Now that you’re in New York living out the college experience why not throw in some genuine New York experiences as well? This US capital of everything that is dining houses over 4,200 restaurants spanning from authentic cuisines from all over the world, across the seven seas. There is nothing better than feeling like a pirate when you discover a hidden treasure of a dish that takes you to a far away place as you swallow.
With over 800,000 Puerto Ricans living in the Big Apple compared to the 4 million that live on the actual island, one can say that Puerto Ricans are practically everywhere. Some of us are on the Broadway stage as Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara in the new Broadway revival, Evita, while others will leave the American Idol judging table and care for twins. Our star-studded population aside, we all have those cravings that drive us mad until we can get our hands on the nearest lechonera.
Lechonera La Isla is a small dive up in Harlem in a space so small it looks like a Puerto rican settled in a crack in the wall between a barbershop and a residence on 125th street and squeezed in a kitchen and a display and somehow had space left for seven bar stools for customers. A lechonera is usually an informal restaurant that serves all the quintessential staples of Puerto Rican mountain cuisine where the star ingredient is lechón a la barita, or pork on the rod. Since it would take you three steps to walk from the front door to the back wall,the pork couldn’t rotate on a low fire in all its delicious glory; the delicacies had to shine under a single light bulb on the front window.
These last few unforgiving cold days had me in desperate need of asopa’o and rice. Asopa’o is the Puerto Rican equivalent to Chicken Noodle soup. Thick. Warm. Savory. Yum. Take the rice. Dip it into the soup. Swallow. Enjoy. Repeat. Chicken bones, carrots, potatoes and other root vegetables swim in a jacuzzi of true-to-the-original Puerto Rican chicken broth. Dig through the flavors within the soup and you’ll find sweet onions, crisp cabbage, savory bones, starchy yucca and malanga that sticks to your teeth in the most enjoyable way possible.
I was in utter bliss on my little bar stool swaying to the bachata and the reggaetón dipping my rice filled spoon into authentic Puerto Rican decadence in a bowl. I wish I had a big pot of asopa’o, a pound fresh bread, crisp salty tostones and white rice to hand out to everyone I meet.
So, when you get a sudden urge to be adventurous, go to a different part of town. Taste new things. See new things. Meet new people that will open the gate to an entirely different city. Push your limits, they’re meant to move.