“Ponce es Ponce y lo demás es parking” (Ponce is Ponce and the rest is just parking), claims a famous tongue-in-cheek expression. Though satirical and light-hearted in nature, the phrase nonetheless sheds some light into the unique character of ponceños and how they view themselves within the greater scope of Puerto Rican identity.
Traditionally considered Puerto Rico’s second city, Ponce’s contributions to the island’s culture have been numerous, so much so that 19th century statesman Luis Muñoz Rivera defined Ponce as “Puerto Rico’s most Puerto Rican city.” The quintessentially Puerto Rican rhythms of bomba and plena originated here, and Ponce is also the birthplace of notable citizens ranging from ex-governors Luis A. Ferré and Rafael Hernández Colón to Olympic medalists José Torres and Javier Culson.
It’s hardly surprising that some of Ponce’s symbols and nicknames are every bit as grandiose as its citizens’ sense of civic pride: the lion is the city’s official mascot and Ponce’s nicknames include the not-too-modest Ciudad Señorial (Lordly City) and La Perla del Sur (The Pearl of the South). Yet there is one beloved icon of ponceño identity that goes against this trend: the tiny quenepa.
Known as Spanish lime, genip or mamoncillo in other parts of the world, quenepas look like smaller versions of limes yet the pulp is more reminiscent of lychees. In any visit to Ponce, especially from July to September, you’ll spot countless street vendors on corners, stoplights or informal markets carrying bunches of quenepas tied together with string. Perhaps more in line with Ponce’s proud character is the quenepa tree, which commonly reaches heights of 80 feet and boasts a wide and lush canopy.
In order to enjoy quenepas as the locals do, tear through the seasonal fruit’s thin but rigid layer using your teeth. Once cracked open, quenepas yield their gelatinous pulp, which is eaten whole. Quenepas have a tangy taste that can be sweet or sour. The fruit has a light tone that ranges from orange to yellow, but its juice is known to leave a dark brown stain, so be wary not to get any on your clothes!
Going on a few years now, the Festival Nacional de la Quenepa is another way to enjoy Ponce’s longstanding love affair with its official fruit. Scheduled to take place this year from September 21 to 23 at Parque Ecológico Urbano, the festival features local musicians, crafts, farmers markets and other forms of entertainment. Central to the festival is a contest that calls for locals to showcase their quenepa-based dished and beverages in order to select the most innovative (and delicious) creation.
If you’re visiting Ponce during the summer months, don’t miss this unique fruity tradition.