Monday, March 3, 2014
Postcards from Puerto Rico: Ruta de Lechon in Guavate
In many ways, Puerto Rico did not feel like foreign territory to me, predominantly due to my cultural background. Like my home country, the Philippines, where I was born and raised, Puerto Rico was also subject to Spanish colonial rule for almost 400 years. And like myself who has been naturalized, Puerto Rico in many ways also now belong to the United States.
It was hard to escape the westernization in Puerto Rico. Everyone in the tourism industry pretty much speaks English. Great English. Everything is clean and organized. The freeways even look the same! My quagmire is that when I flew 10 hours to get somewhere, I want to feel like I traveled 12 hours to get there. When I travel, I try to seek out experiences different from my daily life. A road trip to Guavate up the "ruta de lechon" was exactly what I hoped I would find in the Latin American country.
Guavate is in the south of San Juan, about a 40 minute drive. We went in November, so naturally, it was a wet drive. It is a very scenic drive though since you drive through lush mountain ranges. Guavate is famous for its lechoneras, places that specialize in lechon or slow roasted pigs in spits.
We arrived in the early afternoon and it seemed like we couldn't have picked a better time. It looked like there was a fiesta in full swing, when in fact, this is just part of a normal weekend for the locals. You would know when you've arrived in lechon territory. You will see humble eateries serving the special roasted pork line up the roads, first sparsely, then more as you climb up the hill. Don't brake at the first one you see because up the hill is where the action takes place.
Because we went on actual Thanksgiving Day, we were a bit surprised that they were also roasting turkey.
It was hard to pick which lechonera to pick, but we went for Lechonera Los Pinos. The setup was simple cafeteria-style with plastic tables circle one big open space in the center. Ah! Where they do the dancing! You queue on one side where you point to which pig parts and dishes you'd want to end up in your tummy. A little bit of English was spoken, but the service and warmth was great! The Dutch and I shared a full plate of lechon served with some plantains, the Puerto Rican staple. I wish I had taken pictures, but I was getting frustrated with my iPhone at this point. In the Philippines, lechon is a special dish only served on super special occasions. I must admit that the lechon found in the island of Cebu in the Philippines tasted a lot better, but the point of this was not to critque which country will one-up the other in pork roasting. The point is that when a place is the revelation of a country's underbelly by way of, well, the belly.