I'll Have the Vaca Frita Please… Again
There are 2 types of people in this world:
those who insist they can’t have the same type of food 2 meals in a row, 2 days in a row, or even twice a week;
and those who can eat the same thing over and over, day after day.
If you’re in one camp, it’s hard to relate to the other. I am someone who can eat the same thing over and over– as long as it’s good. I eat the exact same breakfast 6 days a week; I am happy eating the same salad most days for lunch; and I love leftovers. I just don’t get it when I try to make dinner plans with friends who are in that other camp. It goes something like this:
Friend: Where should we go for dinner tomorrow?
Me: How about the taqueria?
Friend: Nah, I had Mexican yesterday.
Friend: No, I’m having sushi for dinner tonight.
I’ll never understand this. Maybe we should skip dinner.
Anyway, I had really high hopes for Puerto Rican cuisine, so when we happened upon Ropa Vieja our first night in town, the stars must have been aligned. Ropa Vieja is a Cuban restaurant in the Condado neighborhood. It’s not cheap, but when you consider the quantity of food they put on an entrée, it’s really not a bad deal. Excited for good Cuban food, and curious for some local Puerto Rican fare, we fused the 2 and ordered mofongo filled with ropa vieja.Mofongo is the typical Puerto Rican dish. It consists of fried, mashed plantains with garlic; and often times it is topped with meat, chicken, or shrimp. The mofongo was quite pleasant, with each bite tasting better and better. This pile of stewed shredded beef was so juicy and flavorful, it was the perfect match for the mofongo. It moistened the plantains, all the while preserving the authentic flavors without masking them with a heavy sauce.
Excited for all the delicious food that awaited us the next week, we finished the evening with high hopes. Then reality smacked us in the face with days of mediocre and mildly unsatisfying meals. In the spirit of things, we tried mofongo a few more times, each time hoping we’d strike gold like the first night. Always dry and disguised with sauces that tasted off, I’d had enough. I couldn’t resist the urge that was pulling me back to Ropa Vieja. I was determined to eat there as many times as I could the rest of my time in San Juan.
And that I did.
We returned to Ropa Vieja 3 of the 4 remaining nights. By now, tired of bad mofongo, I couldn’t eat it anymore. Instead I ate my favorite Cuban dish every night… vaca frita. Vaca frita is shredded flank steak that is boiled and then fried to leave a crispy layer of beef on the outside. It definitely ranks as one of my all time favorite meals. Mixed with sautéed onions, black beans, rice, and sweet fried plantains, it is the perfect marriage of flavors.
I even ate my leftover vaca frita for breakfast the last day, disappointed I missed out on this breakfast the other days. I never felt deprived or bored once eating my vaca frita. In fact, it was sheer bliss every time.
And I’d do it again and again and again if given the chance.