Bacalao is the Spanish word for dried and salted cod.
I was down in Puerto Rico as a guest speaker to the
Caribbean Hotel Association Conference. I was delighted
to go because I was with the delightful cookbook author,
Ms. Jessica Harris. She is a world authority on Caribbean
food and especially the African contributions to it.
Jessica introduced us to a local Puerto Rican restaurateur,
Patricia Wilson, who became our guide on Saturday.
She picked us up and drove us to a radio station where
I did her show. Then she showed us around Old San
Juan in the early afternoon before we had to fly back
to work for service Saturday night.
Patricia took us to few of the stores to see many
products quite familiar to us here in Miami, and then
to lunch in a little local haunt called La Casita
Blanca. (The White House.)
As we made our way into the non-air conditioned establishment
I noted the decor as reminiscent of Old Bahama Village
in Key West. Roosters squawked, Christmas tree lights
illuminated the bar and small children dashed in and
out among the tables. Onions and potatoes held down
the stacks of paper napkins.
The first course was an ice cold Puerto Rican beer
with a type of bacalao fritter I'd not seen before.
It was as flat as and similarly shaped to a cactus
pad. I took a small bite and found it to be slightly
chewy, crisp, hot and redolent of the "one of kind"
scent of bacalao. I splashed on the vinegar hot sauce
There's nothing quite like bacalao. It scares some
people that have not been initiated to its slightly
salty but deeply satisfying flavor.
The rest of the lunch was simple and fine. Mondongo,
Pastel de Pollo, Patitas en Garbanzos. But it
was the bacalao I'll remember next time I'm in Old
I was at a fruit festival a few years back and some
wonderful people from the Far East were talking to
me. They were intrigued by my set of Exotic Fruit
Posters and wanted to know about many of the fruits.
I asked them what their favorite fruit was and they
got very dreamy-eyed and said, "Oh, by far, the mangosteen."
Even though I had managed to get a picture of a mangosteen
to appear on my posters, it was not my fortune to
have ever tasted them at that point in time. They
can grow in South Florida, but my posters came out
just after the devastation of Hurricane Andrew and
it was "slim pickins" for many of our "regular" fruits.
This all changed after I went to Paris. Strange, but
it was in a very upscale Parisian fruit stall that
I purchased some Mangosteens...far from the lands
of their birth.
The fruit's exterior color is purple and it has a
green calyx. It is reminiscent of a persimmon in the
construction of its shape, but a little smaller. I
allowed it to ripen before investigating. The outer
shell was quite firm at first but then yielded just
enough to make me know that the transformation Nature
had hoped for was complete. I sliced off the top and
saw the real thing.
Mangosteens have a cozy little home of a shell to
protect the small peeled-garlic-shaped, peeled-grape
look of its fruit nestling within it. The sections
of fruit require no further peeling once you remove
that hull. The smaller sections can be seedless, while
the larger do contain a pulp covered small nugget.
The scent is a gorgeous lychee meets Riesling. You
should try to get some. Even if it means having to
go to Paris.