OK, this isn’t really an ode because . . . well . . . I’m not a poet and I know it. But a lunchtime discussion with a colleague has inspired me to write an homage to a little-known and easily overlooked fruit; the plantain.
Depending on where you’re from or where you’ve lived, you are probably already familiar with the plantain. If you’re not, find the nearest tall building, climb to the top of it and jump. Just kidding! But seriously, if you don’t know what a plantain is, your life’s not worth living. I’m just playing.
What can I say about the plantain? More importantly, what can’t I say about the plantain? Anything bad, that’s what. I mean, seldom has a better or more perfect food than the humble yet confident plantain existed. Humble because, unlike it’s genetically engineered cousin, the banana, the plantain turns a soft golden brown—not a garish yellow—when it ripens. Confident because the plantain chooses not to hang out in bunches but rather lie serenely in solitude on the grocer’s shelf. How many times have you walked right past the plantain, nose in air, drawn to more exotic-sounding or exotic-looking fruits like cumquats and starfruit?
Yet the plantain perseveres, waiting patiently for the day you may pick one up. For some of you, that day has yet to come. And I can’t blame you for, you see, the longer the plantains lies on the shelf, the less appetizing it appears. The skin goes from firm green to golden to brown and eventually to black. And it sags and wrinkles along the way. Who can blame you for passing by in oblivion, or worse, turning away in revulsion.
But what the plantain knows (and what you don’t) is that it is most delicious precisely at the point at which it looks least appetizing—when it’s skin is black and wrinked. The flesh, by now a little mushy, though still golden in color, clings reluctantly to the skin as you peel it away, ready to be roasted, boiled or—my favorite—fried.
You see, the plantain is not only deceptively delicious, it is also surprisingly versatile. Where I’m from, we eat our plantains fried and I would wager plantain eaters anywhere that it’s the best way to eat them. Ghanaians pound it into fufu (slightly inferior to a nice cassava fufu, if you ask me). Latinos fry, grill, and bake the green ones as well as the ripe ones. But I prefer them simply fried. Served on the side or with a spicy sauce, plantains can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!
At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I proclaim the plantain to be a little slice of heaven. Heaven, I say, because like Paradise, the plantain is always perfect. When has the plantain ever disappointed? When has the plantain not been delicious and fully satisfying? Sure, sometimes it’s a little dry but on such occasions, I blame the cook. Attempting to cook the plaintain before it’s perfectly ready to be cooked will result in a sub-standard meal. But all in all, the plantain is perfection itself.
I remember having plantain sandwiches for breakfast and again for lunch. Slices of perfectly ripe plantain fried to a deep amber hue, laid out on buttered bread, preferably the mini-baguettes (Fullah bread) so readily available at any corner shop in Freetown. Can anything be more delicious than the intoxicating mix of warm plantain and recently melted butter?
How I adore the lowly plantain, which looks like nothing more than an oversized banana yet gives so much and asks so little?