(This story originally appeared in Vivala)
Dear Plantains — or as I prefer to call you, Plátanos,
Where do I begin with something that has been a year-round staple in my family for generations? You have been my ride-or-die since I could chew — my breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Remember that time when my mom sent me out to get “plátanos maduros” and I returned with a bag filled with you and your cousins? I was about 11, and as soon as I walked into the bodega I made a beeline towards a cardboard box of green plantains. I cradled you in my hands before picking the finalists. When I came back, my mom looked disappointed.
“I told you to get the maduros,” she told me.
“I did . . . I got the mas duros,” I said.
She laughed. I didn’t realize she meant the sweet ones — the yellow ones that are always a side. A nice addition, but not a main dish like you.
You have always been the one for me — the heavenly green one with your browned edges and scarred skin from not being as ripe anymore. You have sustained my Dominican family, and the families of so many others throughout Latin America, Africa, and other Caribbean islands.
You have what’s called “plátano power” — what’s believed to give Dominican baseball players their strength. There are memes based off you — shirts, even.
You were so much a part of my childhood I remember actually complaining about you at times. “Mami, plátano otra vez?” I’d ask my mother.
She’d nod her head, lips pursed tightly as she’d push a plate of plantains, salami, and cheese towards me. I’d eat it, wondering how you became such a part of everyday life.
Now as an adult, I’m grateful for you. So very grateful. You’re part of my Dominican meal starter pack, which I have been cooking a lot more now. Since I live here in the United States, having you in my home, and enjoying you like I used to as a child is a way for me to remain connected to my roots — you bring me joy and sweet nostalgia.
I remember when there was a shortage of you in the Dominican Republic last year. Prices for plantains skyrocketed, and the Dominican government began importing them from Central America. People were going nuts. Some guy even recited “el rosario del plátano” and uploaded it onto YouTube. There it was, a prayer for plantains because you’re that important to us Dominicans. You’re part of our identity.
You’re starchy and your peel is stiff, so it takes effort to get to your pulp. I, like so many others, work hard to earn you. I cut your peel with a knife and, with hands that aren’t as skillful as my elders, work into your ivory-colored flesh.
Plátanos, you’re equally delicious when you’re boiled and mashed into mangu and when you’re fried into tostones. Thank you for keeping me grounded and for never letting me forget why you are the staple that you are. Thank you, Plátanos, for all that you have done for me and will, I hope, continue to do. Thank you for being my ride-or-die since I could chew — my breakfast, lunch, and dinner.