We arranged for our winter vacation in San Juan, Puerto Rico, last December just few weeks before we left cold Washington, DC. The decision to visit the subtropical island for the first time was about a yearning for a change of scenery and weather. I was also hoping to explore the local cuisine, about which I did not know much.
The first morning there, I entered the Starbucks in the hotel’s lobby not expecting much more than the usual fair of pastries and munchies displayed in every Starbucks’ case in the mainland. I definitely did not expect Starbucks to introduce me to a local treat.
The tubular puff pastry caught my eye as I was inching my way down the long line of tourists who, like me, escaped the cold and now were looking for a shot of java and a bite to shake the remnants of sleep so they could face another glorious day in the sun. Quesitos (kay-SEE-toes), I deciphered the sign.
I do not speak Spanish, but it seemed to hint at cheese. In answer to my question, the local server proudly explained that the cheese-filled puff pastry is a traditional Puerto Rican treat. “Very popular,” she said.
Not usually one to pass on traditional or local food, I nevertheless asked for bagel and cream cheese. I like my breakfast savory, not sweet. In fact I like my breakfast so much that, at home, I eat the same thing everyday—a slice of spelt bread, avocado, goat cheese and cherry tomatoes with hot green tea spiked with ginger powder. If I run out of avocado, I have olives instead. It’s nutritious and delicious, so why mess with a good thing even if it sounds boring or uninspired.
I did not like the Starbucks bagel. It was too big and lacked flavor to my taste. I guess “it’s the water.” The next morning, the quesitos again beckoned me, but still I resisted. On the third morning, I relented. I recalled reading how the French have it right eating sweet pastry for breakfast. It is apparently a good energy boost for the brain in the morning.
My twelve-year-old encouraged me to try it, so he could have a bite. With a knowing air about him, the American tourist in front of me assured me it was really good. “But it may not be good for you,” he added with a smirk. “That’s why I resisted so far,” I retorted. I ordered the quesitos and green tea.
When I asked for the quesito to be warmed up, the server raised her eyebrow. It seemed a bit wilted, and I thought some warmth would do it good. It had to be an untraditional preparation because when I opened the bag, the quesitos was cold. I sent it back.
It was worth the wait for the flaky puff pastry, sticky with syrup, wrapping itself around vanilla-scented cream cheese. It was delicious and yet not too sweet, reminding me of my cheese babka only without the citrus flavor. My son took a bite and declared he was going to order it the next morning. And he did every morning thereafter.
Back home, New Year’s morning was cold, but my kitchen was warm with the aroma of cheese-filled puff pastry baking in my oven. Having my fresh quesitos and hot green tea for breakfast at home took me back to the sunny morning when I savored a sweet surprise in a hotel’s Starbucks.