Pork and fried foods might be longtime staples of the Puerto Rican diet, but plant-based cuisine has landed and it is surprisingly easy to find incredible vegetarian and vegan options wherever you travel in Puerto Rico. Together with its thriving “green” initiatives, the well-known “Puerto Rico Does it Better” campaign takes on a new meaning for health and environmentally conscious travelers.
Vegetables and fruits were a highlight of the 5th annual Saborea Puerto Rico: A Culinary Extravaganza. Held annually at Escambron Beach in San Juan, Saborea (from “sabor,” meaning “taste” in Spanish), is a weekend festival celebrating the exotic colors and flavors of Puerto Rican cuisine. Over 50 local and international culinary experts, 60 of the island’s premier restaurants, and numerous liquor, spirits, wine and beer companies participate to present the best of the Caribbean.
“The best teachers are our grandmas,” said Luis Rivera Marín, the Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, while speaking at the festival. And Saborea had everything to make a grandma proud, especially if she always taught you to eat your greens. The exotic salads prepared by Executive Chef Javier Menendez, presenting on behalf of Texas de Brazil, were a festival favorite.
Chef Francisco Alvarez, who arrived in Puerto Rico after working for 15 years as an executive chef and culinary professor in Florida, was among the many culinary artists sharing their creations at Saborea. A longtime vegetarian, Alvarez came prepared with a table of unique and savory dishes for the event. His hearty hummus was made with pigeon peas (a popular legume in Puerto Rico), cilantro, roasted garlic, sazón (seasoned salt) and peanut butter! “I wanted the hummus to be different so I used peanut butter instead of tahini to make it truly one-of-a-kind,” Alvarez explained. “Vegan food is also great in the heat so it will stay fresh throughout the event.” Alvarez also makes his own pita bread which includes a puree of Puerto Rican peppers and saffron.
Now living in Puerto Rico, Alvarez is the Director of Culinary Arts at the Instituto de Banca (IBC), the largest culinary school in Puerto Rico.
In addition to Saborea, Puerto Rico celebrates a number of other food festivals year-round throughout the island: Porta del Sol hosts a Banana Festival with over a dozen varieties of bananas; the town of Añasco holds a yearly Puff Pastry Festival; and in Corozal, the National Plantain Festival is held each October.
Whatever your food preferences, the staff at Augusto’s aims to please. Located in the Courtyard Marriot in San Juan, the elegant restaurant offers gourmet French contemporary cuisine sure to excite the palate. From pineapple carpaccio & tomato tartar to wild mushroom quinoa, vegetarians and vegans will be in foodie paradise.
Whether traveling to Puerto Rico for a culinary excursion or to experience its rich history, the island has a true commitment to the environment, including healthy offerings for plant-based eaters. Verdanza Hotel, in Isla Verde, features a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan options at their three signature restaurants. Executive Chef Damián Hernández is quick to create unique and flavorful meals sure to please even the most discerning diner. At the hotel’s hip restaurant, Eighty20 Bistro, his menu is a blend of traditional home-style and contemporary Caribbean-inspired dishes, using locally-grown fresh fruits, root vegetables and herbs.
The first hotel on the island to install an EV charging station for electric vehicles, Verdanza Hotel is further pursuing efforts to ensure a healthier environment. They have an extensive recycling program, including uniforms made of 100% recycled polyester. The property also features LED fixtures, organic bathroom amenities (not tested on animals), biodegradable plasticware, installation devices that reduce water usage, rainwater harvesting and repurposed kitchen oil as biodiesel. “We take great pride in our ongoing efforts to make the day-to-day operation of Verdanza Hotel increasingly more sustainable,” said Ricky Newman, General Manager.
A culinary journey or an eco-tourism experience, Puerto Rico continues making strides with sustainable practices. Hotels and restaurants are increasing their commitment to the environment, and proving everyday that Puerto Rico does it “greener.” www.seepuertorico.com
Please read my companion article on this trip Puerto Rico Vacation - Peacocks, Ponchos and Piña Coladas