It’s 100 miles long and 35 miles wide.

The old section of its capital city of San Juan was built by Spanish explorers during the early years of the 1500’s.  It’s the oldest city constructed by Europeans in the Western Hemisphere.

Just to the south of San Juan are a series of high mountains that run lengthwise from one end of the island to the other. As the rain clouds of the Atlantic try to pass over Puerto Rico, they are stopped by the peaks of this range.  The summit at the eastern end is capped with a dense rain forest that pulls over 100 billion gallons of rain each year from the passing clouds.  Because almost all of the rain clouds are brought to a halt at the mid-point of the island, much of Puerto Rico’s south lies in what is known as a “rain shadow,” an area that rarely gets any rain.  As a result, the southern half of Puerto Rico is almost always warm and sunny.

The largest city in the south is Ponce, which likes to call itself  “The Pearl of the South.” It’s named after the great-grandson of the explorer Juan Ponce De Leon. Juan had sailed with Christopher Columbus and became the first governor of Puerto Rico.  In the late 1980’s much of Ponce took part in a giant restoration project that was part of its three-hundredth birthday party.  The government had a very straightforward objective.  It wanted to restore the city to a point where it was as beautiful as possible.  They buried the telephone and power cables.  They recovered the streets.  And they restored hundreds of buildings in the historic sections of the city.

While you are in Ponce you’ll want to stop in at the King’s Cream Ice Cream Parlor.  Their specialty is making fresh ice cream form tropical fruits like mango, papaya, and tamarind.  King’s Cream is one of a number of shops in the southern half of Puerto Rico that have become famous for their ice cream.  Which, in a climate like this, does not strike me as any great surprise.  What I do find somewhat astonishing is that these ice cream parlors were all started during the middle of the 1800’s by Chinese immigrants.  No one seems to know how or why it happened,  but the end result is that the people of Puerto Rico associate great ice cream with the Chinese community.

To the west of Ponce and up in the hills is the town of San Germán.  It’s the second oldest town in Puerto Rico founded by the Spanish.  The oldest is San Juan.  San Germán was originally put up on the coast in 1512, but it was moved inland about 50 years later.  The original site was right in the path of the ocean storms and it was a difficult location to defend.  The present San Germán contains some the earliest structures built by Europeans in the New World.  Many of the old buildings have been restored. 

Doris Maza is a director of the historic district, and very much involved with its preservation.

DORIS MAZA:   As you can see, this street is very representative of what San Germán is, because in a very short street we have like four different styles [of architecture], four different materials, from two or three different periods of time in history.  First house in the corner is from the beginning of the twentieth century, but it’s a very big, articulate, fancy wooden house.  Then we have two smaller houses, they’re the common type of the vernacular architecture in Puerto Rico.  Then we have the brick house with all this neo-classical detaillings, and the fluted columns and the railings and all that stuff.  And we have one that needs badly to be restored, but it’s also a big -- mid-sized wooden house.  And then the last one is a concrete house with some neo-classical detailling also, from the beginning of the twentieth century, maybe even 1920s, 1930s.  So on one short street we have different scales, different sizes, different materials, different periods of time.  That’s what San Germán is all about. . . .  This door is one of those examples where you have in San Germán something that is practical and functional made beautiful.  And it works with the weather.  You see, all this lace work is open, so you have ventilation, and also you have a painting, a three-dimensional painting.  And it’s something that does work as a door.  It’s how function and art come together in the architecture of San Germán.

It was King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain who put up the big bucks for the explorations of Columbus.  When Isabella died, Ferdinand remarried Germaine de Foix, and it is for this second wife that San Germán is named.  During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there were deserted beaches on the south and west coasts of Puerto Rico that became home to a number of pirate clans.  The beaches were far enough away from the central government in San Juan to be an ideal spot for the pirates of the Caribbean.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   During the first few hundred years of European exploration of the Caribbean, piracy was a major occupation, and much of it had been organized by the European powers.  A king or queen would give a particular pirate captain a letter that basically said, “Feel free to steal whatever you like from any ships that you want, but not mine;  give my warmest regards to your charming wife, and please say ‘hi’ to the kids.”  The result of this is the pirates plundered the Caribbean, doing quite well  by doing lots of bad, and always able to say, “Hey -- I’m only following orders.”

It’s hard to find something nice to say about the pirates who sailed along the coasts of the Caribbean during the 15, 16 and 1700’s.  They ravaged everything and everyone that got in their path.  The one positive aspect to their history seems to be in the area of gastronomy.  But like everything else, the pirates looted it. In this particular case they took it from the native Arawak tribes.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The Arawaks, who had been living in the neighborhood for about 3,500 years, would build their beds by weaving together a rectangle of green, bendable twigs.  They ended up with something that looked like the metal frames that often go under our modern mattresses.  The Arawaks were actually much bigger than this; I just made this little model so you can see what I was talking about.  They called this a Barbacoa.  But they also used the same word to describe their cooking techniques.

Meat was tied to the frame and placed near a fire.  Often the fire was confined, protected and controlled by placing it in a pit.  The bed-like barbacoa could then lie over the open trench and act very much like our present-day grills.  Interesting system.  You could sleep on your recipe before you cooked it.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The French pirates who were working the Caribbean loved the cooking technique, and used it as often as they could.  They called it boucanee.  They eventually became known as boucaniers, or in English, buccaneers..  The original word barbacoa came into the English language as barbecue.

A good deal of the North American barbecue culture got started in the late 1940’s, just after the Second World War.  The men coming back from the war had been greatly changed by the experience.  And they were coming back to women who had many new ideas about their own roles.  Some sociologists believe that the barbecue sprang from the needs of the suburban family with their backyards, and that it gave men a chance to re-introduce some of the distinctions between the sexes. They showed up with special equipment that was different from the gear that was normally used inside the house.  Big masculine aprons.  Oversized utensils.  It was a time when men and women were adjusting to new relationships, and the outdoor barbecue became a testing and display ground.

Over the years the barbecue became a very specific form of gathering, with its own set of rules and expectations.  But it all  got started here on the shores of the islands of the Caribbean.  This particular shore is on Puerto Rico’s west coast, and it’s the beachfront of a property called the Horned Dorset Primavera Hotel.

A horned dorset is a breed of sheep that is usually raised in the southwest of England.  And there are little statues of horned dorsets carefully situated throughout the grounds.  The owners of the hotel, Kingsley Wratten and Harold Davies, once raised horned dorsets and liked the idea of using the old name in the new business.  Saved a lot of work.  This is a small, secluded place that was once the home of a local plant specialist,  and the four acres that surround the buildings are filled with his work.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   There are only thirty rooms, all of which have been carefully restored and improved.  Most of them look out directly on the Mona Passage, which separates Puerto Rico from the Dominican Republic.  Whales like to come down to the Passage during the winter to get away from the cold and breed.  Ah -- there’s an interesting idea!

Some of the rooms have their own private pool on their own private patio, with their own private view of the channel.  If you’re willing to give up the extraordinary level of privacy offered here, you can go over to the fresh water pool.  Or the main building.  The first floor has a lounge were guests meet for drinks.  The breakfast and lunch patio is here.  And there is a very pleasant small library.  The second floor has the dining room that is used for the evening meal.  During the dinner hour, Kingsley’s wife Roberta will often play her harpsichord.  And she does a nice job of it too.  All of the decorative details at the Horned Dorset have received a great deal of attention from the owners, but there is a little touch in the dining room that I feel obligated to point out.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Anyone who grew up in the middle of the island of Manhattan in New York City during the 1940’s, as I did, might remember a wonderful little ice cream parlor and restaurant called Schrafft’s.  I thought they made some of the world’s great hot fudge sundaes.  They also had some of the most beautiful chandeliers and sconces.  When Schrafft’s closed, I think it was the late 50s or  early 60s, Harold Davies bought their chandeliers and sconces, and eventually installed them here. 

They still cast the soft and romantic glow that made Schrafft’s a favorite meeting place.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Soft and romantic are important concepts here. Their rooms are free of radios, televisions, and telephones.  Children under twelve are not invited and anyone who is over twelve but acting like they were under twelve will not be invited back.  The owners have gone to great efforts to keep this place peaceful.  Their own brochure describes it as an establishment “without activities.” What they mean is if you want to go sailing, or diving, or tour the area, they’ll make arrangements for you.

They’ll also make arrangements to keep you well fed.  Example:  here’s Chef Vijay Raghavan with his coffee flan.

VIJAY RAGHAVAN:  Okay.  I’m going to put two cups of milk and then two cups of cream into this pot, and I’m going to add half a cup of espresso coffee.  Put it on a high heat and bring it up to a boil -- just a boil.  Don’t let it come to a full bowl or it’ll overflow.  Okay, here in the mixer I have six eggs, to which I’m going to add three egg yolks.  You want to mix this together, but not too hard.  If you do that, you’re going to create a lot of volume and beat in a lot of air into it.  This is not an airy dessert.  You want a nice, solid custard, so the air is pointless, and you’ll end up with a lot of foam on the top if you beat the egg yolks too hard.  Once the yolks are broken, and it’s starting to mix together, slowly add in one and a quarter cup of  sugar.  Let it break so there are no lumps, so there’s no difference between egg whites and egg yolks, and that’s good enough.  We’re going to strain out the coffee grinds...

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  This particular form of strainer is called a “Chinese Hat,” or, in French, a chinois, and it reminded the old French cooks of the kind of coolie hats that the Chinese would wear, and so they used the name to describe the piece of equipment. 

VIJAY RAGHAVAN:  So now we go back to our egg mixture.  I’m slowly going to pour in the coffee mixture.  Do this gently; don’t toss it in in one lot, because if the coffee is very hot, the egg will cook immediately, and you don’t really want that to happen.  We’re going to let it mix while we prepare our ramekins in which we’re going to bake our flan.  I’ve got a pot here of sugar that I’ve melted down to this stage.  It has not burned; it’s just liquified, caramelized, and I’m gonna pour a little bit into the bottom of each of my ramekins.  I don’t have to have the bottom completely coated; when it bakes, it will melt and cover it uniformly.  At this stage I want to take my custard, fill up each of my molds, each of my ramekins, and I’ll put it in the oven.  And once it’s on the rack, I’m going to pour some hot water on the tray.  This is going to even out the temperature so that it’s not such a harsh temperature that it’s baking under.  And this is going to bake at a temperature of 300 degrees for an hour and  a half, possibly two hours, possibly as long as two hours.  We bake it at a very low temperature so that we get a very smooth finish in the end -- no bubbles, no boiling occurs.  I find the nicest garnish for this, Burt, is just some orange segments.  A marvelous taste combination.  Give it a little dusting of cocoa powder, and there you have coffee espresso flan.

He also makes some pretty good pineapple upside-down tarts.

VIJAY RAGHAVAN:  These are non-stick tart shells, but you can use normal tart shells; it really doesn’t matter.  Now I have my caramel sugar, my melted sugar that I’ve browned...

BURT WOLF:   About a quarter cup in each?

VIJAY RAGHAVAN:  Uhhh... yeah.  Just about a quarter cup.  I’d say a little bit less, actually.  I’ve got this pineapple here, which I’ve cut; I’ve cored it and we’ve cut out these slices.  As long as you end up with this donut shape, you’re fine.  This is the same size as the tart shell.  Okay?  So I’m just gonna lay it inside.  What we’re gonna do now is we’re just going to season it.  And it might sound funny, but I’m going to put salt and pepper on it.  I think salt and pepper with pineapple, it brings out the sweetness and it brings out the tartness.  It really enhances the flavor.  When you eat it, you won’t taste any pepper, it won’t be hot, it won’t be salty --

BURT WOLF:   It’s just gonna wake up your tongue.

VIJAY RAGHAVAN:  Exactly.  Exactly.  And now I’m going to put some puff pastry on top.  After you cut out the shapes, make sure you let it sit for a couple of hours.  Let the dough rest and get used to that size.  If you pop it in the oven immediately, you’re going to cause tremendous shrinkage.  All right, and into this oven here, right in the middle, and that’s it.

BURT WOLF:   350?


BURT WOLF:   For how long?

VIJAY RAGHAVAN:  We’re gonna leave it in there, probably for about half an hour, but we’ll check on it after fifteen minutes.  We’re looking basically for the pastry to cook and get a nice golden color.  That is all.  All you need to do is to take this and invert it on a plate.  I like to serve it with a little scoop of ice cream on the top, and you’ve got a very simple, elegant dessert. 

Not all of the great craftwork in Puerto Rico takes place in the kitchens.  The southern and western parts of the island have a long tradition of craftwork. 

This is the town of Moca, just off the west coast.  It was never a rich town, and most of its children could only afford to go to school for a year or so.  They would learn to read and write, and then, often by the age of seven or eight, the girls would go off to learn how to make lace.  It was the fastest way for them to start earning a living.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   The making of lace appears to have first become an art form during the 1300’s in Italy.  It evolved out of embroidery, and it was quite expensive until the 1800’s when the British came up with a lacemaking machine.  Since then the art of hand-made lace has just about disappeared.  A town like this, and its sister village of Isabela, are two of the few places in the world where hand-made lace is still produced.

The lace of Puerto Rico is called mundillo, and it’s like a fine crochet. It’s also known as “pillow lace” or “bobbin lace.”  Threads are wound around bobbins and worked over a pattern that is held in place on a pillow.  Leonides Lopez is manipulating thirty-eight bobbins!   I wouldn’t want to play Find The Pea Under The Shell with Mrs. Lopez.  This type of lacemaking equipment is found only in Spain and Puerto Rico, and the general theory is that the skill was brought here from Spain about four hundred years ago.  The baby dresses, handkerchiefs, the rolls of lace -- they’re all completely made by hand, and very inexpensive.

The southern part of Puerto Rico is also home to a group of maskmakers.  Most of them live around the city of Ponce and do their work at home.  They usually lead modest lives in terms of their material surroundings, but there is nothing modest about their wealth of imagination, which  appears to be unlimited.  Miguel Caraballo is one of the most respected practitioners of the craft.  The material of choice is papier mache.  Strips of newspaper are dipped in a paste made from flour and water and then molded over a form to dry.  The materials are inexpensive and the final mask is light enough so that it can be worn in the tropical heat with a limited amount of discomfort. Unfortunately, the paper, flour and water mixture constitutes a favorite meal for some of the smaller life forms on the island, which makes it very difficult to find any antique examples of this art.  Miguel adds a little vinegar to his paste which appears to make it less attractive to insects.

Another great craft tradition in Puerto Rico is the santo.  The word refers to any holy image used in the church or at home.  It’s similar to the word “icon.” In Puerto Rico it has come to mean a wooden statue carved by a folk artist and representing an aspect of the Roman Catholic church.  The artists have no formal training and their work is not under the control of the church.  Historians who have studied the tradition of santos, however, point out that the images are taken from religious works that were created in Europe during the Middle Ages.  The artists work at home, and their helpers are almost always family members learning the art.  Domingo Orta and his family work in a small house just outside the city of Ponce. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   During the early history of Puerto Rico, most of the peasants lived up in the mountains and worked on coffee plantations or small farms.  They were pretty much cut off from the cities and had very little contact with the medical community, the educational facilities, or the formal churches.  As a result, they developed their own religion based on the saints, saints that they hoped would show up and meet the needs of the family.  One of the things that the family needed was some physical element that would receive their prayers.  And that job was taken over by the santos.

Once the statue has been blessed by a priest, it becomes the receptacle for the supernatural spirit of the saint.  In each home, a special place is selected as the shrine for the santos.  It is the dwelling place of the holy energy.  The saints are now available to the family for direct intervention and assistance.

One of the ways that the early European explorers in the Caribbean prepared for their food needs was to drop off a few animals on a deserted island and let them go back to the wild.  The sailors would note the location of the place and then return, year after year, to hunt for meat in the herd that they had started.

Throughout history and all over the world, men have insisted that meat was their thing.  Men do the hunting for meat. They get together in groups, and incorporate ancient rituals and as much drama as they can.  They go out for days at a time and if they are successful, they return in triumph to the women and children who had been left at home.

Men also respond to fire as a male element.  To this day, in most western societies men typically start the fire for any outdoor cookery -- guys cooperating with other guys in an age-old task.  The more most men are removed from their traditional roles, the more they turn to those activities on their own time. 

Along the roadsides of Puerto Rico you can find a modern remnant of this ancient form.  They are called lechoneras, which means “the place were the pig is roasted.”  There are hundreds of them all over the island, but the world epicenter for lechonera is the town of Guavate, which is about midway between San Juan and Ponce.  The hunting trails have been replaced with highways.  The clearing in the forest is now a parking lot.  But it’s still men grilling meat over an open fire.  Much more dramatic than steaming vegetables.  Though it’s only appropriate to point out that the food supply produced by the women, who did the gathering of plants, was more dependable and fundamentally much more important to the overall diet.  Each lechonera has its own slightly different recipe and its own slightly different approach to the technique.  And when you take a look at the lechoneras, you see that women are still taking care of a major portion of what’s on the plate.  And actually their role may be more important than ever.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):   Well... that’s a brief look at the gathering we call a barbecue, and a number of places in Puerto Rico that have been practicing it for about four thousand years.  I hope you will join us next time as we travel around the world looking at the gatherings and celebrations, rituals and recipes that mark the passages of our lives.  I’m Burt Wolf.

Eating Well: Puerto Rico - #126

BURT WOLF: The tropical paradise of Puerto Rico. The place to taste the sizzling cuisine of the Caribbean. We'll learn about the island from Broadway star Chita Rivera ... visit one of the oldest coffee plantations in the western world ... and find out how it was planned with ecology in mind. Plus, we'll get some easy great-tasting recipes ... including a marvelous paella.

Join me ... Burt Wolf ... eating well in Puerto Rico.

The Shining Star Of The Caribbean ... Puerto Rico. It's a tropical playground with over 272 miles of coastline. It boasts some of the world's most beautiful beaches. The extraordinary natural wonders of Puerto Rico include the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. Forest Service.

A thriving blend of old and new, Puerto Rico's culture dates back the the Taino Indians who came here from Venezuela some 2,000 years ago.

During his second voyage to the New World, Columbus stopped in ... and I assume without mentioning it to the Tainos, old Chris claimed this magical isalnd as a possession of the King of Spain.

Columbus' shipmate, Juan Ponce DeLeon, was designated the first governor of the isalnd. He named it Puerto Rico ... which translates into “Rich Harbor.” At that point, things got cookin'.

The fabulous fish from the sea and the abundant tropical fruits and vegetables have been a basic part of the Indian diet. The Spanish introduced rice, pork, beef and olive oil. 

Next came the West Africans who contributed tasty ingredients like okra as well as a mastery of one-pot stews.

The Taino Indians, the Spanish and the West African cultures contributed the basic cooking styles of Puerto Rico. And mixed in with their recipes came their beliefs and skills relating food to good health. These old techniques are often the secret nutritional ingredient in many of the classic recipes of the island. You'll see an ancient recipe that a group of people have been making since the beginning of their history. Today's scientists take a look at it, and they tell you nutritionally it's almost perfect. Rice and beans, for example. Many of the local recipes get excellent nutrition for very little money. A great part of the old diet is naturally high in fiber. 

Most medical authorities believe that we should get between twenty and thirty-five grams of fiber into our daily diet. But dietary fiber isn't the only fiber around here. There's also the fiber of Puerto Rican life. 

And to get a heaping helping of the full flavor of Puerto Rican life ... let's take a look at the Puerto Rico's living museum, Old San Juan.

Old San Juan is one of the two walled cities of our hemisphere. This town takes you back through five hundred years of living history. It sits between two fortresses ... El Morro is the leading castle of the wall, dating back to 1540. The back door to the city was protected by the Fort of San Cristobal. 

Many of the city of Old San Juan is laced with cobblestone streets and boasts some of the finest examples of sixteenth and seventeenth century Spanish colonial architecture. It's a city steeped in history and culture. La Fortaleza, the home of the governor of Puerto Rico, was ordered into construction by Spain's King Carlos the First in 1540. It must feel great to live in a building where the mortgage was paid off four hundred years ago.

An ingredient in Puerto Rican cooking that has been paying off nutritionally even longer is the black bean. Beans are nutritional gold mines. Look at what one cup of cooked beans can do for you: supplies about a quarter of your daily need for protein ... it can lower cholesterol ... it will also give you a quarter of the daily iron that most of us need. It has folic acid which helps make your red blood cells ... and it has calcium.

And a great way to get those beans into your diet is with a bowl of black bean soup. La Zaragozana Restaurant in Old San Juan uses a traditional recipe. Take a pound of dried black beans ... cover them with cold water ... let them soak overnight. Next day, drain the beans ... and cover them with fresh water ... and let them simmer for about one hour or until they're tender.

Meanwhile, take five cloves of garlic ... a tablespoon of cumin ... a half tablespoon of oregano ... and an ounce of white vinegar ... and crush that all together. Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a saute pan ... add in a cup of chopped green peppers. And two cups of chopped onion. Let that cook until the onions are brown. Add in the cooked spices, and heat that together for a few minutes. Add the cooked spices and the vegetables to the beans ... and simmer for an hour more. Each portion is served with a garnish of cooked rice and chopped raw onion.

Those black beans are naturally high in fiber. There are two basic types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, and you find it in fruits, vegetables, beans and oats. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, and you find that in the skin of fruits and vegetables and whole wheat products.

Medical authorities feel that you need both types of fiber, and together they can improve your digestion, help with weight loss, and reduce the risk of heart disease. Ha-ha ... sounds good to me.

That is the statue of Ponce DeLeon, the Spanish explorer who traveled around the world with Christopher Columbus. It stands in the old city of San Juan, Puerto Rico because Ponce was extremely important to Puerto Rico. 

He found gold on the island in 1508 and quite naturally decided to move in and set up shop. More than anyone else, he was responsible for the early Spanish colonization of this community. Walk through the streets of Old San Juan and you can still see his influence.

There's the White House, built as his residence. It still stands, as do many of the buildings originally constructed during those early days of European colonization in the New World.

Ponce DeLeon undertook a series of exploratory voyages from Puerto Rico, and was actually the first European to see the area that's now the United Sates of America when he discovered Florida. The story goes that Ponce was looking for The Fountain Of Youth ... a little spring that would give him perpetual boyhood. Poor guy. Huh! Never found it!

But these days, scientists are making a really good case for a diet that can at least keep you healthier longer The key elements are low- cholesterol, low-fat ... low-sodium ... and lots of complex carbohydrates. Hey! It's not as simple as taking a sip from The Fountain Of Youth ... but who said it was gonna be easy?

Well, here's something that is. It's a pork recipe from one of Puerto Rico's most versatile chefs. Jan D’Esopo studied art at Bennington College in Vermont and Yale University's Graduate School. Today she lives in Puerto Rico's Old San Juan. She paints, she sculpts, she runs an art gallery ... and a wonderful little inn with ten rooms and a serious kitchen.

When she sets a table it's decorated with sculpture and plated with dishes that are produced in the gallery's art school. Today she's demonstrating her culinary art skills with a recipe for roast pork with orange sauce.

The Taino Indians were the first inhabitants of this island; they were great lovers of roast meat. So here we are 2,000 years later following in their gastronomic footsteps.

Start by grating together a teaspoon of salt ... and a teaspoon of peppercorns. Add a few cloves of chopped garlic ... and a quarter-cup of chopped green olives. Cut a series of X's into a four-pound pork loin ... and stuff the X's with the paste. Roast the loin in a 350 degree fahrenheit oven until the internal temperature's at 160 degrees.

It's served with a side dish of rice that's been cooked with a seasoning of jalapeno peppers ... onions ... and cilantro. Hey ... that's my kind of art!

Part of the art of pork cookery is to avoid over-cooking. During the past few years the pork producers have been working to produce a leaner cut of meat and reduce the older recommended cooking time. These days they recommend the pork be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees fahrenheit for medium doneness. That'll keep the meat tender and juicy and still meet the point for healthfully-cooked pork.

A lot of great joys for good cooks in Puerto Rico are the many local markets that offer regional produce and products. They're tailored to the taste of the old cooking style.

This is the public market in Santorce, Puerto Rico. It's part of a network of public markets throughout the island that offer local produce and handcraft. Visiting a market can often be an excellent way to get an accurate look at a country's foods and flavors. 

Scientists have identified over 3,000 different types of tropical fruits ... and this place is packed with them. The warm climate encourages fruits and vegetables with intense flavors. Some are sweet and aromatic ... others are acidic and pungent. And many of them are beginning to show up in markets and recipes all over the world. 

Take passionfruit for instance, with its promise of sensuality. Passionfruit offers an intense and pungent tropical perfume. Its pulp is perfect for ice cream, nectar, mousse ... and other sweet desserts.

A perfect example of a sweet dessert made from a variety of fruits is this medley of pureed fruit, each fruit with a distinctly different color. Today we're using mango, kiwi, papaya, apple, strawberry, and blackberry. Each is separately pureed in a blender. And an ounce of each is poured onto a plate in a circular pattern.

The plate is shaken to smooth them out. Finally, the tip of a wooden spoon is run through each of the purees to make a pattern. A single blackberry goes on as a garnish. It's served as a low calorie dessert.

One of the world's finest collections of tropical and semi-tropical plants is to be found in the Botanical Gardens of San Juan... over two hundred acres of vegetation that illustrates the richness of this island's agriculture. Within the landscape is an area filled with exotic fruits that were once a major part of the Puerto Rican diet.

That's a Caimito tree. It has a star-shaped fruit with a pulp that tastes like a sweet jelly. It's eaten raw for a snack or a dessert. 

That's a tamarind tree which can live for over two hundred years. The fruit is inside this powder-packed shell. It's a bit sticky and has a flavor that will probably remind you of Worcestershire sauce ... which makes sense because tamarind is used to make Worcestershire.

This is a Spanish lime, or a key lime ... much smaller, much more tart in flavor and much more difficult to find in the supermarket than a standard lime. It's what the bakers really had in mind when they made the original key lime pies. And if you ever get to taste a real key lime pie ... you'll see that it has a much more intense citrus flavor than the key lime pies we make with our standard limes.

That fifty-foot tree is a Quenepa tree. The fruits are small ovals that look like lichee nuts and you eat them the same way. Peel off the hard skin and watch out for the large pit. 

During the summer these fruits are sold along the roadsides as a snack ... and a healthful one too. 

Now, let's meet a woman whose Puerto Rican heritage produced the first major break in her entertainment career.


Tony Award-winning actress Chita Rivera has been delighting audiences with her amazing performances and dynamic dancing since she was sixteen years old. Over the years her tremendous talent has brightened the lights of Broadway and made theatrical history.


CHITA RIVERA: My father was ... uh ... a musician. And he played clarinet and saxaphone. My mother always wanted to dance but she had five children ... she was as graceful and as beautiful as the most beautiful ballerina. And ... I ... I maybe through that ... mother put me in school ... in ballet school. I won a scholarship to New York City Ballet Company ... that got me to New York ... Mr. Balanchine saw me and got me into New York.

And my first show was the road company of Call Me Madam ... I have to say the road company because if I said the original company that makes me even older. (LAUGHS) But the national company gives me a year and a half.


And when you reach this stage in your life -- give me any minute I can have. And that was the beginning of meeting wonderful, wonderful people. 

Well, it was Can-Can, it was Guys and Dolls, there was ... there was ... uh ... Zorba, there was Bye-bye Birdie, there was the wonderful West Side Story which is an interesting situation because I ... being Puerto Rican ... they were very lucky to find somebody that could appease the Puerto Rican population because it was also at a certain time when it ... that sort of thing was actually happening. 

And it was kind of brand new. And ... uh ... I had to sing a song I ... “Puerto Rico you lovely and then ugly island” ... tongue in cheek. And ... uh ... we didn't want to insult ... so it was easier coming from a Puerto Rican girl ... they could accept the ... I even then got some ... some letters that people that didn't really understand that I was only joking.

But it was a wonderful time to be able to introduce that magnificent piece of work ... but to say what we had to say which was very important in brining people together in this world which we still have to do desperately.

BURT WOLF: If someone has never been to Puerto Rico, describe it for them.

CHITA RIVERA: Oh, my gosh. It's ... uh ... it's very warm ... its people are very, very warm. There's beautiful color there ... the flowers ... the greenery ... the blue of the water. Uh ... the smell of the food. You get off the airplane and you can smell it.

When we first went for the very first time ... I went with my ... my brother who's my manager, Armando. And daddy ... daddy's been dead since we were very young ... and we had this overwhelming feeling as we looked down ... you know ... that we were approaching an area that was a great part of our history. When I talk about it I get teary-eyed really. Because there's a depth there that ... that you don't know until you really visit.

I'm always a bit ashamed because I don't speak the language fluently. Uh ... with a name like mine. I mean, my name is really Dolores Conchitta Figuero de Rivera ... I mean, what am I talking about here.


We're not talking about Chita O'Hara ... we're talking about all of that!

BURT WOLF: Tell me about the Puerto Rican dishes that you like to cook at home.

CHITA RIVERA: I just cook the simple red beans and rice and the plantains ... the green ones and the yellow ones ... the platanos and the pernil ... and black bean soup ... uh ... we ... I love rice ... I mean, if you were to separate me from rice then we'd have an awful lot of trouble, you know. 

When my daughter was born ... she's half Italian, half Puerto Rican, and I said to her ... alright Lisa, it's time you answered this question ... is it pasta or is it rice? She said pasta ... and it upset me very badly. (LAUGHS)

BURT WOLF: Are there any specific foods that you feel give you more energy for your performances?

CHITA RIVERA: A piece of fruit always picks me up. Every once in a while, though, my body will say I need ... uh ... some red meat. And I listen to it. I mean, that's the wonderful thing about ... you know ... about listening to your body ... it has a voice of its own ... your muscles have a voice ... your nervous system has a voice ... and if you just stop for second and listen ... if you feel low, you go for something that will give you some energy.

BURT WOLF: We're gonna go back in the kitchen now and the chef is going to prepare a paella of chicken and rice.


BURT WOLF: Tell me your feelings about that dish.

CHITA RIVERA: I think that we should get to the kitchen as soon as possible. (LAUGHS)

BURT WOLF: Paella comes from the Latin word for pan ... today it has come to mean a Spanish rice dish that is cooked in a paella pan. Each chef has their own recipe for paella ... but this is one of my favorites. 

Start with two chickens cut into pieces. Lightly flour those pieces ... and saute them in a little vegetable oil until they're tender. That should take about twenty minutes. Put a few tablespoons of oil into the paella pan ... heat them and add in two chopped onions. Three cloves of garlic that have been minced ... some saffron ... a pound of uncooked shrimp ... black pepper ... and salt. Three cups of long-grain rice ... a couple cups of peas ... and the cooked chicken is added back in. Some slices of sausage ... six cups of chicken broth which are gonna be absorbed by the rice ... two dozen pre-cooked mussels ... a cup's worth of pimento strips ... and two dozen pre-cooked clams.

We found a few crayfish in the refrigerator so we just added them in. Paella's a very flexible recipe. What you got is what you cook. When the rice is tender, the paella is ready to serve. 

CHITA RIVERA: This is the area you come into when you're doing a nightclub act. You come out smelling like paella.


BURT WOLF: Ah, yes. Coming out smelling like paella ... hey ... to me that's better than coming out smelling like a rose. 

Puerto Rico is the Caribbean's most popular vacation destination, and for good reason. This sun-kissed playground is an oasis of culture and history. The old city of San Juan is the oldest city in the New World. It's a man-made treasure. But Puerto Rico also has been blessed with extraordinary gifts from Mother Nature.

Puerto Rico has hundreds of miles of palm- fringed beaches. On the north side of the island they face the Atlantic. The southern coast presses up against the Caribbean sea. And there's the rain forest of El Junque. It collects over one hundred billion gallons of rain each year, and gives the visitor a fascinating glimpse of the untouched beauty of nature in the tropics.

Across the center of the island is a mountain range that is topped with a group of small inns that are part of a government program to preserve and promote the traditional cooking of the provinces of Puerto Rico.

And on the southerly side of these mountains is an amazing antique coffee plantation.


The Hacienda Buena Vista sits in a sub-tropical forest on the south coast of Puerto Rico. Built during the first half of the 19th century, it became a classic example of the type of agricultural operation that thrived in this intense climate. Too hilly for sugar cane, it was ideal for coffee ... and within a few years began to produce a grade of coffee considered one of the finest in the world. Carlos Vivas, the son of the founding father, instituted a system of small dams and canals that gave him the water power needed for coffee bean processing. He was very serious about ecology and made sure that all the water he used was cleaned and returned to the river. We could learn from Carlos.

Today, the Hacienda is a property of the conservation trust of Puerto Rico and it's been restored to its original condition so that tourists can take a look at what a working coffee plantation of the 1850's really looked like. Coffee came to Europe first from the Ethiopian town of Kaffa and that's probably how coffee got its name. After a while, the Indonesian port city of Java became a major export point ... and Americans took the word “java” as a slang expression for what is our national brew. We consume over a half of billion cups of coffee every single day.

There's a lot to see in Puerto Rico. And the responsibility for bringing everyone here to see it belongs to Miguel Dominich ... the Executive Director of Puerto Rican Tourism. 

Now, let me quite blunt about this report. Miguel negotiated a deal with me. He said if I would show all those exquisite pictures of Puerto Rico ... all of which are really nice to look at ... he in turn would show me his recipe for chicken and rice ... which is really nice to eat. Now, it's Miguel's turn.

Okay ... Miguel starts by sauteing a chicken cut in parts in a little olive oil until the surfaces are brown. Then the chopped onion goes in. Some chopped green pepper. A few capers. A few green olives. And a handful of chopped pimento. A cup of tomato sauce ... oregano ... pepper flakes ... three cups of long-grain rice ... and three and a half cups of chicken broth. 

It's covered and simmered for twenty minutes. Cooked peas go on top as a garnish. A hearty rice dish like this is good for you and easy to make too.

For the past two thousand years the history of Puerto Rico has been a story of blending cultures. Sometimes the blending was quite gentle ... and at other points in Puerto Rico's history, the blending has been somewhat violent.

The final results, however, have been first- class. As each new ingredient is incorporated in Puerto Rico, the people of the island have taken a look at their new environment and tried to decide what had happened. 

There are three basic elements that make up this scenario. The first are the native tribes ... the second are the Spanish ... and the third are the Africans. And you can still clearly see their influences on the faces of the people ... the art ... the literature ... the cultural institutions ... and especially in the food.

But each of those original elements have been totally transformed, in the same way that baking soda, sugar, flour, eggs and milk disappear to become a great cake.

Since the 1950's Puerto Rico has had an extremely stable period in its history, a period which has allowed the inhabitants of the island to understand what it means to be Puerto Rican ... and to begin to appreciate and preserve their Puerto Rican history and culture. 

One of the most interesting programs for the appreciation and preservation of things Puerto Rican is a government project in the area of gastronomy. During the 1980's the government of Puerto Rico decided that it was time to protect, preserve and promote the traditional regional foods of the island. In order to do that, they instituted a program called Mesones Gastronomico. Which translates roughly as “Houses Where You Can Get Something Really Great To Eat.” There are about fifty of them spread out around the island. In order to be one, you have to be in a beautiful area ... cook the traditional recipes of that area ... and serve them at reasonable prices.

All of the restaurants in this program are outside of San Juan. Many are located in the most picturesque parts of the island... in small villages, along the seashore, and up in the mountains. The foods that they serve represent some of the best of Puerto Rican cooking. And often at the best prices too. It's as if the U.S. federal government decided to help preserve the best recipes from each of the neighborhoods in our country, and help set up small restaurants to keep up the good cooking.

Puerto Rico's Mesones Gastronomico does just that. It holds onto the island's culinary heritage for the Puerto Ricans and for people who just come to the island to visit too.

A Lei-lo-li Festival is a celebration of Puerto Rican food, music and dance. And almost every evening you'll find one taking place in the hotels of San Juan. The foods presented are the traditional dishes of the island. There's a yucca salad ... yucca’s a root vegetable ... not my reaction to the taste ... it tastes fine. It's a codfish salad. Pinon, which is made from sweet plantans made with meat... Puerto Rico's answer to the lasagna.

Pastelas ... which are chicken and vegetables wrapped in leaves ... pestoles ... .from fried plantans ... paella and roast pig. And to drink ... the national beverage of Puerto Rico ... the pina colada ... which means strained pineapple. 

Pina colada got her start right here in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1952. It's made by mixing an ounce of cream of coconut together with two ounces of Puerto Rican gold rum ... an ounce of cream and four ounces of pineapple juice. That's blended in a blender with a half cup of crushed ice. Strained pineapple ... this is no strain at all!

So let's take a look at what we saw here in Puerto Rico. We started with a two-thousand-year-old culture ... eating lots of fish, fresh fruits and fresh vegetables. The the island is colonized by Spain ... and we get rice, domesticated pork, beef, and olives. West Africans bring in the skills of one-pot cooking. 

Today all of these influences are being blended together ... and so is the collective knowledge on how to get the best nutrition and the finest flavor in the same pot. There are excellent Puerto Rican recipes that take a little bit of meat, fish or poultry ... and make it go a long way with complex carbohydrates from rice and beans. And that's a great way to control food costs too.

Which reminds me of a wonderful story. When supermarkets first came here to Puerto Rico they used standard cash registers from the States ... but things would go nuts and long lines would form when someone would ring up the “no sale” sign. In Spanish “no sale” reads “don't leave.” (LAUGHS) Hey! Life could be confusing. And so could your search for a high-fiber diet.

Any Puerto Rican recipe solved the need by using beans. They are a high-fiber, nutritional gold mine. This report, however, would not be up to date if I did not mention that during this present century some of the elements of U.S. cooking and eating have become part of the Puerto Rican palate. But with a strong sense of heritage -- they have made each one in their own Puerto Rican style. They have a great pizza with a tortilla base. (LAUGHS)

That's Eating Well in Puerto Rico. Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for foods that taste good and make it easier to eat well. 

I'm Burt Wolf.