National claims…on Mashed Plantains?

Mofongo and mangú – can this duo of mashed plantain dishes in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean tell us something about national cuisines in this regional context?

30 mofongo y mangu

In my ongoing fieldwork, these two dishes have continually been used to distinguish Puerto Rican from Dominican cuisine. However, recent interviews with Dominican informants have revealed that they, too, claim mofongo as a national dish. Personally, I have to admit that these moments have created some conflict between my role as researcher and my national identity, as Puerto Rican. The first urges me to stay calm and continue listening, while, at the same time, my Puerto Rican self wants to argue against the assertion, and reclaim mofongo as uniquely Puerto Rican. Fortunately, the researcher in me wins these battles, while also prompting me to look further into this claim.

First, let’s start with the recipes:

30 recipes

The recipes above were selected from important cookbooks identified during my fieldwork, characterized by a long publishing history and staying power among the Puerto Rican and Dominican communities, respectively. In looking at Bornia’s book I see (with some disappointment) that she also has a recipe for mofongo, quite similar to Valldejuli’s, but without the additional olive oil. Cocina Criolla does not have a recipe for mangú…

As the inclusion of mofongo in the Dominican cookbook is not enough to justify claims over the dish, I continued my research, seeking to understand how this distinction is understood by others. During my search I stumbled upon the Urban Jíbaro and his blog, Sofrito in my Soul. In his post, struggling with the same dilemma, I found this video from Corona, Queens – a neighborhood known for its cultural diversity and restaurants,

The video addresses the controversial question, is mofongo from Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic? The video plays with the ethnic tensions that exist between Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, with mofongo at the crossroads. While mofongo is claimed, not surprisingly, by a Dominican restaurant, when the video protagonists take the question to the streets, the answers are different. Case in point: A Dominican woman who responds that mofongo is a Puerto Rican dish, adding,

“I have been here [NYC] for a long, long time, and I never had it when I lived in DR, in Dominican Republic – I had mofongo here”.  

Such response echoes those I have received from other Dominicans I have spoken with, the older generations in New York City and Puerto Rico. Interestingly, the claim for the “Dominican mofongo” has been from younger Dominicans, perhaps signaling the relatively recent introduction (and incorporation) of the dish to Dominican cuisine.

In the end, the Dominican claim on mofongo reflects the inevitable mixing of food cultures in a city like New York, where small, but perceived important distinctions between groups start to blur, melting identities (and food) as “Latino”, “Hispanic”, or (my least favorite) “Spanish”.

IMG_20140310_230800488

Mofongo, as well as mangú, share the green plantain and its African roots, marking the importance of our African heritage in our shared histories and plates:

30 fufu

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3 thoughts on “National claims…on Mashed Plantains?

  1. As we can see in the Cocina Criolla cookbook the main difference between mangu and mofongo is that plantains are fried in mofongo and boiled in mangu and that difference alone separates the plates as you separate mashed potatoes from french fries. Mofongo belongs to Puerto Rico. With the avalanche of dominicans to P.R.; many of them found jobs in restaurants and learned about our mofongo and how good it is and started “dominicananizing” it by adding the onions and even boiling the plantains(that unfortunately, most of them come from D.R ) and calling it mofongo when it is not. Boiling the plaintain makes it last longer and that is convenient for the restaurants. When you ask for mofongo, it has to be fried and served at the moment and that is time consuming and they charge more. Lately, what we are seeing in the Island, is a “mangufongo” It is very rare to get the real deal and what is worst; as puertorricans leave their land, dominicans are taking over and claiming our mofongo as their own, is the least of the consequences.Season the plaintains, fry them, get your, pilon, your chicharron from Bayamon(if it still exits),a lot of garlic, olive oil(,forget the sauteed onions and vinegar) and mashed it all together and you will eat a real mofongo. At least, let your generation protect the dignity of our mofongo.

  2. Mofongo is from Puerto Rico and Mangu from Dominican Republic. I like both but lets keep it clear. Mofongo is fried and Mangu, boiled. The same thing happens with “alcapurrias” they are from Puerto Rico and if you go to “Pi~ones, the “Dominicans ” there will say that alcapurrias are from the Dominican Republic.

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