As The Plant-Based Movement Grows, Puerto Rican Restaurants Are Veganizing Their Menus

Borinqueña house has been feeding Oakland locals hungry for island food since 2018. The pop-up and catering business delighted devout fans with Pernil, Shrimp Mofongo, Chicharrón de Cerdo and Tostones con Pollo. But last summer Chef Lulu (who asked to be attributed by their first name) shocked and angered the small community in some cases when they veganized their menu. Many told the chef, who grew up in the archipelago and Brooklyn, that meatless Puerto Rican dishes, especially pork, could never be authentic.

“I started to question my own culinary skills: would I really be able to match the flavors?” Cook Lulu wondered. “I was also very sad because I felt abandoned by my own church. There was a feeling of sadness. And there was also fear. I got scared. I was wondering if this is a good business move and if I can ever recover from it if it isn’t. “

Moving the menu was a risky decision, especially amid a pandemic that was destabilizing the food industry. But while the founder lost some patrons, she found enthusiastic support in a vegan community looking for plant-based dishes that were full of flavor. The changing menu of Casa Borinqueña still offers the classics: Arroz con Gandules, Mofongo, Maduros and Pastelillos, to name a few. “People keep telling me it’s the best vegan food they’ve ever tried,” says Chef Lulu. “I’m just sticking to tradition.”

In Puerto Rico, more and more kitchens are preparing meat-free plates to meet the nutritional needs of a growing vegan community. Over the archipelagoEspecially in the capital, San Juan, vegan restaurants offer locals and tourists unique dishes that are rich in island ingredients and pre-colonial techniques. A similar movement is growing in the neighboring United States. Preserving Puerto Rican culture in a plant-based movement that has been commercially whitewashed, these vegan restaurants, cuchifritos, food trucks, pop-ups and catering services are in cities with a huge Puerto Rican population like Florida, New York, Pennsylvania originated in Connecticut, Illinois and California.

Grew up in San Juan, Javier Muniz supplied his grandmother’s fiambreras, packaged homemade dinners that were sold in the community long before meal preparation became a trend. In 2015, nine years after migrating to Orlando, he began cooking plant-based alternatives to Puerto Rican delicacies to impress his vegan girlfriend (and now his wife). Karina Munoz Cancel. It started with sweets, from creamy coconut quesitos to classic flan. Soon every recipe he made was vegetable.

The couple started selling Caribbean pastries at local farmers markets and opened their vegan Puerto Rican bakery in 2016 Almendra. They started a year ago the earthy kitchen next door and brought Muñiz ’70 year old mom to make sure the work and spirit of Borikén are mixed in the pots and pans. The Cuchifrito-style restaurant serves Puerto Rican soul food on a plant basis: hearty frituras, fried delicacies such as empanadillas, alcapurria and relleno de papa, which satisfy the deepest hunger of guests for home.

“There are many Hispanic restaurants in central Florida, but none are entirely plant-based,” says Muñiz. “We decided to open up this idea with the hope of giving the vegan community a taste of our unique Puerto Rican flavors.”

An order for sweet plantains from Philadelphia Bar candy.

Photo by Hannah Baker

Two months after Muñiz opened Earthy Kitchen, he had to close the dining room due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 36-year-old founder aims to one day serve his guests plant-based versions of island delights – like Jack Mofongo, a variant of the classic Chicharron Mofongo that replaces rinds with jackfruit, and Tripleta sandwiches, a popular criollo sandwich that comes with Stacked is three types of meat, usually grilled steak, lechón pork, ham or chicken, which Muñiz veganizes with jackfruit and homemade seitan – on dishes and not in boxes to take away.

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