I don’t eat meat, but sometimes I do give in and eat crap. In Puerto Rico, as my sister and I drove our rental car through the winding streets that would led us up to El Yunque National Forest, it dawned on me that I was starving, and that our dining options would be severely limited in the rainforest. And then I saw it—a gas station advertising pizza, and I thought, who knows, maybe they’ll have a slice of cheese?
My sister, less thrilled with that option, informed me that she would be holding out for something better. I doubted any such thing would come along. But somehow, she convinced me to go past the gas station and forget all about the greasy pizza.
A Vegetarian Option? Really?
And I’m glad she did. Only a few hundred yards away we spotted something we never expected to see, not only outside of a rainforest, but in Puerto Rico in general: a rustic sign with the words “Vegetarian Cuisine” playfully scrawled on it.
Not just “food,” not just “options,” but “cuisine.” We had no idea what that meant specifically, but it sounded delicious.
It was pouring when we got out of the car. A few stray puppies huddled together under an awning, unconcerned with us and our pursuit of leafy greens. We parked by the sign and scrambled under the downpour up to the gate, and then through a path that led us past the open-air kitchen, a modest
operation that seemed to overflow with pots and pans, fruit and earthy fragrances.
Great Food, Fantastic Scenery
The restaurant is called “Roots and Fruits,” as I learned later. The woman attending to us, an American with long dreadlocks, told us what they were serving that day: lentils stew, cabbage and rice. We took a seat on the small patio only after the owner politely and patiently asked her cat to get up from one of the chairs so we could take a seat. The rain beat down hard in their lush, overgrown, tropical gardens. The woman swept the puddles of rainwater off the patio with a broom, taking long, easy strokes, asking us questions about our trip and about where we were from.It was all just a little too charming, magical, serendipitous. There were two table sets on the patio, and we were the only guests. The raindrops delivered soft whispered plops as they fell on oversized, droopy leaves. Whimsical, somewhat odd artwork hung everywhere, and the back part of the property, visible from the patio, seemed cozy, overgrown and mysterious. I wondered how far back their property went, and what they had growing there, and whether we would be eating any of it in our cuisine.
We were more than ready for our food when our plates came. The lentil stew surprised us with its bold curry flavor, and the rice was livened up with salty green olives and the perfect amount of spice. My favorite was the boiled purple cabbage, washed down with a cup of iced ginger tea. Our plates were big and we finished fast.
Even if I forget the flavors I experienced that day, I won’t forget what a pleasant surprise it was to find exactly what we needed exactly when we needed it, right outside of a rainforest in Puerto Rico.
Roots and Fruits Juice Bar
16 Calle Principal, Palmer, Puerto Rico, Caribbean