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A Borinquen Soul Summmer…

Updated: Jan 26, 2017 10:55
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If you think you’ve met a Puerto Rican, you haven’t. You’d never have to question it, because where there is a PR…there will be the flag. Even if the car is a rental, there will be a temporary flag on the rear-view mirror. Few West Coast residents understand Puerto Ricans or the culture. They don’t understand our insane loyalty to our families, even when members have been stabbed by each other. They don’t understand our Spanglish capabilities, our slang words (lunché), our commonwealth status that makes us citizens, but not able to vote for the Presidency. They don’t understand the urge in our brain to uncontrollably shout out “wepa” whenever we hear the beginnings of the clave. I doubt we understand it all either.

As I climbed the academic ladder passed my great-grandmother, my nana and my mother,there came an expectancy to leave the barrio behind. In order to not offend my acquaintances and friends during their every waking moment, I’ve had to control the head rolling, the animated hand gestures while telling a story, and cursing out the random stranger that stepped on my kicks. I FEEL (it’s important to start the sentence with “I feel”) like in many ways I’ve completely homogenized myself. I feel bland. The way I always wanted to feel when I was a kid.

While many of my friends escaped the grips of their parents during the summer and headed for the water park, unlimited access pass in hand, I was reluctantly helping my mom and nana pack for our annual Boriquen trip. The trip where I listened to a dialect spoken faster than I recalled coming from my mother, where I sat on the porch and chewed on raw sugar cane while I watched a 300-pound Hector eat aguacate, mango, bananas and anything else in his path. I ate rice and beans and chicken stewed in bell peppers, onion, garlic, achiote and culantro. I listened to salsa music while I was forced to clean the kitchen after the family consumed their soda crackers from an emerald green tin and cafe con leche. My summer was dominated by Hector, my titi’s boar, guisada in sofrito and Hector Lavoe. I hated all of it.

These days during the summer, I grow incredibly achy for the music, food, dominoes and fast-speak of my Taino descendants. Coincidentally, the BorinquenSoul – Boriquen being the indigenous name of Puerto Rico – food truck tweeted during an incredibly achy episode, 30-minutes before descending upon Lake Merritt. It wasn’t entirely surprising to me that I could spot the truck from the other side of the lake by the big ass Puerto Rican flag wrap on the truck.

$15 for a pastel, arroz con gandules, platanos and a Goya pineapple soda. It’s a hefty price, but I know what a pain in the ass pasteles are to make, I didn’t mind.


The pastele (essetially a Puerto Rican tamale) masa, a combination of guineo, platano, yautia and potato, was firm and silky. The meat inside, tender. It was wrapped in a banana leaf that imparted a subtle grassy and umami flavor. Unfortunately, the the little gandules in the rice had turned ashy. The real jewels were the Platanos Maduros. Cut into relatively thick and meaty pieces, sweet and earthy and crackling crisp around the edges. I doubt I have had them this good. My companion asked me why there were packets of ketchup that came with our plate, and I told him that some people eat ketchup on their pasteles, which is sacrilege. You know how many hours go into making pasteles? Anyway…

Today, when acquaintances and friends ask me about what Puerto Rico is going to be like on their honeymoon, I generally respond with the same answer, “Hot!” I haven’t gone back to my mother’s motherland in eight-years, since my grandfather died and my familia sold off our legacy. I’m hoping that when I finally do return, as an adult, I’ll throw myself backwards into the ocean like Miguel Piñero reportedly did and reconnect with my obvious affection for the isla del encanto.

And while I’m not crazy about the food at the truck, that won’t stop me from representing and passing the word along. It didn’t stop me from almost round-housing a passerby that told his friend, “Yeah, it’s a Cuban food truck and it’s horrendous.” To which I replied, “It’s actually Puerto Rican and it was probably horrendous because you expected Cuban food.”

That moment gave me back hope that I haven’t entirely left my head rolling days in the past. It gave me back parts of my summer. It wasn’t an entirely Borinquen summer, but at least it still had the soul.


BorinquenSoul Food Truck
[Greater Bay Area]
(925) 330-9251



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  1. September 4, 2013 at 10:07 am

    As owner and operator of Borinquen soul food truck I wanted to reply to your review of our Puerto Rican food truck. First allow me to give you a quick background of myself. First I was born in Puerto Rico and raised in NYC, both my parents are Puerto Rican and I have lived and worked in Puerto Rico as well. I was a bit taken back by your review because some of the information you stated in the article was a bit confusing and inaccurate. You claim to be very much connected to the Puerto Rican culture and heritage yet some of the comments mentioned in the article make me believe otherwise. One thing that jumped out at me was that you thought we included the Ketchup in your meal for the sweet plantains as our sub for Mayo/ketchup?? As a Puerto Rican you should be aware that we do not apply any dip, ketchup or any other sauce for our sweet plantains period. In fact as most Puerto Ricans are aware, the Ketchup we provided was for the Pastele, this is a traditional way of eating a Pastele yet you did not even mention that as one of your options for the Ketchup. You instead thought we gave you the ketchup instead of Mayo-Ketchup! Furthermore Mayo/Ketchup is never used for sweet plantains but instead for tostones(which we do have) so Im confused why you would think we would provide Ketchup for sweet plantains. Once you partner asked you WHY we provided the ketchup your answer easily should have been it is for the pastele. That oversight or lack of knowledge of such a traditional custom makes me question your true knowledge of our food and deep culture. It is one thing to claim to be Puerto Rican and another to claim to know about our food yet you were not able to understand the basic way of eating a Pastele. You went into detail in your blog about your background and how you are qualified to make comments about our food yet you do not know how to prepare a well fried sweet plantain? I find that very interesting. I understand everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I find reviews more credible when the writer actually has some experience with the food there are critiquing as opposed to baseless statements. I consider myself to be a very proud Puerto Rican and one who actually has some true roots when it comes to my culture and business and I felt I needed to address the discrepancies in your review. Oh and finally that combo is $12 not $15 and the word is spelled Wepa not Quepa!

    Thank you

    • illyannam
      September 6, 2013 at 9:10 pm

      Hello Christopher,

      I appreciate your response and constructive criticism. I completely agree that I was mistaken on why the ketchup packets were included, hence the reason I put “suppose” in the same sentence. This usually implies uncertainty. However, you’re right…I have never eaten ketchup with a pastele. Because not applying a dip to bananas and applying ketchup to a pastele (which is essentially made from bananas) makes complete sense. I’ve only eaten a restaurant pastele twice, it always comes from my family’s kitchen. And they have never, not even in Vega Baja or Manati, offered me ketchup. Apparently, that is our own ignorance.

      I’m also sorry that you felt attacked, but that wasn’t the intention. I didn’t say the combo was $12, I said the combo + Pineapple soda was $15 and that statement is true. Is it not? I praise your efforts and your superior execution on the platanos maduros and pasteles. One does not need to know how to properly cook something in order to enjoy it. And enjoy yours I did, immensely. However, I still can’t deny that dry ass rice. I’m also very sorry that I misspelled Guepa, when it should have been Wepa. Thank you for the enlightenment. I will swiftly change that in the article and alert readers that I have thusly been schooled by the owners of this truck. Indeed, I will be sure to let everyone know.

      Thanks again and hope to eat at your truck again!

  2. […] on 2013/09/04 at 10:07 am As owner and operator of Borinquen soul food truck I wanted to reply to your review of our Puerto […]