Anna Deraco really wanted to start a food truck. She had the perfect idea, too: Puerto Rican food. With no professional culinary experience—she always cooked at home—her friend encouraged her to start out doing pop-ups. Last September, La Sofrita was born.
Her Puerto Rican food pop-ups have been a huge success. Now she hopes to one day open a café. Deraco gives us the complete breakdown of La Sofrita.
Why did you start La Sofrita?
ANNA DERACO: I grew up with great Puerto Rican food. You don’t get a lot of that out here. On the East Coast, it’s all over the place. There’s a sizable Puerto Rican population in the area in Pennsylvania I grew up in. Whenever I would cook it, people would love it. Once I started doing this, what became really fun for me was seeing how many Puerto Ricans were in the Santa Cruz area. That’s been fun, having them show up and go, “Oh my gosh, I’m so excited to have this food here.”
What defines Puerto Rican food?
On the surface, it doesn’t sound terribly different. It’s rice, beans and chicken. Puerto Rican rice and beans have a distinct flavor. The rice is flavored and covered with something called achiote, which is a pebbly seed from a flower off a tree that grows in the tropics. Once you put them in some warm olive oil, it gives off this gorgeous orange color and subtle nutty flavor. It’s added more for the color. The stuff that I’ve been doing a lot is empanada. Those have been pretty popular. It’s just a flour-based dough stuffed with whatever you want to stuff it with. I do the traditional beef picadillo, which is ground beef. Puerto Rican food has lots of herbs and flavor, but it’s not spicy. It’s a lot of garlic base and cilantro and different sweet peppers, but not spicy peppers.
Why did you choose the name La Sofrita?
Sofrito is the base of about 90 percent—I’m exaggerating—of Puerto Rican dishes. It’s absolutely indispensable to Puerto Rican cooking. The base is traditional peppers that I don’t have access to here, but I substitute with sweet red and green bell peppers, onion, cilantro, tomatoes, that gets blended together into a relish. That gets fried up in olive oil and that’s what starts a lot of Puerto Rican food. It starts the rice. It starts the beans. It starts some of the fillings for the empanada. The counterpart is alcaparrado, which is a combo of roasted red bell peppers, manzanilla olives and capers. No authentic pot of Puerto Rican rice, beans, stew or empanada filling can be made without it. I wanted to call myself Sofrito, but my brother told me that the domain name was already taken. I had to be a little creative, so that became La Sofrita.
Look for La Sofrita events at facebook.com/lasofrita.