Tostones were one of the first foods of Puerto Rico I was introduced to as a kid.
My grandma migrated to the United States with my grandpa, leaving behind her family. In Puerto Rico, food is one in the same with family and love. She has been sharing this with me since I was born, both emotionally and through food. Anytime I would come over she would ask me if I was hungry and regardless of the answer she would have something that she had cooked up earlier that day ready for me to eat.
The aroma of adobo and sofrito that wafts from the kitchen throughout the dining room.
As I grew up I was introduced to more and more Puerto Rican meals by my mom. My mom learned how to cook Puerto Rican dishes specifically to keep the tradition alive and well. These meals were one of the main channels through which I could connect with my roots in Puerto Rico. A common denominator in many of these meals was tostones which I’ve grown to love.
For me, tostones are not just a Puerto Rican staple, but part of my identity as a proud Puerto Rican man.
(Above, a Puerto Rican meal prepared by my mom)
My brother, sister, and I have started to learn how to make some of these dishes so we can also pass down the tradition and teach how our ethnic foods connect us to the culture of Puerto Rico. There are two types of tostones that I've watched my mom make and have grown up eating, twice fried green plantains and fried sweet plantains. Twice fried green plantains are my favorite of the two because I've been eating them for longer and they are the more traditional and savory tostones.
Twice fried green plantains
Twice fried, crispy tostones were the first ones I learned to make by observing my mom in the kitchen. First, she would soak the whole green plantains in warm water. She once explained to me that this helps to loosen the peel and increase the crispiness of the tostones. Next, she peels and slices them into round pieces. Then she would submerge them in hot cooking oil for the first round of frying. After that, she would take them out of the oil and then smash them between two pieces of wood bound by a hinge and refry them. Our family smashes the fried plantains with a wooden press called a tostonera. Once golden and crisp the last step is to place them on a plate with a paper towel on top to absorb excess oil and then sprinkle them with some salt. As for fried sweet plantains, their caramelized and sweet flavor is a great accompaniment to salty and savory Puerto Rican meals.
Fried Sweet plantains
I love fried sweet plantains because they are soft and caramelized and can be used as a side dish or a dessert. These were the second type of tostones I learned to make by observing my mom. First, she would peel yellow or brown plantains and slice them into round pieces. Next, she would submerge them in hot cooking oil to fry. Once fried she would place them on a plate with a paper towel to absorb excess oil and lightly salt them. I used to love when my mom made these, and I still do, because we didn't get to make them often. Most of the plantains we could get at the grocery store weren't ripe yet but if they were, you could bet we would be having fried sweet plantains with dinner that night.
Plantains are native to Southeast Asia and were introduced to the Caribbean by the Spanish who also brought with them our enslaved African ancestors in the early 16th century. Plantains are well suited to the tropical environment of Puerto Rico and quickly became a staple. Plantains are more than an ingredient, they are symbolic of Puerto Rican cuisine. Ask any Puerto Rican what their five favorite foods are, and I’m willing to bet at least two involve plantains. I'm no different despite growing up in America and that’s part of what makes tostones so special for me, not including the memories that I have ingrained in me, eating them together with my family.
Tostones, like people, come from many different cultures and backgrounds.
They can be found in Latin American countries and the Caribbean, including Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panama, Honduras, Haiti, and even more. Each culture adds their own flare to the recipe whether that's soaking the plantains in water, using lard instead of cooking oil, or adding garlic and lime. It is completely unknown where tostones came from specifically but they are unanimously renowned by the cultures they’re shared by. I’m thankful that I’m able to feel such a close connection with a place I've never been, through the food shared with me, from my grandma, to my mom, then me. Our love for tostones has crossed generations.