Maui Food and Dining

Da Puerto Rican Food Truck Offers Unique Eats

October 19, 2012, 3:47 PM HST
* Updated October 19, 5:03 PM
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Vanessa Wolf is a former head chef, previously working in Portland, Oregon.

By Vanessa Wolf

The Tostone plate. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

There are a vast number of culinary influences here on Maui.

Those familiar with Hawaii Regional Cuisine know it honors the blend of cultures that originally settled this land: Polynesian, Chinese, Japanese, American, Portuguese, Korean, and Filipino predominantly. Puerto Rican food isn’t generally on the list…but maybe it should be.

In 1899, two major hurricanes hit Puerto Rico and Cuba, devastating both the land and the people. A Caribbean sugar cane shortage resulted, increasing demand for the product from Hawaii. To keep up, Hawaiian plantation owners began recruiting jobless laborers in Puerto Rico.

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In 1900, 56 Puerto Rican men made the arduous journey to Maui and were sent to work in each of the plantations owned by the “Big Five.” By October 1901, 5,000 Puerto Rican men, women and children had made the trip and from there on called these islands their home.

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Why the history lesson?

Just adding to your cultural repertoire: one of the many services we try to provide.

Moreover, if you’re headed to Makawao Town’s Third Friday “Maktober” event tonight, you can add to your culinary experiences, as well and check out Puerto Rico’s unique food offerings.

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Puerto Rican cuisine is similar to Cuban and has its roots in the cooking traditions and practices of Spain and the Amerindian Taínos. However, the strongest influences come from Africa: plantains, pigeon peas, and deep frying all find their roots in the Dark Continent.

The Mofongo plate. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

If you’ve never had Puerto Rican or (the strikingly similar) Cuban cuisine, you may want to adjust your expectations. Unlike the dishes of their fiery hot cousins to the east, Puerto Rican and Cuban food is not spicy (at all). The typical meal involves meat, starch, and a green salad with the primary seasoning coming from garlic.

Vampires: consider yourselves warned.

We started with the Mofongo ($12).

Mofongo is made by mashing tostones (twice fried plantains) with garlic and olive oil. Then it is scooped, hollowed out, and set atop meat or seafood. The fried plantain balls themselves were reminiscent of hash browns. The meat seemed to be slow-cooked with bay leaves and mirepoix (celery, onions, and carrots.)  The net effect is pretty starchy, but with a comfortingly simple and homey affect. Meat and potatoes people will feel right at home.

In addition to the Mofongo, most of the meals come with rice and pigeon peas. The flavor is reminiscent of Spanish rice…with some pigeon peas.

Most plates also includes traditional Puerto Rican kidney beans and rice. This side dish is rather garlicky and features soft kidney beans, white rice, and capers.

The menu changes regularly, but typically features the Cuban Sandwich ($10).  Traditionally made with ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard, Da Puerto Rican Food Truck’s version has been modified to give it some heat. In addition to the hot pepper kick, it also contains shredded pork and garlic aioli sauce.

Da Puerto Rican Food Truck: a small truck with a really long name. Which automatically made the title of this piece long. Which probably means my editor will be on me for going over the word count (I’ll let this one slide -Ed). Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

Another visit led to a sampling of the Tostones ($12) or crisp fried plantains filled with meat. We sampled the ropa vieja or “old clothes” in Spanish. Sorry vegans, this isn’t a creative use for worn out organic cotton t-shirts, but rather shredded meat cooked in tomato and vinegar. It was tart and interesting.

We also tried the picadillo filling. Picadillo is often made with tomato sauce and (rum-soaked: really) raisins, olives, or capers. This version was more like simple sautéed ground beef.

Filipino food lovers should feel right at home as picadillo is known there as Arroz a la Cubana.

The tostones come with a very tangy sauce, and the zip comes pretty much entirely from raw garlic. Again, if you are a vampire or married to one this may not be the food truck for you.

Proprietor and chef Jose is 100% Puerto Rican. Born in San Juan, he couldn’t be friendlier or more charming if he tried. Moreover, he cooks from his roots and the food is completely authentic.

Of Puerto Rican heritage or just curious? Da Puerto Rican Food Truck offers a very unique set of dishes guaranteed to transport you to another small, but diverse island just 5733 miles away.

We welcome your feedback. Please let us know if you hear of any new restaurants opening or reopening, total menu overhauls, or simply know of a hidden treasure you want to share. Have a restaurant you want reviewed (or re-reviewed)? Drop us a line.

Dying to know how a certain dish is made so you can recreate it at home? Send in a request, and we will try to pry the secret out of the chef…and even take a run at cooking it up ourselves. Mahalo. -vanessa(@mauinow.com)

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