By Rolanda Stinson-Smiley
Green plantains or “plátanos” are closely related to the banana. Ecuador is one of the top producers of both bananas and plantains. In the mid-1950s, Ecuador was the largest banana and plantain producer in the world. By 1960, those exports from Ecuador accounted for 25 percent of the world's production, outproducing all other South American countries. Green plantains are starchy and firmer than their yellow counterparts. They taste a lot like potatoes, are more difficult to peel, and must always be cooked before consumption. For health conscious folks, green plantains are considered a beneficial starch.
On the coast, particularly in Manta, green plantain is a staple part of almost every dish. Dining at any restaurant here, you are bound to find fried plantains (patacones) somewhere on the menu. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and I’ve found
green plantain to be the breakout hero. There are two popular breakfast dishes made from green plantains that I adore, Tigrillo and Bolon.
Tigrillo is originally from the town of Zaruma in the province of El Oro in the coastal region of Ecuador. It is an Ecuadorian casserole-style dish made with a combination of mashed green plantains and cheese. Queso fresco is one of the most popular choices for the ch
eese in this dish, and when served, tigrillo can be accompanied with a fried or poached egg on top. Sometimes it includes a serving of meat or seafood on the side with a nice sauce that you can pour on top. There are as many recipes as there are chefs,
so some versions of tigrillo might also include milk, ají (a hot pepper sauce), or chicharrons (fried pork rinds) mixed in. This dish really reminds me of potato hash, which is a popular breakfast dish in the United States.
The second of these unique dishes is Bolón de Verde (which translates into big green ball). I’ve read that the origins of bolón de verde can be traced back to when African slaves were brought to Ecuador. Their English conquerors fed them a simple bolón of mashed green plantains and water. The basis of this dish has remained over time and evolved in ingredients and flavors. Through the slave trade, bolón de verde had a lasting impact not only on Ecuador, but throughout South America.
Bolón is mostly considered a breakfast dish made by cooking the plantains in boiling water (or frying them in oil), and then mashing them with a mortar and pestle while they are still hot. To this “dough,” some salt, cheese, chicharron (pork cracklings), or ground peanuts are added and mixed together to form a ball the size of a fist. Once the balls are formed, these bolones can be served immediately or fried in oil until the outside is golden and crisp. I prefer the fried bolon because it reminds me of a giant crispy round fritter.
Some variations of bolon include just queso or adding shrimp, sausage, chorizo, bacon, or herbs such as green onion and coriander to the mix before forming the ball. Some restaurants give you the option of trying it “mixto”, which means you can have a combination of meats mixed in. Bolón can also be prepared with ripe (maduro or sweet) plantains. Many restaurants serve bolón as a breakfast item with fried eggs on top or on the side, along with a glass of juice and a cup of coffee. Another variation is the size of the bolon. I’ve seen YouTube videos where the bolon was as big as my head. I’ve seen other places serve bite-sized fried bolones as a snack. It seems like this dish is not only a breakfast staple, but can be eaten anytime of the day as an appetizer or a side dish.
Fans of Bolón de Verde and Tigrillo will find variations of both dishes throughout different areas of Ecuador. On the coast seafood is king, so there’s no surprise that you will find bolon and tigrillo sometimes paired with seafood. If in Manta, and looking to try either dish, some of the notable restaurants that I have found are Cafelito House, Dulce & Cremoso, and Mr. Bolon. These tasty treats are both abundant, inexpensive, and growing in variety, flavor, and texture. Bolón and Tigrillo both offer you a gastronomic taste of Ecuadorian culture.