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My Site: Day 90: Puerto Rico

My Site

 
 

Day 90: Puerto Rico

I’ve been saving Puerto Rico for a while, wanting to make sure that I was going on a day when I could be joined by my Puerto Rican step dad Jimmy, who grew up eating his mom’s wonderful cooking in Long Island. His mom is 97-years-old now and doesn’t cook so much anymore, so I was hoping we could help find him something to eat that would remind him of the stuff from his childhood. In New York, locating Puerto Rican food is easy. In Los Angeles? Not so much. As far as I can tell, the only decent Puerto Rican place is actually in Cypress, about thirty miles away at a place called Señor Big Ed’s.



Jimmy is a musician, which means he’s on the road a lot, and since having turned vegetarian a few decades ago, he’s had some some pretty difficult meals out on tour. His most recent trip, from which he returned just this morning, saw him trying to order meatless options in countries like China, Indonesia, Korea and Australia. So as we pack into the car and brave some heavy L.A. rush-hour traffic with my mom, sister and our family friend Bill, Jimmy tells stories of some of his more difficult food days from the latest trip. “Korea was really tough. I don’t recommend eating airplane bibimbap. We were also being taken care of by these locals who didn’t totally understand the vegetarian thing. They’d just order whatever, then say ‘This is rotten fish. Not good for Americans.’” Eventually, we arrive at the near-empty restaurant with a Puerto Rican flag out front and Nuyorican souveniers on display inside. Mom decides that we need a drink, but they don’t serve booze here, so Jimmy and Bill run to the liquor store while mom, my sister and I all take a look at the menu. Just as the men return with Red Stripe beer and red wine, we’re served some pastellios to get things started. Pastellios are fried dough pockets, similar to an Argentine empanada, but a lot lighter and crispier. We get half stuffed with cheese and the other half with ground beef. “Wow,” Jimmy says, “these taste exactly like my mom’s.”





Now Jimmy takes over ordering the entrées while I finish off the last bite of pastellios and wash it down with some beer. A few minutes later, the food arrives. Mom has pollo fricasé, a chicken dish sautéed in a tomato sauce, served with onions, cassava, and like every other dish on the menu, either fried sweet plantains, or tostones (toasted, crispy plantains). Once again, the similarities to the way Jimmy’s mom made it is uncanny. “Oh my God,” says my own mother, shaking her head, “this tastes exactly like what she would make me when I’d go up to visit her. I mean, exactly.” Since Puerto Rico isn’t the most vegetarian friendly cuisine in the world, Jimmy is sticking to rice, beans, plantains and pastellios. Bill digs into some pernil de cerdo, roasted pork leg, which is pretty moist, despite its gray coloration, but has a slightly flat flavor which doesn’t really hold up to everything else on the table. Jimmy has ordered me the bistec ensebollado, a thin strip of well seasoned steak topped with some very nice, tender onions that really bring the whole dish together.

“This is really typical, simple Puerto Rican food,” says Jimmy as we’re served the restaurant’s home made and very good flan de coco (coconut flan). “This is the kind of food you’d eat at somebody’s house in New York.” While Puerto Rican food may not be the best thing to fill your stomach with before sitting in a car for the half hour drive back home, the meal itself really was a lot of fun. But mostly, I’m just glad that Jimmy could join me tonight for some food that reminded all of us of his wonderful mother, who’s still going strong, living in Long Island in the home that Jimmy grew up in. So here’s to you, Virginia.

Señor Big Ed’s
5490 Lincoln Ave
Cypress, CA 90630
(714) 821-1290

Food Breakdown: beer and wine (brought from outside), 8 pastellios, 1 extra side of rice and beans, 3 entrées
Price: $55
Distance From My House: 31.1 miles

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Comments

  1. silverlake bodhisattva · Dec 04, 03:16 PM

    Dude, not to be a stickler or anything, but (while I’ll cut you slack on the Hong Kong finagle, and the “Vatican cuisine”, too!) Puerto Rico ain’t a country. It’s “self-governing unincorporated territory of the United States”. If the states of Mexico don’t count (hey, you could justify a trip to Chichen Itza!) then this doesn’t count; if this counts, they count, and maybe you get credit for the states of India and provences of China, too!

  2. Noah · Dec 04, 03:40 PM

    Hey, I did warn you back on Hong Kong Day that Puerto Rico and Macau were coming. It is self governing, and feels roughly as legitimate as the others. In a situation like this, there are going to be a lot of disputes over what counts and what doesn’t— so if there’s anywhere in the world that can be a little more lenient, I’d like to think that an independently run food blog is it.

  3. Silverlake Bodhisattva · Dec 04, 05:09 PM

    Hey, I’m pitching FOR the broader more inclusive reading.

    I think you ARE entitled to count the Yucatan as a “country”, and Hunan Province, and Lucknow, and maybe even New Orleans. There’s a whole lot more meaningful distinctions between their cuisine and the places next to ‘em than for “Vatican City cuisine”, or for what I figured was coming next, “The cuisines of San Marino and Liechtenstein” (the San Marino in Europe, not the one by Pasadena, where I believe the regional cuisine involves eating tea sandwiches while wearing white gloves… ).

    . . . and the “. . stan“s? Heck, when I was born, most of ‘em were still part of the USSR, along with Ukraine, Georgia, etc, so you’ve squeezed a few more “countries” out of those, though, as you note, the food’s all pretty similar. . .

    anyhow, over-all, it’s a masterful piece of chowhounding, even if it’s doomed to end soon (any luck on those Icelandic smoked puffins?)

    and GFB is a VERY tolerant woman.

  4. Noah · Dec 05, 11:36 AM

    Thanks! Yeah, the country decisions are tough ones to make. It’s a difficult line. But I think we’ve seen the last of the questionable countries, with the exception of Tibet, which I think probably should count.

  5. Hungry Grace · Dec 05, 03:58 PM

    I imagine you’ve already heard of the Tibet Nepal House in Pasadena for Himalayan food? Been meaning to check it out myself. Let me know if you ever head over there…I’d love to check it out with you and your entourage. :)

  6. jimmy Palm · Dec 05, 07:09 PM

    SO . . . I GUESS EVERYONE IS ENTITLED TO AN OPINION ABOUT HOW and WHY THIS BLOG EXISTS . . . . .
    OR EVEN QUESTION WHAT A COUNTRY IS !

    IN MY OPINION . . . .
    THE BLOG HAS BEEN AN EYE OPENING AND WONDERFUL EXCURSION TO THE HEART OF A BEAUTIFUL CULTURAL PRINCIPAL INGREDIENT.
    FOOD and COOKING . . . . .
    And IN READING THIS BLOG . . .
    I PERSONALLY CANNOT IN ANYWAY, SHAPE or FORM CALL FOUL HERE . . . . .

    SO, BEING A STICKLER ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT PUERTO RICO is a LEGIMATE SOURCE IN IT’S OWN RIGHT ? . . I HAVE TO DISAGREE !

    A PLACE WHERE SPANISH IS THE DEFINITIVE NATIVE LANGUAGE, COULD BE A CLUE FOR THAT ARGUEMENT . . . .
    EVEN THE FACT THAT AN ANCIENT LANGUAGE, WHICH IS ALMOST EXTINCT NOW, YORUBAN, WAS SPOKEN THERE BEFORE THAT . . . .

    I BEG TO DIFFER WITH THE OPINIONS of silverlake bodhisattva . . .

    YOU HAVE TO RECOGNIZE THAT ALTHOUGH PUERTO RICO IS A COLONY of THE UNITED STATES . . . . AND UNDERSTAND, THAT A VERY DISTINCT and UNIQUE CULTURE HAS BEEN CONSUMED IN THAT WAY, BY THE UNITED STATES and NOW EXISTS, as what is call technically, A COMMENWEALTH . . . . .

    PUERTO RICO IS NOT LISTED AS THE 53RD STATE !

    HERE ARE SOME FUN FACTS ABOUT PUERTO RICO that may ENLIGHTEN YOU AND YOU MAY THEN CONSIDER and UNDERSTAND WHAT PUERTO RICO ACTUALLY IS: A COUNTRY LIKE CUBA . . . . . . .

    A Commonwealth: A territory associated with United States

    On July 25, 1898, during the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico was invaded by the United States with a landing at Guánica. As an outcome of the war, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, along with Cuba, the Philippines, and Guam to the U.S. under the Treaty of Paris.

    Puerto Rico has a republican form of government, subject to U.S. jurisdiction and sovereignty.
    Puerto Rico is represented in the United States Congress by a nonvoting delegate, formally called a Resident Commissioner.
    
Puerto Rico has been under U.S. sovereignty for over a century and Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917.
    In 1950, the U.S. Congress granted Puerto Ricans the right to organize a constitutional convention via a referendum. Puerto Ricans expressed their support for this measure in 1951 with a second referendum to ratify the constitution. The Constitution of Puerto Rico was formally adopted on July 3, 1952
    The nature of Puerto Rico’s political relationship with the U.S. is the subject of ongoing debate in Puerto Rico, the United States Congress, and the United Nations. In 2005 and 2007, two reports were issued by the U.S. President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status. Both reports conclude that Puerto Rico continues to be a territory of U.S. under the plenary powers of the U.S. Congress. Reactions from PR’s two major political parties were mixed.

    I GREW UP IN NEW YORK and WAS EDUCATED and ENLIGHTENED,
    BY MY MOTHER and FATHER, to a wonderful life of CULTURE based on their LIFE being born and raised in PUERTO RICO at the turn of the CENTURY . . . . .

    BOTTOM LINE . . . . . . THIS READER’S OPINION IS THAT PUERTO RICO IS VERY MUCH A COUNTRY BY IT’S OWN RIGHT, WHATEVER STATUS IS PUT ON PAPER . . . . . .

    MANY THANKS TO MANBITESWORLD FOR GIVING US A SAVORY NEW BLOG on PUERTO RICO . . . .
    I WISH I COULD GO HERE TO Señor Big Ed’s ALL THE TIME FOR A MOUTH WATERING MEAL !!!

    AND MANY THANKS FOR THE DEDICATION TO MY WONDERFUL MOTHER,
    VIRGINIA . . . . .
    AT 97 SHE CAN STILL WHIP UP A GOOD BATCH of PASTELILLOS . . . .

  7. ExileKiss · Dec 09, 11:57 AM

    Hi Noah,

    Great review. I’ve been eyeing this place for quite a while, and am glad to hear a good review of the place from a trusted source (as well as the stamp of approval from people more familiar with Puerto Rican cuisine than I am :). Can’t wait to try it out.