For every person I spoke with on an eating trip in Puerto Rico’s southern shore there were dozens of recipes I couldn’t even get to, like a place that serves sandwiches using flattened plantains as bread. There is one meal that nearly everyone recommended: Chuletas Can Can. These fried pork chops with the fat cap left on appear on a few menus near the town of Yauco, most famously at La Guardarray, a 50-year-old Meson that invented the dish to serve to visiting cockfighters. The old place is big now. They’ve expanded beyond the original room, adding several new open-air dining rooms and a stage for live music and dancing.
When my plate of chops arrived, a man at the next table saw my face. “I had to take a photo with my cell phone or no one else would believe me,” he said. The task ahead was daunting. I didn’t realize there would be so much meat. There were two crispy brown chops and combined they were the size of a watermelon. I won’t have to eat again for a week after this.
The bones were thick, but there was plenty of meat surrounding it. It was salty, crunchy, chewy, and tender all at once. When I got about halfway down, a woman on her way out the door says, “Por este parte es necssario para comer con tus manos. Na hay otra forma.” In other words, I had to get my hands dirty to get all of the meat off of the bone.
Setting: In a 50-year-old building on the outskirts of Yauco.
Cuisine: Traditional Puerto Rican.
Recommendations:Can-Can Pork chops, a fried pork chop with the fat cap on with a side of tostones. Follow with Mama Amparo’s vanilla flan.
Prices: Main courses from$9.
Contact: 787-856-4222; www.laguardarraya.com.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.