Of Pork, and Pitorro

The skies darkened as we left San Juan. With crippling hangovers, we held the hope of pork before us — pork, that magical meaty cure, that salty warm bite, that crave-worthy combo of grease and protein that could surely transform our alcohol-induced woes into a thing of the past.

We had a date with Guavate, the pork capital of Puerto Rico.

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Even Anthony Bourdain made this sacred trek from San Juan, down highway 52, and then onto PR-184, also known as the pork highway:

After the city’s bustle waned, we entered Guavate, a mountainous and lush region famous for its lechón, or roast pig. The idea is to cruise along the main road where lines of smoky, open-air lechoneras beckon. On Sundays, throngs of locals come out for merrymaking, Medalla Light, and dancing. While it’s almost impossible to choose which lechonera to dine in, we took a stab at Lechonera El Mojito, glowing like a beacon of hope, with its three kings.

IMG_5765I speak Spanish, but I couldn’t identify anything other than lechón, salchicha, arróz, and maduros. Foods were displayed in simmering metal squares, cafeteria-style, and I pointed out what we’d be trying — a little of everything. When in Guavate, after all.

IMG_5777IMG_5778IMG_5776Talk about cheap, delicious, and filling. Oh, and healing, too. After gulping such delicious grease down with a Coca-Cola, the hangover began to taper off. Just take a look at that crispy chicharrón and tell me that’s not a miracle.

IMG_5782After, we decided to hit up the store next door, Mi Ricon Salsero. Dedicated entirely to salsa artists, you can buy towels, t-shirts, jewelry, virtually anything emblazoned with the mugs of famous salsa stars. Did I know who any of them were? Absolutely not. But this store was by far the most charming I’ve ever been to. The prices weren’t the lowest, and I definitely need up up my ante when it comes to Spanish haggling, but who could resist this portrait of hip Jesus?

IMG_5788A towel and a neon green “Soy Salsera” t-shirt later, we were ready to head back to San Juan.

Not so fast.

Señorita! Señorita!” shouted the owner of Mi Ricon Salsero.

We stopped in the parking lot and watched as he popped the trunk of his car and emerged holding a coconut … with a spigot.

Shotglass in one hand, he poured for me what’s known as pitorro, or moonshine, illegal in Puerto Rico and sketchy coming from a stranger — so of course I had to have it.

IMG_5795 And it was truly delicious. I had seconds, even thirds, until the man forked over the whole coconut.

IMG_5794Some magic can only happen in Puerto Rico, I guess.

Like that, my hangover was finally gone.