Well-traveled and with a highly sophisticated palette, my boyfriend has sampled exotic culinary delicacies the world over, but is only now learning about Cuban food.
I love el hombre as is, but ever since he had the first bite of a tostón, I’ve been noticing some changes. That twice-fried plantain, smashed flat to look like a big round cracker, has been working its homey magic on my fledgling Cubanaso. Actually, he would be a Jewbanaso, because he’s a Jewish New York transplant. And you know if there’s one thing Jews and Cubans have in common, it’s a healthy appetite for good food.
Served hot and fresh, with a little salt, a good tostón is crispy on the outside but creamy on the inside. Adventurous Cubans may squeeze a lime on their tostones or dip them in a simple mojo – minced garlic lightly fried in oil.
Our first tostón tasting took place in the Redlands, Miami’s agricultural zone, on a blustery December day. We were hungry and stopped at a random Cuban restaurant that was as far from Little Havana in quality as in distance. He liked the tostones, but I had to admit it was a very disappointing introduction to the tostón; these tostones were cold and rubbery. They were probably from the frozen food section at el Publí (Publix), which aren’t bad, but work best served really fresh from the frying pan and probably for those last minute apuros when you’ve got to feed dinner guests but don’t want the hassles of peeling and mashing plantains.
We would have to go on a proper Cuban culinary tour and that we did – fast forward a couple of weeks to our first lunch on Calle Ocho, where he had his first taste of real Cuban food at El Exquisito: vaca frita, maduros, moros y cristianos and of course, tostones. The tostones were just right – piping hot, crispy outside and creamy inside. He was in love. I was getting jealous. Not of him loving the tostones, mind you, but of the enormous portion of fried shredded beef and onions, fried sweet ripe plantains, black beans mixed with white rice on the plate he thoroughly enjoyed. I had ordered a humble Cuban sandwich.
We shared the tostones, though. Love is about compartiendo, right?
We followed this big Cubanaso lunch with a couple of cortaditos at la ventanita – the window facing the street where all the Cubanasos gather to sip the sweet fuel and talk. A caffeine lover, my hombre was sold. We then stepped across the street, where he enjoyed a smoke at Padilla Cigars. Had he been wearing a guayabera and talking with his hands, I would say the transformation would’ve been nearly complete!
But not so fast … a couple of weeks later he told me how he was really craving tostones and asked if we might go back to that place on Calle Ocho. I had heard about the tostones at Habana Vieja, another popular Cuban restaurant in Miami, so off we went. The tostones here are the stuff of legend — plantain goodness mashed so big, each tostón requires a stretched palm to grip.
The next day, while strolling by the Miami River, holding hands and just enjoying life, my hombre was humming the melody from a song by one of our favorite local afro Cuban funk bands, PALO! The song is about a guajiro who explores life in the big city and then decides he’d rather live in the country. “I don’t know what they’re singing about,” he told me. “But I love it, Maria.”
He rolled his rrrr’s on the “Maria.” Oh, how my heart feels, todo derretido just like a hot, fresh tostón, when he says my name that way.
I think the transformation is nearly complete, don’t you?
Maria de los Angeles is a Miami-based freelance wordsmith. She writes for Miami New Times, Miami Beach 411, her own blog Sex and the Beach and a variety of other outlets. Her favorite topics are travel, social media, tech, humor, sex and of course food and culture — not necessarily in that order. Learn more at Wily Wordsmith.