Food and Drink

The Best Snacks and Drinks to Buy at a Puerto Rican Grocery Store

From limbers de coco to oozy empanadillas to cakey doughnuts.

Design by Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist
Design by Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist
Design by Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist

It was the ’90s in Northern California and my cousins and I would get our snacks from the “candy house” in my grandma’s apartment complex. Over the years, there were several candy houses throughout the complex, one designated for the folks who lived in the front, in the back, and in the back-back. (You didn’t wanna go to the back-back.) They were usually run by a housewife, who would also sell hot food from what she was already making for dinner-French fries, tamales, tacos, enchiladas. The candy house behind my nana’s townhouse had a kitchen window you could walk right up to. Here is where you placed an order for your chips, candy, or cinnamon-laced coconut milk.

Even my grandma would partake in the consumption of a frozen coconut milk in a cup because something similar exists in Puerto Rico, except it’s called a limber de coco. Limbers can be found all over the island: in shops, at kiosks, on push carts, and, of course, out of people’s houses. Puerto Ricans also spend their weekend at the chinchorro, or little snack shacks all over the island, mostly on/near the beaches, which provide hot snacks and the coldest beers. You can lie in the sun all day, your feet planted in the sand and ocean, and someone will come by and ensure that you have an empanadilla fresh out of the fryer in one hand and an icy Medalla in the other.

Even if you can’t quite make it to the beaches of Puerto Rico, you can still enjoy some of the country’s most beloved snacks and treats-from the limber de coco to weird unsweet bricks of sesame seeds to the iconic fritters of beachside kiosks.

Our favourite Puerto Rican snacks and drinks

Limbers are frozen beverages in a cup. Actually, there are two types of limbers, the kind that comes in a cup and the kind that comes in a little plastic baggie (teta). Lore goes that the treat is named after the 1928 landing of pilot Charles A. Lindbergh, since he was greeted with this frozen concoction, which came to be called limber after the mispronouncing of the pilot’s name. Squeeze the cup to loosen the frozen block, turn the block upside down, and now the block is protruding for maximum consumption. Limber de coco has to be the most popular flavour; the coconut milk has a rich and smooth mouthfeel and the cinnamon gives a nice warming touch.

In typical Spanglish innovation, Piragua is a portmanteau of pirámide (pyramid) and agua (water), hence pyramid-shaped snow cones. The iconic piragüero-usually with a brightly coloured push cart-has jingled his bells all across the island and through the Nuyorican diaspora. The frozen treat is made of shaved ice, flavoured syrup, and shaped into a pyramid. Flying pieces of ice gently cool your face while the ice is scraped from the block with a manual ice block shaver. The shaved ice goes into a cup, the syrup goes on the shaved ice, and the cup goes into your hand. The syrup flavours can vary from cart to cart, with some vendors making their own homemade flavours, like cherry, bubblegum, guava, passionfruit, and mango.

Mampostial (also known as marrallo)
An old-fashioned classic stove top confection that starts with the base recipe of shredded coconut, vanilla, and various types of sugar (brown, granulated, date, and melao). From there, people will sometimes add nuts, seeds, dried fruit, or citrus zest. You can often find this soft and sugary delight alongside dulce de coco at many roadside stands in Puerto Rico or in pre-packaged, bite-size pieces at supermarkets.

Donas aymat
Founded in 1970, this is Puerto Rico’s answer to Hostess. These processed doughnuts are made in the early mornings every weekday so that they are as fresh as can be when they reach your hands. They’re boxed at the Hato Rey factory and sold by street vendours on corners and traffic lights all throughout Puerto Rico. These yeasted doughnuts are cakey, soft, and have a glaze on top that leaves a sugary residue on your fingers and only come in one flavour: hint of vanilla.

Without question, these little cookies arrive on your abuela’s breakfast table. And for most Puerto Ricans, breakfast consists of an interchangeable rotation of cafe con leche, cheese, crackers, and French bread with butter. Florecitas are a tiny rich tea cookie, similar to Maria cookie, topped with white, yellow, and pink royal icing. The cookie is thin, dry, and slightly sweet, aka the perfect pairing with a hot cup of coffee. The most recognizable brand is Royal Borinquen (now known as the Borinquen Biscuit Corp), which is based out of Yauco, Puerto Rico. This is the same company that sells another iconic Puerto Rican snack, green tinned export soda crackers. After all of the cookies (and crackers) have been consumed, the tins are also used for storing sewing materials and everything else but freakin’ cookies and crackers-frustrating children all over the diaspora!

These are one of the many snacks you’ll find at one of the many beachside kiosks. These rockets of pure joy are made out of a dough of grated green bananas and yautia. They’re stuffed with a variety of fillings from stewed pork, picadillo (ground beef), or seasoned crab and then deep fried until a corn dog consistency. It’s a similar masa to pasteles-a boiled dumpling and one of Puerto Rico’s oldest recipes. It’s crunchy and rich and satisfying.

These are also known around the world as empanadas. More recently, these hand pies have seen an uptick on a more millennial-friendly filling…pizza. Oozy cheese, marinara sauce, and pepperoni stuffed into a pie dough until the crescent-shaped pastry arises from its fry-o-lator throne in golden brown perfection. If they have a rope seal, they’re called empanadillas. If they have a fork tine seal, they’re called pastelillos. And if they’re sealed in a quad-fold method like an envelope, they’re called a taco. People, I don’t make the rules.

Dulce de Ajonjoli
These were my grandma’s favourite candy and she always had these sesame seed sweets around. I say candy loosely since these aren’t even sweet. The combination of sesame seeds and sugar is as old as the world. Sesame seeds are also known as Bene, and it wouldn’t be completely farfetched to assume sesame seeds arrived in Puerto Rico with enslaved Africans. The intense nutty flavour of the seeds totally offsets the sugar in a confection that’s best suited for sophisticated palettes…or famished children.

Little lollipops called piloes are made of pure sugar, red food coloring, and sometimes have a slight anise flavour. They also mysteriously sometimes have sesame seeds floating inside the lollipop. I don’t know what the seeds are about. For some reason, I have only seen them in a red color, but I heard they also come in green, yellow, and orange.

Mostly reserved for bakeries, you won’t find these pastries all over the island. A puff pastry commonly filled with guava paste and cream cheese, quesitos are folded over the filling to create a “hugging rectangle” where bits of the filling are exposed and left to caramelize and melt in the oven. They’re often topped with confectioner’s sugar. A similar pastry is called a pastelillo de guayaba, where the puff pastry is cut into a square, filled with cream cheese and guava paste and another puff pastry layer goes on top. The interior melds together creating a sticky goo that is horrifically dangerous when piping hot, but angelic when still warm.

Where to shop for Puerto Rican products

Puerto Rican ingredients can be hard to come by, especially if you live on the West Coast. The good news is that Mexican and Southeast Asian markets seem to be readily available these days and carry a lot of products from all over Latin-America.

Red Star International is in my hometown of Sacramento, California, and specializes in ingredients from the Caribbean and Oceania. Opened by Robert Gim Wong in the 1970s, his son Kaiton took over the business in the 1990s. It’s a cozy store reminiscent of a bodega, but it’s packed with the goods you need.

Then there’s Fiesta Mart, which has more than 60 stores open in the Houston, Austin, and Dallas-Fort Worth markets, serving customers from more than 90 countries of origin.

Bravo Supermarkets have more than 70 locations that span from New York all the way down to Florida. All the stores are independently owned, which allows them to cater to the surrounding communities.

Founded in 1981, Cardenas has one of the widest varieties of products with 54 locations throughout California, Las Vegas, and Arizona. They sell fruits and vegetables from the United States, Mexico, Central, and South America.

And as always, there are the online stores that some Diasporicans swear by, including Antojo Boricua and Alcor Foods. The latter ships its pre-made alcapurria masa to the United States. You can fill it with your choice of meat. And since it contains no animal products, vegans can just form and fry the masa for an equally spectacular experience.

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illyanna Maisonet is the first Puerto Rican food columnist in the country. She’s a writer and a classically trained cook that highlights the gastronomy of the Puerto Rican diaspora. She is currently working on her debut cookbook, Diasporican, with Ten Speed Press.

Food and Drink

Red Rooster Is Serving Free Chicken and Piping Hot Cash This Christmas in July

Get your early dose of festive cheer.

Red Rooster Christmas in July
Instagram / @redrooster_au

The cold weather in most parts of Australia coinciding with EOFY celebrations is the closest thing that we’ll get to snowy Christmas vibes. And if you’re in dire need of some festive cheer after the first six months of 2023, grab your ugly sweater and head to your nearest Red Rooster for Xmas in July deals.

From June 29 – July 31, 2023, Red Rooster is serving up free food items, a chance to win $10,000 or one of 10 merch packs valued at $400 and other fun prizes. All you have to do is sign up as a Red Royalty member and spend $5 on at a location near you or online.

Each week there’ll be new delicious deals and prizes to win. The week one deals have already dropped and they’re looking pretty tasty. You can get access to them via your Red Royalty account. The more you purchase, the more chances you have to win.

Spoiler alert: you can get 10 chicken nuggets for free, right now. Brb running to Red Rooster.

Terms and conditions apply. Visit Red Rooster’s Christmas in July to see all the deals.


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