This month in our trip around the food world, we’re taking a look at an unincorporated territory of the United States; the beautiful Caribbean island of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rican food has been influenced not only by indigenous tribes but settlers over the past 500 years as well. Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493, Spain was the colonial occupier for the next 400 years until it ceded the island to the US after the American Spanish war. Cuba and Mexico have also influenced the food along with Africa and America too. The food has indigenous seasonings and produce as well as ingredients like cacao, nispero, coriander, papaya and plantains. The islanders call it cocina criolla (Créole cooking). Some Puerto Rican favourites include:

Two spice blends feature big in Puerto Rican food – adobo (peppercorns, garlic, salt, olive oil, lime juice and oregano) and sofrito (sauted peppers, garlic, onions and coriander with achiote (which are annatoo seeds) and this gives the vibrant gold colour to many of the island’s dishes.

Surullitos – sweet cornmeal fingers

Frijoles negros – black-bean soup

Empanadillas – crescent-shaped turnovers filled with lobster, crab, conch, or beef.

Carne guisada puertorriqueña – Puerto Rican beef stew

Pastelón de carne – meat pies

Roast meats in the creole style – flavoured with adobo

Lechón asado – barbecued pork. The meat is often basted with jugo de naranjas agría (sour orange juice) and achiote coloring and served with peeled green plantains, which are roasted. The traditional dressing for lechon asado is ali-li-monjili – a sour garlic sauce made with whole peppercorns, sweet chillies, olive oil, vinegar, and lime.

Puerto Ricans cook a lot of chicken and one of the most popular dishes is arroz con pollo (chicken with rice).Fish and shellfish are popular, often served grilled with a dressing of garlic and lime juice. Camarones en cerveza – shrimps cooked in beer – is an unexpected but tasty combination.

Asopao – a hearty gumbo made with either chicken or shellfish. Recipes vary but this dish is usually flavoured with paprika, oregano and garlic plus ham, chorizo, chilli, onions, fresh coriander, tomatoes and peppers.

Bacalaitos – crunchy cod fritters

Tostones, although often made from breadfruit, can also be made from plantains. A favourite shared amongst many Caribbean islands.

For more information on Puerto Rican food, check out www.topuertorico.org/culture/ and www.islandflave.com/recipes for a wide range of recipes and ideas from across the Caribbean

My earliest food memories are of my mum’s baking; coconut pyramid cakes were my favourite.

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