National Roast Pork Route
Backstory and Context
Pork is considered as part of the cultural and culinary heritage of Puerto Rico; it has been one of the most important traditional dishes for Puerto Ricans for more than five centuries. There are many ways to eat pork, and there are many places you can find to buy pork on the island, yet the tradition of roasting pork on a spit has come to characterise the comsumption of pork across the island. This National Roast Pork Route has been created for people to locate locally sourced roast pork restaurants across the island. The route shows the value and importance of pork in the island’s economy.
Pork is one of the representations of Puerto Rican culture and traditions. It first arrived in Puerto Rico more than five hundred years ago, when the Spaniards first “discovered” the island and turned it into a colony. A taste for pork and certain types of seasoning and cooking methods were acquired from Spain.
"The traditional adobo, or seasoning, for Puerto Rican lechón is just salt, pepper, oregano, garlic and sometimes ajíes dulces, also called cachuchas or ajicitos, which are small sweet cooking peppers that look something like Scotch bonnets." (1)
The most frequently used cooking methods for pork in Puerto Rico are baking, stewing and roasting; the last one being the local favorite and thus, most famous method. Baked pork is usually done at home and in small quantities like, for example, pork ham, which is the back legs of the pig. Since it takes a lot of time and work to bake a pork ham at home, it is usually done for a gathering or special event like Christmas. A pork stew is another method mostly seen in homes and usually incorporates pig’s trotters. This dish is often accompanied with white rice and red beans that many Puerto Ricans make at home. However, the most famous and favorite among many Puerto Ricans is roasted pork that is mostly found at “lechoneras” all over the island; one of the Spanish words for pork is “lechón”, thus the food places where you find “lechón” are called “lechoneras”.
“Lechoneras” can be classified as casual restaurants with quick service; they typically offer only counter service rather than food made to order, and food is somewhat healthier than a fast food but also affordable.
"Most of the lechoneras serve the food cafeteria style, and everyone talks and points their way through." (2)
This type of restaurant can be found all over the island and in all sizes; some even have bars and dance floors. “Lechoneras” are all unique in their way and most of them have music like Salsa, Bachata and Merengue, which are some of the most popular Latin music genres. El Rancho Original is a “lechonera” located in Guavate, a neighborhood in the mountain city of Cayey known for having many “lechoneras”. It is a large restaurant which has different spaces to choose from. One of the spaces that is popular with families--because it is somewhat quiet and relaxing--incorporates small huts with tables around them and access by stairs to a stream. The other side of the restaurant has a bar, live music and a dance floor. Like most “lechoneras,” El Rancho Original caters to all types of visitors and is popular at weekends.
"Lechoneras are usually situated near the roadside and are often surrounded by forests and small streams, allowing children to play and frolic while adults enjoy the festive atmosphere of the establishment. During the week, many of the restaurants are closed, and those that are open offer a very quiet lunchtime retreat. On weekends, however, Guavate is usually filled with music, dancing and drinking, luring many young locals and travelers to enjoy its vibrancy and is known as the place to be and to meet up with friends and family." (3)
However, the focal point of any “lechonera” is its food. There are many dishes you can find like: rice with beans or peas; sides made with root vegetables like malanga, cassava, yam and sweet potatoes; sweet (ripe) plantains, fried or mashed plantains such as a local favorite called mofongo; boiled or marinated unripe bananas, and many other typical dishes from Puerto Rico. However, more important that the wide variety of sides, for many, is the traditionally roasted pork. At lechoneras like “El Rancho Original” visitors are guaranteed that pork is sourced locally. Reseraunts like this one compose the “Ruta del Lechón del País” project, which means National Roast Pork Route.
The National Roast Pork Route project is focused on promoting restaurants that sell one hundred percent local pork. This means that while visitors eat fresh pork meat, they also promote local farming and thus the local economy of the island. The project was primarily promoted by the Department of Agriculture of Puerto Rico, and later on, The Office for the Promotion of the Pork Industry (Fondo Fomento Industria Carne de Cerdo or FFICC by its Spanish acronym). The certified “lechoneras” also sell one hundred percent local blood sausages “morcillas” and “longanizas”. The official webiste of the route advertises that restaurants displaying its logo are certified by the Department of Agriculture as establishments that sell 100% local pork meat. (4)
There are only fourteen lechoneras that are certified as part of this route and are distributed in only seven towns around the island. Six “lechoneras” are located near the west coast of the island and the other eight near the east side. Half of the east-side “lechoneras” are located in Cayey, and three of them are in Guavate, one of them being El Rancho Original. These fourteen “lechoneras” represent a very small percentage of the total restaurants around the island, but their certification aims to prompt a bigger movement that motivates the economy of the island by promoting the planting, production and sale of locally grown food.
"El Cuñao’s staff members say their pigs are raised locally, a fact proudly splashed across a sign outside the restaurant. This has become a delicate issue of late for Puerto Ricans, with more lechoneras importing pigs from the mainland because they are cheaper. Locals complain that the mainland pig’s diet is not the same, but that’s debatable. The local pork is certainly fresher — and local food is better for the island’s economy, given Puerto Rico’s dependence on imports." (5)
Puerto Rico’s pork is undeniably a symbol of the culture and economics of the island. Many dishes can be made at home, but for those that require specialized equipment and a significant slow-cooking times, the island's “lechoneras” are ready to provide their services. For those who are interested in promoting the local economny as they seek traditional pork dishes, El Rancho Original and all the locations certified by the National Roast Pork Route can help the consumer make decisions that support the island's economy and support local farmers.
1 Price, Cindy. Party With Pig: In Puerto Rico, a Glorious Feast, The New York Times. July 4th 2007. Accessed May 1st 2020. Party With Pig: In Puerto Rico, a Glorious Feast.
2 Price, Cindy. Party With Pig: In Puerto Rico, a Glorious Feast, The New York Times. July 4th 2007. Accessed May 1st 2020. Party With Pig: In Puerto Rico, a Glorious Feast.
3 Lechoneras of Guavate , Puerto Rico. Accessed April 30th 2020. https://www.puertorico.com/blog/lechoneras-of-guavate/.
Home page, Ruta del Lechon. Accessed April 30th 2020. http://rutadellechon.com/.
4 Sobre Nosotros, Ruta del Lechon. Accessed April 30th 2020. http://rutadellechon.com/sobre-nosotros/.
5 Price, Cindy. Party With Pig: In Puerto Rico, a Glorious Feast, The New York Times. July 4th 2007. Accessed May 1st 2020. Party With Pig: In Puerto Rico, a Glorious Feast.
Mapa de la Ruta, Ruta del Lechon. Accessed April 30th 2020. http://rutadellechon.com/mapa-de-la-ruta/.
Galeria, Lechonera El Rancho Original. Accessed April 30th 2020. http://www.elranchooriginal.com/galeria.html.