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Stay in Puerto Rico long enough, and you’ll come to either love or hate mofongo, the celebrated national dish that appears on almost every menu on the island. Made from fried plantains mashed with garlic and olive oil, the origins of mofongo are hazy (it’s also popular in Cuba and the Dominican Republic), but most experts think it was influenced primarily by the island’s African traditions. Puerto Ricans are addicted to the stuff but, because it can be time-consuming and hard to make, tend to eat it in restaurants rather than at home. After an initial taste, most foreign tourists tend to avoid mofongo, put off by its heavy, starchy base, but the secret is to know where to go: not all mofongo is made equal, and variations differ wildly from place to place. Mofongo can be served plain, shaped into balls as a side dish for fried meat, or stuffed (mofongo relleno) with pork, chicken or seafood such as shrimp, octopus or lobster. The mashed and fried base can vary, made with savoury green plantains or sweet bananas, while cooks tend to have their own interpretation of how to present the various components: some simply stuff the meat inside while others fill the plantain base like a giant bowl. Vegetarians should check before ordering plain mofongo, as traditionally the plantains are also mashed with pork crackling.

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