MOFONGO: The Beloved Puerto Rican Mash with Deep Ties to Africa

Last fall I wrote a short post about my appreciation for many of the food names throughout 
the Caribbean, central and south America.  I named Mondongo, Mofongo, and Sancocho as 
examples of names of dishes that have a definite connection with Africa. 

Click here for previous post   Mondongo, Mofongo, Sancocho. Fufu, Cou Cou, and Tum Tum

Today I stumbled across an article about Mofongo, a very popular dish in Puerto Rico, Dominican 
Republic and Cuba. While I knew in my gut there was a definite connection with African languages 
and food ways, this article provides interesting historical background for this dish.

 August 3 at 11:00 AM

Steak mofongo from Banana Cafe & Piano Bar in Southeast D.C. (Goran Kosanovic/For The Washington Post)

“Without a doubt it is the most popular, best known, most loved Puerto Rican dish,” says Von Diaz, a radio producer and writer based in New York. She’s talking about mofongo, a dish made by smashing fried green plantains — frequently in a pilón (mortar and pestle) — with garlic, olive oil and, most traditionally, chicharrón (fried pork skin). The mixture is often molded into a bowl or mound before being stuffed or served with any number of meats or vegetables and a garlic sauce.

According to historian and author Cruz Miguel Ortíz Cuadra, mofongo comes from the Angolan technique of mashing large amounts of starchy foods, then adding liquid and fat to soften the mixture. (Enslaved Africans from Angola and other parts of Africa were brought to Puerto Rico in the 1500s.) Indigenous people on the island also used this mashing and pounding technique, explains Diaz. Ortíz writes in his book, “Eating Puerto Rico: A History of Food, Culture, and Identity,” that the word “mofongo” stems from the Angolan Kikongo term “mfwenge-mfwenge,” meaning “a great amount of anything at all.” Going even further back, the dish traces its roots to the West African fufu, a mash of boiled yams. Today you’ll find many iterations of the iconic mofongo in Puerto Rican, Dominican and Cuban restaurants.

1. Garlic

Garlic, a culinary influence from Spain, is key. Fresh cloves are mashed into the plantain mixture and also enliven a sauce, sometimes tomato-based, that comes with many a restaurant version.

2. Plantains

Plantains, originating from South Asia, arrived in the northwest Caribbean islands in the early 1500s. Unripe, green plantains are starchy and much less sweet than their ripened counterparts — they contain very little moisture, making a gravy or saucy filling essential.

3. Filling

While pork is traditional — and further illustrates Spanish influence on the dish — mofongo can be filled or topped with almost anything, from steak to poached shrimp to a mixture of vegetables.

4. Garnishes

In restaurants, you’ll probably get a sprinkling of cilantro and a slice or two of lime; the fresh accent and acidity help cut through the mofongo’s richness.

If you live in a city with a latin/caribbean community be sure to do a google search to find a restaurant serving mofongo. Experience it for yourself.



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