El Wiscorican invites Madisonians to experience the richness of Puerto Rican cuisine and flavors, offering both traditional dishes and familiar meals with unique flavors.
“When you think of Puerto Rican food in general, there are few things that are going to come to mind,” says owner Luis Carmona. “First is going to be the plantains and anything derived from that so you got the Tostones, you got the Maduros, you got the Pastelón, and you got the Mofongo.”
Plantains, often called cooking bananas, are a major food staple in West and Central Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, and throughout South America. Whether cut, fried and refried before ripening, or fried after ripening for its sweet flavor, people incorporate plantains in their meals in many ways.
“If you go to Puerto Rico specifically and ask what’s good to eat, they’re going to say, find a good Mofongo place,” Carmona says.
Puerto Ricans have various recipes for Mofongo including using green plantains, ripened plantains and even using yuca. Carmona says many people who have had Mofongo are often familiar with the traditional version but some restaurants serve dufongos, incorporating both green and sweet plantains as well as a trifongo prepared with green plantains, sweet plantains, and yuca.
“In Puerto Rico, it’s a thing – the yuca mofongo. It’s not as common as the regular mofongo we do with the green plantains,” he says.
Carmona personally prefers the yuca mofongo because pre-boiled yuca takes less time to fry and customers can get their plate within a reasonable amount of time, especially during lunchtime rushes. Between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. is often the busiest time for El Wiscorican and the longest lines.
“I would say at least 60 percent of our customers are people that come three times a week,” Carmona says.
El Wiscorican opened for business on March 5, 2018 and were initially embraced by Madison’s Puerto Rican community. Today, the patrons of the food cart include university students, faculty and staff who travel to 1225 W. Dayton St. in between 11:15 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. for their lunchtime specials. The cart will also serve dinners every Friday night from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m. at the Funk Factory all summer long.
Carmona says one of his biggest challenges owning a food cart was that a lot of people have not tasted Puerto Rican food. He says this makes some people hesitant to approach El Wiscorican at special events.
“So if there’s a barbecue cart next to me or a sandwich cart next to me, I’ll be like hey, I got plantains — whatever that is,” Carmona says.
Carmona did not set out to open a food cart when he moved to Madison. In fact, Madison just happened to be a stop on a music tour in 2013. After he visited Madison he returned home for about a year and decided to relocate around 2014.
Carmona, originally from Carolina, Puerto Rico, was enrolled in culinary school while working as a musician. After he received an offer to go on tour, he thought “why not?” and left culinary school behind. Carmona, however, always had a passion for food. He just never envisioned himself owning a food cart.
“I scrolled down on Craigslist one day. I saw the cart, it was good price. I just went for it,” he says.
He was initially shocked by the size regulations in order to qualify for certain spots in town. Carts are reviewed annually to determine where the owners can set up shop. Carmona says the good spots for food carts are near the Square or on Library Mall.
“Those are highly trafficked areas where you don’t necessarily depend on students or workers. You also get tourists and people walking by state that come there,” he says.
While Carmona says Dayton might not have as much traffic as Library Mall or the Square, El Wiscorican has managed to succeed in an area predominantly filled by people affiliated with the university. He tries using specials to entice repeat customers to come back and invite new customers to try unique dishes.
“I’m out in the kitchen at 4 or 5 a.m. everyday and literally everything at the cart was cooked that day,” Carmona says.
He views preparing a new dish every day as an exciting challenge. Sometimes El Wiscorican will experiment with a common dish such lasagna using cream cheese and plantains to incorporate a familiar taste in Puerto Rican cuisine. Carmona also appreciates not having to prepare the same dish each day.
Customers often check Facebook for the memes and meals of the day. With over 1,600 followers on their Facebook page, El Wiscorican has a large virtual community of supporters. A lot of their followers will comment like close friends, similar to how Carmona treats his customers.
“I like talking to people so I like to get on more of a personal basis with them. A lot of customers I know on a first name basis so I’ll know their wife’s name or kids’ names. It’s more like a family ambiance, he says.
El Wiscorican attempts to make customers feel like they do when they are at home. Their goal is to make customers feel like they’re sitting in their abuela’s home in Puerto Rico waiting for a home-cooked meal.
While the special dish on the menu might change, customers can always order a Tripleta sandwich, Arroz con gandules or a side of Tostones or Amarillos (Sweet Plantains). Whatever someone orders, it is guaranteed to put them in a food coma.
“We are trying to eventually open a restaurant and more than anything that’s our mission is to spread awareness that our cuisine is good,” Carmona says.