Field Trip: Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

August 29, 2014 § 4 Comments

Sometimes you just gotta bail… hit the road… get outta Dodge. Take a vay-cay-shun. I love my little corner of the 650, but it’s good to travel and see the rest of the world from time to time. I’d been fantasizing about a trip to Puerto Rico — especially Old San Juan —  since the beginning of the year, and I finally managed to squeeze in a getaway.

One of the narrow callejons off Calle San Francisco, Old San Juan

One of the narrow callejóns off Calle San Francisco, Old San Juan

Given that I spend most of my waking moments thinking, reading, and writing about (what else?) food and drink, exploring local restaurants was definitely at the top of my “must do’s” for Old San Juan! But aside from a thriving food scene with a variety of top-notch restaurants, Old San Juan is packed full of history, culture, and romantic charm! There are museums, national landmarks, and narrow cobblestone streets to explore. The pace is slow (year-round temps of 85ºF and high humidity help with the slowing down), and the everyone I met was friendly.

I am crushing hard on Old San Juan; it’s a gorgeous city with so much to see and experience. To me, the old city is a mashup of French Quarter meets Caribbean, with plenty of Latin influence thrown in. Yet, there are surprises everywhere: a block of Art Deco buildings here, and good ol’ USA commerce — Walgreens and fast food — over there.

There’s history on every block of Old San Juan, so walking is the best way to see the old city. Keep an eye out for plaques, affixed to just about every other building, for even more historical information. (I now know where the first Piña Colada was created!) Yes, the text is in Spanish, but you’ll be able to get the gist, even if you don’t speak the language.

Colorful buildings on the road to the government house, Old San Juan

Colorful buildings on the road to the government house, Old San Juan

My days were spent walking the old city, visiting national historic sites,  such as the Museo de Casa Blanca (home of the Ponce de León family for 250 years) and Castillo San Felipe del Morro (huge, multi-level “castle” that has guarded the city’s entrance for more than 400 years). As each day’s sightseeing wound down, I’d head to the Calle Fortelezza – Calle Tetuan area for a happy-hour cocktail and bar snacks before deciding on dinner. Bliss!

Mojitos are de rigeur at just about every bar. I tried both traditional and contemporary versions (let me just say that Toro Salao’s Rosemary Mojito rocks). One of the tastier, traditional versions that I tried was at Anam Spa & Cocktail Lounge. That’s right, spa and cocktail lounge. I wandered in thinking I’d just grab a happy-hour mojito and be on my way, but it turns out that I was able to relax with my cocktail while getting one of the best foot massages I’ve ever had (thank you, Hayley!!). Yet another opportunity to slow down.

Mojito at Anam's bar

Mojito at Anam’s bar

Anam’s mojito had no measurements — just a handful of mint, muddled with the juice of half a lime, a healthy pour of Don Q limon rum, and a top-off of Sprite. The addition of lemon from the Sprite and the Don Q rum added sweetness, but wasn’t cloying. The cocktail was absolutely delicious, well-balanced, and refreshing!

I’m already missing Old San Juan and thinking about another visit. I’ll be posting more about my trip (and what I ate) in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I’m going to mix up a mojito with some backyard garden mint, homemade lemon-lime simple syrup, and Puerto Rican rum.

Recipe: Missing Old San Juan Mojito
Yield: 1 cocktail

You’ll need a highball or pint glass, cocktail shaker, shot glass with measurement markings or measuring spoons, a muddler, a long-handled spoon, and ice.

Ingredients:
Note that I’ve given the ingredients in ounces. If you’re using measuring spoons,
2 ounces = 4 tablespoons, 1 ounce = 2 tablespoons, ½ ounce = 1 tablespoon

Handful of mint leaves (if you must count, let’s say about 2 dozen leaves)
½ lime
2 ounces lemon-lime simple syrup (heat 4 ounces sugar and water to a simmer, stir until sugar is completely dissolved, add the zest and juice of 1/2 lime and 1/2 lemon, then cool and strain)
2¼ – 2½ ounces white rum (I used DonQ Cristal)
4 – 6 ounces sparkling water
Ice

How To:

  1. Juice the ½ lime into a glass.
  2. Add the mint leaves and lemon-lime simple syrup to the glass and muddle.
    I use a press-and-turn motion with the muddler to crush the leaves without shredding them. You’re working to release the mint essence from the leaves and combine it with the simple syrup and lime. Want to know if it’s working? Put your nose in the glass and take a sniff. You should be able to smell a combination of mint and citrus. (Want more details about muddling? Check out my 650 Blackberry Mojito recipe.)
  3. Add the rum.
    Stir once or twice to combine.
  4. Add ice to fill the glass about halfway.
  5. Top with sparkling water.
  6. Give a quick stir to combine everything.my-SJU-mojito
  7. Adjust to your taste, if necessary, by adding more simple syrup or rum.
  8. Garnish with a mint sprig and enjoy!

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