Chef prepares 'true Puerto Rican fare' at Mercado
In mid-February, the only Puerto Rican food cart in Oregon – "EL COQUÍ!" – opened at the Portland Mercado, in the Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood, on S.E. Foster Road.
"'El Coquí' is named for a chirping frog found across Puerto Rico – a cultural symbol for the island," grinned chef/owner Anthony "Tony" Banegas, as he prepared food for a catering assignment. "Our food comes from Afro-Caribbean roots, Spanish roots, and also the native tribe of Taino from Puerto Rico."
It's a misconception that Puerto Rican food is very spicy, the chef said; "Unlike other Latino dishes, we cook more with garlic and culantro – it's similar to cilantro, but is less spicy, and brings full, rich flavor."
He began making an order of the island nation's most famous dish, called "Mofongo", for a customer. He fried green plantains – then smashed them in a mortar and pestle, adding butter, garlic, salt, and pork (vegetables or chicken can be substituted for pork) before finishing it with chicken broth.
"I also use vegetable broth, as a vegetarian option," Banegas said. "What I love is that Puerto Rican food has many vegan, gluten-free, and vegetarian options, without sacrificing the taste of our traditional recipes."
El Coquí also features traditional Puerto Rican small dishes like pinchos (skewers), empanadillas (meat and/or vegetable filled turnovers), and bacalaitos (fried codfish fritters).
You'll find Chef Banegas cooking in the green food cart at the Portland Mercado, 7238 S.E. Foster Road.