Monday, May 15, 2006

Samoan food - Bananas

Bananas are one of the staple crops of many nations and Samoa is no exception. Available all year round and dirt cheap, bananas are widely used for a variety of cooking purposes. As best I can tell there are typically three or four main varieties available here.

The ripe yellow banana is used as we commonly would use them in Australia, as part of fruit salads and more commonly as a general snack. You can buy them by the hand or bunch at the markets and you'll always spot bunches hanging up outside fales across the country (the picture below shows one such bunch hanging outside a beach resort on the south coast).

Despite their ubiquity these bananas are not the ones most commonly used for cooking in Samoa. Plantains are, without a doubt, the variety used most in Samoan cooking. They are typically cooked in an umu oven right alongside taro and breadfruit and served as a starchy accompaniment to the main dish(es). They're not just reserved for traditional Samoan meals however. Order some Chinese food at the foodcourt in town and they'll be an option. Ever tried Egg Foo Yong and plantain? How about sweet & sour pork? The few curry houses in Apia (invariably run by Fijian Indians and always tasty) offer plantains with their curries as well. Great stuff.

The most curious variety of banana I've come across here would have to be this one:

It's big; closer in size to a smallish cucumber than the bananas we're used to in Australia. I've seen two types of these ones. One is the standard yellow colour we expect of bananas. The other is orange, peel and flesh both (like the one above). The texture is quite mealy and it's not as sweet as the ripe yellow ones.

Bananas and plantains constitute a major staple food crop for millions of people in developing countries like Samoa. Cooking bananas are very similar to potatoes in how they are used. Both can be fried, boiled, baked or chipped and have similar taste and texture when served. Nutritionally one green cooking banana has about the same nutritional and calorie content as one potato. Potatoes don't grow very well here so the nutritional importance of the plantain in particular is significant.

How would I cook with the bananas here? I've used the ripe yellow bananas for desserts on several occasions. Cut a strip in the peel, load them up with crumbled chocolate, put the peel back and wrap it in foil and whack it in a moderate oven. Very nice indeed. Fruit salads of course, chopped up on cereal. The usual suspects I guess.

I haven't really played around with the plantains much but they're typically baked or chipped here. Something I'd try is frying them (which is popular in Central American cuisine). For four people, pick two ripe plantains (they turn yellow then black as they ripen) and cut them in quarters lengthwise. Fry them in relatively hot oil (not olive oil) for about five minutes or so each side. Drain on paper towel and eat straight away. You want the ripe ones so the sugar caramelises as they cook.


natalie said...

Yay my choccie nana recipe made the cut!
I love that stuff...
I miss bananas - I can't believe they are now a serious luxury item here!
Bring on the summer - as you know from the Pringles trivia the banana plant is the fastest growing plant in the world!
So hopefully we'll be back on track by the end of the year. Fingers Crossed.
Enjoy your endless, cheap supply while you can!

jt said...

I bought a hand of bananas just this afternoon actually. A good purchase too; about two thirds of the hand are still green with the remainder various stages of yellow. Which means nanas for now and nanas for later. Yay!

Still stunned at the whole $12/kg pricing that I saw in Sydney the other month. Is it still around that price?

jt said...

That's awful. I've lost the ability to write grammatically sound sentences. Let's try this again:

"A good purchase too; about two thirds of the hand is still green with the remainder various stages of yellow."

Jeez, I'm such a nitpicker.

natalie said...

last time i looked $11.99/kg
plus the juice shop is charging a 50c surcharge on drinks with banana and my favourite brunch cafe just doesn't have them on their porridge any more...