Book Reviews

A Quick Ting On: Plantain

Whilst bananas have been known and eaten in Europe and the UK for several centuries, plantains, probably because they are not as sweet as bananas, were never as popular.

Rui Da Silva arguably is better known as a music producer but thanks to having written ‘A Quick Ting On: Plantain’ he can certainly add ‘author and expert on plantains’ to his already extensive CV. This, his first book, is part of the acclaimed Black British book series produced by Magdalene Abraha.

Strange fruit and veg

As I began to read ‘Plantain’ my memory slipped back several decades to when I lived and worked in London. Not too far from the office was a small street market with a couple of green grocer stalls where I would queue to buy my fruit and veg for supper I would gaze in wonder at, for me, the strange and exotic fruit and veg on display.

As I grew more confident and the other shoppers grew accustomed to this young stranger in their community, I asked what the fruit and veg were, what were they like, and how did I deal with them.

Plantains came into my life

And that was how plantains came into my life. Those rather odd banana-like fruit intrigued me. One of my lovely lady shoppers fell about laughing when I asked if I ate them like a banana. ‘No, honey’ she replied, ‘you have to very carefully cut the green skin off, slice the fruit and fry it’.

So, I did, and it began a love affair that exists to this day. Luckily not too far from where I live now is a greengrocer who supplies some of the local ethnic restaurants and who, from time to time, sells plantains.

What is a plantain

But I knew nothing about them until Rui Da Silva’s book came into my life. He eased me in gently with a discussion as to what a plantain is. Whilst more usually eaten as a vegetable it is actually a fruit – or as he says a berry, and like bananas, grows on huge leaf stalks.

Rui took me through the complexities and the history of both bananas and plantains and their spread throughout the world; apparently, they have been in existence since 1000 – 5000BC. Whilst bananas have been known and eaten in Europe and the UK for several centuries, plantains, probably because they are not as sweet as bananas were never as popular. And maybe because this nutritious and cheap food was given by plantation owners to their slaves.

Pronunciation, recipes and politics

I got somewhat lost in the chapter discussing the correct way to pronounce the word plantain, but in the end, I decided to give up and not worry about it and hurriedly made my way to the recipes. Here I found several recipes that I can manage, eg Rice Bread (p 87) and the one which interests me most the Colombian recipe for Empanadas (p 118) – I love empanadas. Or, I shall continue to do what I have done now for many years as instructed by my shopper in the market, slice my plantains and drop them into hot oil and fry them until crisp.

Following on from the recipes Rui brings us up to date and into a fairly in-depth political discussion about the United Fruit Company, ‘Banana Republics’ and conflicts in South and Central America, including thought provoking issues involving ‘cheap labour’ in the banana and plantain industries, as well as cooperatives and Fairtrade issues.

All in all, an interesting and entertaining read; plus, I now know more ways of cooking plantain.

More Information

A Quick Ting On: Plantain. Rui Da Silva. ISBN: 9781913090531. A Quick Ting On. Jacaranda Books Art Music Ltd. . £9.99.