Dec 03

Food in Colombia: Paul Giles Wrestles with the Plantain.

I thought I’d leave it to my second post to be controversial, and, possibly, culturally insensitive. It was going to come out eventually; I am Australian after all. And it’s all coming out now, and it’s you, Plantain, that’s to blame. You hear that, huh?

Before coming to Colombia, I thought that “plantain” was a geographical term – something like  “prairie,” “steppe,” or “tundra” (anybody else use, ply, employ or wield Thesaurus.com?). Rolling plains as far as the eye can see; and possibly, the chance to see a cute family of meerkats. I was all for it.

View of Tatacoa as we drove past
The Colombian Plantain. Wait – is that a meerkat? Aw, nah; it’s just a rock.

Bafflingly, it turns out I was wrong. This is actually what a plantain is:

That’s right; big, tasteless and inedible.

OK, so here come the disclaimers. Being a hungry man by nature, it is very rare that I come across a food I don’t love; let alone one I actively dislike. I’ve eaten dog, snake, cow blood soup – hell! even silkworm pupae! – with gusto.  And I love the vast majority of Colombian cuisine I’ve tried. Ajiaco? Yes, please. Tamales? Send ’em this way, thanks. Empanada? Come hither, my love. Arepas? Let me profess my undying adoration right now. Furthermore, I’m aware of, and thankful for daily, the delicious miracle of nature that is the humble banana. So I was stumped when I came across a sad, brown, sweaty, slightly bent, cigar-shaped object hiding beside my delicious chorizo-and-arepa-late-night-snack (and I know what you’re thinking, but please get your mind out of the gutter: we’re discussing important matters here). It just wasn’t nice!

Soft, pasty, slightly sweet, and looking suspiciously like a banana? I tried; oh Lord! how I did try. But it was beyond me. I just couldn’t enjoy it. Every time I order a delicious mound of perfectly barbequed meat, with an arepa, rice, and maybe that magical fruit,  avocado, thrown in for good measure, a shamefaced bit of big banana seems to sneak its way on the plate somehow, much to my chagrin. The worst thing about this is that everyone else seems to love it. Could it be – perish the thought – that it is I, and not the poor plantain, who has it all wrong?

If I sit down and consider it calmly, I think it may be just a visual hang-up for me. I see banana, and think, “that should be an uncooked, room-temperature, slightly firm after dinner treat; and decidedly not an imposter masquerading as a vegetable.” Here’s evidence in this theory’s favour:

1. I love the plantain chips you can get anywhere on the side of the street.

2. Upon visiting Salento, I was surprised to discover that the thin, crisp, golden-brown strip of deliciousness I was enjoying with my trout was actually my old foe, the plantain.

3. I find patacones, especially when smothered with sauce, meat and other amazing tidbits – as can be found in Cartegena and surrounds – scrum-diddly-umptious. And I do mean diddly.

Well, alright! That’s something I can get on board for!

Is it not you, but me, Plantain? Am I the one being pig-headed and discriminatory? Are you actually a perfectly delicious accompaniment to any meal? Surely not! Surely…?

 

Paul G.

10 thoughts on “Food in Colombia: Paul Giles Wrestles with the Plantain.

  1. Paul Giles on

    No need to beg, Beekiga 😉 Part of the reason I wrote this post was to put out the plantain-hater feelers, and try to get some advice from those in the know about how to best enjoy this (for me) baffling Colombian staple. I’ve tried it boiled and barbequed, and must be honest in saying that I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it. I find it most offensive when it’s obviously been boiled or grilled some time in the distant past, and then slightly re-heated in a microwave.

    I want to reiterate that I’m all for patacones – I think they’re little (or big; Monse, I’ll have to try those ones at Andres, thank you) parcels of heaven, and that dessert Monse describes is now officialy on my To Enjoy List. Look, I’m still quite open to give plantain another chance – or chances; but felt it only fair to register my current bewilderment. Happy eating, plantain lovers of the world! Who knows? Perhaps one day I’ll officially, wholeheartedly, join your ranks. Until then, please go on without me 😉

    Reply

    Beekinga on

    Begging to differ Mr. Giles, but did you ever try sweet “plantain” or commonly known “maduro” sliced and fried accompanying fried eggs and rice?…that is ambrosia. How did you try it; boiled (topocho), maybe (admittedly not at its best there? Do try it golden fried and dip it in runny yolk. Aww now I have cravings!

    Reply

    Monse on

    Try to eat a Plantain without being cooked. 😉 you’ll discover is not a fruit and does not taste nothing like a Banana. Therefore, it needs to be cooked in order to eat it. One advice about eating Plantain. You can buy the yellow plantain which is the sweat one and it makes part of ” la bandeja paisa”, this kind of plantain is well known was “platano maduro”. Second, you can buy the green plantain the one used to make “Patacones” often eat with ahogao, a delicious sauce , and meat or cheese as well. So there are two kinds, sweat and soft and crunchy( in Andres Carne de Res restaurante you can eat giant Patacones) Also, when the platano is getting very yellow you can make a dessert as well! with arequipe ( dulce de leche) and flour… Taste wonderful. No kidding.
    however, we all have different tastes.. 🙂
    Thanks for the blog. Interesting.

    Reply

    Monse on

    Try to eat a Plantain without being cooked. 😉 you’ll discover is not a fruit and does not taste nothing like a Banana. One advice about eating Plantain. You can buy the yellow plantain which is the sweat one and it makes part of ” la bandeja paisa”, this kind of plantain is well known was “platano maduro”. Second, you can buy the green plantain the one used to make “Patacones” often eat with ahogao, a delicious sauce , and meat or cheese as well. So there are two kinds, sweat and soft and crunchy( in Andres Carne de Res restaurante you can eat giant Patacones) Also, when the platano is getting very yellow you can make a dessert as well! with arequipe ( dulce de leche) and flour… Taste wonderful. No kidding.
    however, we all have different tastes.. 🙂
    Thanks for the blog. Interesting.

    Reply

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