Why Mofongo is success on wheels
Piñones en Orlando
Almost nine years ago, José Sánchez -a Civil Engineer from the Dominican Republic- left his homeland for the U.S. with hopes that he could find economic relief and pay off his debts with a job here.
Sánchez landed in Orlando, Florida, a city known mostly for its Disney theme parks. However, instead of building amusement rides, bridges, or roads for a living, José developed a new love. Cooking Puerto Rican 'mofongo.' And this new love also led him to a newly found economic success.
"We have people from every single ethnic background in this city and they all come to eat Puerto Rican mofongo here. At first, people who are not Puerto Rican were stopping by just to find out what the crowd and commotion was in front of this truck. Obviously, once here, they tried the mofongo and they just keep coming back now," Sánchez says.
The truck named "Piñones" -Puerto Rican for sweet plantain and meat pies- is parked on the lot of a gas station at Curry Ford and Conway Streets every day. And this truck is where it all started for Sánchez eight-and-a-half years ago when the Puerto Rican owners taught him how to make mofongo. He hasn't looked back since.
Unless you're Puerto Rican or a Floridian, you might be asking yourself: what in the world is mofongo?
"I believe that we are the only truck of its kind in the whole Eastern United States. We sell shrimp, conk, fried pork meat, or chicken mofongo which is the meat filling for smashed fried plantain with a garlicky taste," Sánchez says.
Sánchez spends 365-days-a-year at his mofongo truck from noon until 4 a.m. because as he says, "mofongo doesn't have a schedule in which to be eaten."
He also feels that being there every day, nearly all day has helped with Piñones's success since consistency is key to keeping customers happy. They also have a secret weapon.
"We import many of the ingredients from Puerto Rico which also make the mofongo taste just like back home," Sánchez says.
But can that be enough to make the Orlando population "mofongo crazy"? Well there maybe one more trick. Sánchez let it slip during the conversation that the secret may be in the sauce.
But will he share the ingredients of this special sauce? "I will not even tell my wife what the ingredients are. Although, I will give you a hint. It's a dipping sauce with a parsley base," Sánchez says.
No other "Mofongo leaks" from Sánchez except that he plans to have a second truck very soon at another Orlando location.
He also shares that if people are crazy about his mofongo, they will inevitably fall for his "Bellarisco" - a new dish which he calls an exaggerated delicacy of octopus, shrimp, lobster, and small mofongo balls.
Puerto Ricans love and miss their typical cuisine so much that those who live on the island are known for making food shipments to their relatives in the United States.
José´s mofongo success has been able to reverse that. "Many of my costumers ship mofongo to their relatives and friends not only to other cities in the United States but also in the island," Sánchez says.
Viviana Fernandez is a multiplatform freelance journalist for various media outlets around the world. For over fifteen years, Viviana was a leading producer, anchor and reporter for CNN En Español. In the year 2008, Viviana was awarded with an Honorable Mention from the CNN Heroes Initiative for her efforts to better the life of people with Down Syndrome in Nepal. Her ten year old son is her inspiration to continue trying to make a difference for children with disabilities. Viviana practices yoga, loves hiking, animals and reading anything she can devour.