Tuesday, December 29, 2009
If you're on the western side of the island and you're craving for traditional Puertorican food, there is a place I recommend: La Catumba. It's in the hills of Cabo Rojo.
La Catumba is a small traditional neighborhood store, which is also a bar, and a restaurant on Sundays and holidays.
La Catumba has been roasting pork for over 28 years, and along with it they also serve arroz and gandules, or rice and pigeon peas and pasteles. That's all they serve and folks from as far as San Juan visit to dine.
Pasteles has no English translation because it's a food that has been inherited since the times of the Taino Indians. Pasteles are made from ground roots, or green bananas wrapped in banana leaves and boiled. Pasteles have a stewish mixture in the center and it is either pork, beef, chicken and at times cod fish. Pasteles are the Eucharist of Puertorican culture. A Christmas without pasteles is no Christmas at all.
The pasteles served at La Cantumba are made from Cassava, which some folks call yuca; and green bananas.
Ruben Ramirez, the owner, met us as we arrived and treated me like a long lost friend. He shared with me coquito, Puertorican Eggnog with moonshine ( or rum) and Chichaito, a mixture of Anis liquer, honey and rum. And then he pulled out 3 pasteles for my son, my wife and myself, and hmmmm, they were good.
He showed me his roasting process. The pork is split and wired to a grill. Coal is tossed along side and it is turned slowly, cooking with indirect heat.
On the stove he had a huge pot of arroz and gandules and the pasteles were just coming out the water.
I met his master roaster, Harry Sanchez. I asked Harry what time he woke up to start roasting. He said he started roasting at 10 pm the night before and had not been to sleep yet.
Ruben said the night before there was a paranda till 4 in the morning, and he had only time to go home shower and return to the restaurant to check on the roasting pigs. A paranda is a communal singing activity. It is much fun. Singing is part of the Christmas bond in Puerto Rico.
14 pigs were to be roasted and most were already sold. Ruben showed me his tables and the view overlooking a valley. He lamented we arrived too late to see a troup of monkeys crossing the valley. They lived nearby.
We took an order to go, and I did not know there was a waiting list. Folks kept showing up, or calling and Ruben had to turn them away. Ruben made sure we got our order and we took it home for our Christmas Eve Dinner. I felt a little guilty for jumping in line. I appreciate the way I was treated. This is the country and Puertorican country folks, called Jibaros, are known for their warmth and generosity.
The food was delicious. The pasteles had the flavor of Christmas in Puerto Rico.
Getting to La Catumba. Many friends recommended La Catumba, but not one could tell me how to get there.
1-From Rincon PR, take 115 to highway #2 and take a right.
2-Take highway #2 to highway to highway 100. It's right past the Mayaguez Mall. Take that right.
3-Go down highway 100 to Camino Vincent Torres and take a left.
4-Take your first right on Pr 103.
5-Look for a bakery on your right. The road next to it is Pr 300, take a left.
6-Go straight. When you get to a fork in the road, take a left. There is a sign that says Catumba, but it's the size of a license plate. This road is called Camino La Capilla. (Church road)
7-When you get to the next fork in the road, take a right, and you're about a minute away.
Check out this Google Map of La Catumba
Remember to call before you visit to reserve your food. Ruben's number is 787-943-9570. Tell him Luis from Rincon sent you.