Pasteles, a Puerto Rican Tradition, Have a Special Savor Now

Pastel-making is fraught with time-consuming duties, the toughest being the making of the banana-and-plantain masa. Equally taxing is the layering of components — masa; both meat, seafood or greens; and Spanish-style extras like olives, raisins or chickpeas — onto sheets of banana leaf and parchment paper. Those are all folded into rectangular little packages and tied up, two at a time, into a pair of pasteles that everybody calls “la yunta.” (And earlier than anybody can take a chunk, every pastel should be boiled for an hour.)

“They are a pain in the balloons,” stated Hernan Rodriguez, 52, who was born in Puerto Rico and has lived in New York City since 1987. His spouse, the meals author Kathleen Squires, has written lovingly about his household’s vacation pastelada, or pastel-making social gathering, in Puerto Rico. Mr. Rodriguez, who hosts a New York supper membership referred to as Chef’s Dinner Series, stated a lot of his family members attend with a drink in hand, “grating until they get bored.”


Lilly Ramos arms out pasteles to employees restoring energy in Puerto Rico. The pasteles have been made as a part of a challenge by Hernan Rodriguez and his spouse, the meals author Kathleen Squires.

Erika P. Rodriguez for The New York Times

But this 12 months, everybody should pitch in. The plan, Ms. Squires stated, is to make as many pasteles as potential “from whatever we can find” at a cousin’s home close to San Juan, then give them out to volunteer aid employees and hard-hit communities.

Even whenever you use a meals processor to grate and purée the masa and freeze it upfront (wishful considering for these with out energy in Puerto Rico), it’s nonetheless “a marathon,” stated Angel Roman, 61, a deputy press secretary for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. In his spare time, he promotes the meals, music and artwork of the Puerto Rican diaspora.

Mr. Roman, a second-generation Nuyorican, just lately shot video of his sister-in-law Lucy Ramirez as she made pasteles, in order to go what he fears are quickly disappearing abilities on to the household’s youthful members. “Now people say, ‘I want pasteles,’ and they find these entrepreneurs,” Mr. Roman stated. “People hand out cards, or they say, ‘Hey, call Doña Maria.’”

Lucy Ramirez makes coquito, a vacation drink to go along with pasteles, at her condominium on the Lower East Side.

Hilary Swift for The New York Times

In New York, you would additionally discover your pastel maker on Yelp — there’s Cater2u within the Bronx, Pasteles Cristina in Queens — or at groceries just like the 76-year-old Moore Street Market in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the place generations of Puerto Ricans have shopped for ajicito chiles, the saw-toothed herb referred to as culantro and today, pre-grated masa.

A handful of its distributors, like La Union, promote pasteles year-round, however throughout the holidays even the market’s religious-supply store makes them to order. In the basement, Jesus Rodriguez works double-time constructing handmade machines from washing-machine motors that permit semiprofessional pastel makers to grate a field of bananas at a time. And throughout the road on the 49-year-old Anibal Meat Market, pastel makers like Maria Garcia cease in to purchase hen and pork for the filling.

Ms. Garcia, 70, expenses $25 a dozen and has been promoting pasteles for 35 years. She makes most of her gross sales via her son, who places up a handwritten advert at his barbershop within the Greenpoint part of Brooklyn.

Jesus Rodriguez makes use of a handmade machine to purée inexperienced bananas for the pasteles that he sells at his stand within the Moore Street Market in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Most years, related scenes could be taking part in out throughout Puerto Rico, stated Melissa Fuster, 37, a professor of public well being diet at Brooklyn College who’s initially from San Juan, and sometimes writes about Puerto Rican meals tradition.

Though many supermarkets on the island are nonetheless empty, she stated, pasteles have lengthy been improvised with what’s at hand, leading to variations made with solely yuca, with none filling, or with rice as an alternative of masa.

“In difficult times, one thing that defines us is that we keep positive,” Ms. Fuster stated. “I wouldn’t be surprised if people found a way to make pasteles.”

Lucy Ramirez pulls pasteles out of a pot in her kitchen on the Lower East Side.

Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Suset Laboy Perez, 36, a Puerto Rican native who runs a Brooklyn public relations agency along with her sister, Maria, worries much less about pasteles this 12 months than concerning the hundreds of Puerto Ricans leaving the island, and the ensuing losses to their tradition.

Still, she stated, she by no means made pasteles herself till years after she moved to the United States, holding her personal pastel-making social gathering as a method to join with residence.

“There will be more pasteladas,” Ms. Laboy Perez predicted. “We need them now more than ever.”

Recipe: Puerto Rican Pasteles

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Correction: December three, 2017

An earlier model of this text misspelled the phrase many Puerto Ricans use to explain a pair of pasteles. It is la yunta, not la junta.

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