On Puerto Rico’s ‘pork highway,’ 4 stops for spit-roasted bliss

Leave it to our dear collaborator, Peter Jordens, to make us feel homesick! Anthony J. Rivera (Washington Post) waxes poetic about Guavate—in Cayey, Puerto Rico—now known as the Roasted Pork Route (La Ruta del Lechón). Read the full article for a review of four selected lechoneras: Lechonera Los Amigos, Lechonera El Mojito, Lechonera Los Pinos, and Lechonera El Rancho Original.

PUERTO RICO HIGHWAY 184 — The road to roast pork begins 30 minutes south of San Juan’s beaches. Paying the toll for Puerto Rico Highway 52 takes you deep into the interior of the island, past weathered houses, towering palms, bamboo forests and sprawls of banana trees.

Exit onto Route 184 near an area called Guavate, Cayey, and you will come upon La Ruta del Lechón, the “pork highway.”

Lechón is spit-roasted pig. When prepared properly, it is some of the juiciest, most flavorful meat on the planet. Pork lovers from all around the world have visited Guavate’s famous, open-air lechoneras.

Why is there so much roast pork along this road? Search for advice on YouTube, and you’ll hear travel gurus explain that these places were established to serve hungry locals driving from Ponce at the southern end of the island to the capital in the north — or vice versa.

Lechonera workers here say many of those commuters were actually in the region because of a penitentiary camp (now closed) just a few miles away. Food historian and professor Cruz Miguel Ortíz Cuadra, author of “Eating Puerto Rico: A History of Food, Culture and Identity,” says the lechoneras benefited from their proximity to the prison, which included a farm that raised hogs for surrounding communities. The local pork boasts a distinctly Puerto Rican taste because pigs on the island consume native fruits and vegetables.

Over time, Guavate became the capital of lechoneras.

“Probably it became a very important place to go as a frugal family,” Ortíz says. On holidays and special occasions, families would come for communal feasts of reasonably priced meat.

Small shacks equipped with little beyond a machete and a scale evolved into sprawling, well-maintained properties with bars and dance floors. As they grew, they held onto the food that made them so popular — and the jungle-style meat cleavers.

When Hurricane Fiona landed in September, it brought flash floods and mudslides while knocking out power to the entire island. Around Guavate, the downpour flooded the subtropical terrain and toppled trees. Most of Guavate’s routes have been cleared, residents say, and power has been restored to most of the population. The lechoneras seem to be back to full service, although some relied on generators to function for weeks after the storm.

On Highway 184, there are plenty of lechoneras worth a stop. You could simply follow the aroma of the rotisseries until you land at a place you like. On your first visit, though, you should consider one of the most popular. [. . . ]

For full review, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/tips/puerto-rico-pork-highway

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