Unlike a homemade Thanksgiving dinner, which we characterized in November as a “daunting task,” a homemade Christmas dinner –beyond roasting a pork leg (which is equally daunting)– is nearly impossible for mere mortals to make.
As you have already noticed, in Puerto Rico pork is king. So, turkey for Christmas –even if it is “pavochón”– is for the weak of heart. Nevertheless, just thinking about the sheer size of a pork carcass on your kitchen table is enough to make the blood curdle in the veins of a grown man.
In Puerto Rico, pork is roasted “a la vara” (literally in a hardwood pole over and open pit). Roasting is a slow process that usually takes anywhere between six to eight hours, depending on the size of the pig, and a serious amount of elbow grease to hand turn that “vara”.
Then, how in the world the non-initiated are going to roast a 100-pound, five-foot long pork at home? Long story short, even if you own a small mansion with a huge backyard, and an equally huge firepit, it is impossible. This is something your average weekend BBQ master better leave to the professionals.
Of course, you can always decide to embrace at least part of the Christmas tradition and home cook all, or some, of the traditional dishes of the holiday meal –rice with pigeon peas (“arroz con gandules”), “pasteles,” boiled and/or pickled green bananas (“guineítos en escabeche”), blood sausages (“morcillas”), and sweet rice pudding (“arroz con dulce”) for dessert. And while this is a somewhat intimidating project, if you manage to get the necessary ingredients it is certainly doable.
But who are these so-called pork roasting professionals, and where can they be found, you might ask? Enter the “lechoneras,” the quintessential roasting establishments that enjoy a Christmas long “Black Friday” windfall thanks to Puerto Ricans’ love for everything pork.
These quaint businesses can be found just about everywhere throughout the island, all of them sticking to their tried-and-true menu of “lechón,” sausages, green bananas, rice and “pasteles.” The menu may include one or two additional delicacies, depending on the “lechonera,” but it is basically the same for most.
There you can order your roasted pork by the pound, and all the complementary dishes for your dinner. And, depending on the size of your Christmas shindig, you can even order the whole pig.
Below is a list of some of the “lechoneras” you can find within the San Juan Metroplex, so you don’t have to go far to procure your family’s Christmas dinner.
Lechonera El Piterre – On Road 167, this is certainly one of the best “lechonera” in the island. Is open for business Friday thru Sunday, from 9:00am to 3:00pm. They serve “lechón,” rice and beans, pickled bananas, pork feet and even “pavochón.”
Lechonera El Paso – On Road 173, Km. 29.5. The specialty here is stuffed roasted pork. It is usually stuffed with rice with pigeon peas or beans, but it can be stuffed with root vegetables (sweet potatoes, yucca, yams, taro, etc.) among other things. They also offer “pastelillos” (turnovers) stuffed with sausage. This “lechonera” has been doing business for more than 70 years, and three generations of the López family have been at its helm. Open for business Friday thru Sunday.
Lechonera El Cuerito Tostao – 243 Eleanor Roosevelt Ave. in Hato Rey. Aside from the regular fare of any “lechonera,” their specialty is the pork stuffed “alcapurria” (a delicacy of their own invention), and pork rennet, which they only offer on weekends. They also have an impressive variety of custards for dessert… coconut to squash, going thru sweet potatoes and “coquito.” Open for business seven days a week, from 11:00am to 7:00pm.
Angelito’s Place – On Road 175, Km. 4.8 in Barrio Carraízo this “lechonera” has been known for its delicious pork accompanied with rice with pigeon peas and “pasteles,” and sweet potatoes. Open for business seven days a week, from 8:00am to 5:30pm.
If you’d like to tread the less traveled path, you can always embark on the classic road trip across the island in search for the best “lechonera”. A word of advice though, try to get to the lechonera the earliest in the day because “lechón” sells fast and if you get there a little after 12:00pm, you might only get the pig’s “rabito tostao” (crunchy tail).