First off, let me say how sorry I am for my friends stateside who think bananas and Chiquita are synonymous. Those perfect clusters of fine yellow fruit (otherwise known as Cavendish) are a poor substitute for what is truly out there. To be honest, I never gave bananas much thought either. They are convenient to carry, tasty on occasion, and have potassium. That was pretty much the extent of my knowledge. Silly me.
On the drive down here, we would stop at various roadside stands and pick up fruit to munch on the way. Many stops had homemade pastries or dried fruits too. When the urge would hit us, we would pull over and Rafa would pop out and buy whatever the local special was. Bananas are all over Central America and we ate every variety, every way you could. One stop netted us a bag of homemade fried green plantain chips, cut length-wise, with salt and chili powder. I ate the whole bag. You could get baked sweet bananas on a stick, fried banana patties, banana chips, and nearly every morning meal had baked banana on the plate somewhere. I went from a passive banana eater to a down right connoisseur. Did you know there are over a 1000 varieties? A thousand!!! Bananas are like apples up north. But when you compare it to an apple, it has four times the protein, twice the carbohydrate, three times the phosphorus, five times the vitamin A and iron, and twice the other vitamins and minerals. The ultimate, for me, is what Rafa call criollo bananas but can also be called manzana, lady fingers, or sugar bananas. They are the third of the size of normal bananas and look like fat, stubby fingers. The taste is the sweetest consistency of any I have ever had. I usually eat three at a time.
Coffee and bananas made Costa Rica. Seriously. Bananas have only recently been ousted by tourism as the country’s number one foreign currency earning industry. United Fruit has plantations all over the country, but mainly on the Caribbean side around the city of Limon. It’s not uncommon to see bananas growing along the road and many people just pull over and pull off what they need. The ultimate fast food.
Rafa’s mom gave me a huge bunch of green plantains (another trial, I suspect). They were smaller than what you would normally see at the markets, barely six inches long. Peeled they were tiny. I thought I could wait and ripen them up, but after a few days the stem began to mold. So before they got around to “tasting a little funny”, I decided to make something.
Green plantains need to be cooked, otherwise the starch and tannins are too strong. After peeling them under running water, I let them soak a bit in salt water to extract more of the bitterness. To fry them I used avocado oil instead of the usual olive. I think it gave a nicer flavor. After browning on all sides, I mashed them in a bowl and then formed patties with my hands. Re-fry the patties on both side, and Voilá! They were great for dipping, but we made avocado sandwiches instead.
The ultimate for me (it is impossible for me to pass this place without stopping, IMPOSSIBLE) are these baked ripe plantains…with cheese, we get on the way to Cahuita. They are divine. These are plantains that have been allowed to ripen and then they are slowly baked. At the end, they are sliced lengthwise and filled with Costa Rican cheese. I am drooling on the keyboard as I type this. I have no idea what the name of the place is. If you are coming from San Jose over the rainforest (there is only one road), it’s the first place you can stop to eat on the right hand side. It’s cafeteria style, but the food is great. This ain’t no SYSCO garbage.
Statistically, over 96% of American households purchase bananas (the Cavendish variety) at least once each month. Most bananas are grown on huge plantations, controlled by 5 corporate giants. It’s like OPEC, but with fruit. Big business controlling what you eat, sound a little conspiracy theory to me. I think my comrades up north should start a banana revolution. I mean, I’m the one living in a socialist country and we have choice in our bananas. Someone should call FOX News…
I am dedicating this page to my dear friend Dave back stateside who, when confronted with the suggestion that he give up bananas in favor of the local food “100 mile rule”, went well…ape shit.
Viva la revolución, Dave.