[EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally contained an incorrect phone number for contacting Da Puerto Rican Food Truck. It has been corrected in the text below]
When Mauians think of Puerto Rican food, they tend to gravitate towards the pastele. You seen them sold on the side of the road. You many not even know what a pastele is or that it’s even Puerto Rican food, but the name is very familiar.
Jose and Amanda Antonmattei, with the help of their The Puerto Rican Food Truck (@DaPRFT), are changing that. They’re introducing foods like empanadillas, pastelon de amarillo, tostones, sofrito and papa rellenos into island’s vernacular.
The Twitter foodie flock first found the Puerto Rican Food Truck in Kahului, over near Ace Hardware. Amanda says they thought Twitter and Facebook would be a great way to get the word out about their food. Undeterred by views of hubcaps, we threw down beach chairs and blankets on a slice of nearby grass and dug in.
Foodie Elena Rego (@ElenaRego) was our unofficial guide. According to her, Puerto Rican food is close in tradition to Cuban food, where she has roots (check her food blog out at http://foodpractice.com/). Rego says pork is very important to the cuisine, as is the ever prominent plantain. Several variations of rice and beans are served in just about every dish from the truck.
Jose is the perfect ambassador for Puerto Rican food, recreating his mother and grandmother’s dishes for us but also not afraid to take risks by tweaking recipes to his Maui taste. One of those risks that’s paying off is his gandule rice ball.
“If you made these in Puerto Rico, nobody would get this,” says Jose. “But here, rice balls are already a well-known food. We experimented and made this big pot of gandule rice but it didn’t come out the way we anticipated. I didn’t want to throw it out so I came up with this. We stuffed it with cheese, rolled it in breading and deep-fried it. I can sell these all day long.”
Puerto Rican cuisine is well known for its deep-fried bites. The empanadilla is a rich pork pie, deep-fried on the spot and served with a pink garlic aioli that Jose says to “dip often.” The swine inside the thin and crispy dough is juicy though, and you don’t need the dip to lubricate, but the flavors are addicting anyway. The tostones (fried plantains), papa rellena (fried potato ball stuffed with beef) are more examples of Puerto Rico’s habit-forming foods.
The El Cubano is a sandwich stuffed with seasoned, roasted pulled pork called boricua, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard and then served on a white roll that’s crisped and pressed on the outside. Rego was considering dropping her gluten-free status for bite of this extremely popular Cuban dish. The sandwich is a great example of the multitude of layers of Puerto Rican cuisine in which Taino, Spanish, Caribbean, African and American influences converge in flavor and texture.
Another traditional fusion dish is the Pastelon de Amarillos. Consider it lasagna, Puerto Rican-style. At the Puerto Rican Food Truck, plantains from Kula produce are fried to provide the sweet side of the dish. The plantains are sliced into diagonal ovals, and remind me of Japanese eggplant, but with a completely different taste and firmer texture. Then the plantains are layered with @DAPRFT’s picadillo, seasoned ground beef and Jack cheese, forming into a gluten-free Puerto Rican lasagna.
The Antonmatteis do their best to supply vegetarian cuisine, too: they offer Empanadillas made with rice and beans, green salads, plantains with the arroz con habichuelas coloredas, rice with sofrito herbs and kidney beans. If you don’t see something on the menu, just ask Jose, as he’s always willing to go the extra mile for customers.
Da Puerto Rican Food truck throws down all over the island (and caters, too) but they seem to have settled into a regular gig at the Long’s in Kula. You can find them there Sunday and Monday for Lunch, and Thursday and Friday for lunch and dinner. There’s a spot of grass there to bring a chair and take in your meal, or you can get it to go. To find out where they are at any given moment you can message them via twitter @DaPRFT, checking their facebook page, calling 808-250-9402, or visit the website at dapuertoricanfoodtruck.com.