I am often fascinated by things here that I never even wondered about at home. Take bananas, for instance. The bananas here are quite different than those we saw in Costa Rica. These ones are bigger, grow in larger bunches, and more are grown for export. The bunches are so big, and the hills they grow on so steep, that on this farm they tie the trees upright with ropes and bamboo to prevent them toppling over before the bananas are ripe.

Banana trees are interesting because they’re not trees at all. They look like trees – they have thick stalks that could be mistaken for trunks at about 12″ wide at maturity and 20′ tall – but they are actually just very large plants. Their stalks are pulpy rather than woody, and each stalk only supports one bunch of bananas and its corresponding flower before it falls over and dies after fruiting. The stalks tend to grow in threes, and as the oldest one’s bananas ripen it gets cut down and a new shoot takes its place.

Bananas are harvested before they are what we who buy them from grocery stores would call ripe. When the leaves on the banana stalk have turned brown, and the bananas are round rather than squarish if you cut them crosswise, the bananas won’t grow anymore and the stalk will soon fall over. At this point, the farmer cuts it down with a machete, carefully aiming to catch the bunch of bananas before it hits the ground, and avoiding knocking over any coffee plants, nearby structures, or neighbouring banana plants as it falls. The old stalk is hacked up into pieces as mulch and extra support for the new stalks that will grow in the same place.

The bunch of bananas is usually hung from the rafters of the farm house for a few days until the bananas turn yellow. Bananas are not just served as a sweet snack like they are in Canada, but have savoury uses as well. Ripe sweet bananas are used with lemon, onion, and tomato in a sort of banana salsa or salad in Costa Rica. Plantains, or platanos, are starchier versions of bananas which taste amazing as sweet or savoury chips (crisps). Plantains are also excellent as patacones, in which inch-thick chunks are fried, flattened, and re-fried, which serve as excellent substitutes for french fries. Both bananas and plantains can be sliced lengthwise and fried in butter, and then served topped with sugar or salt depending on preference.

If you’re too impatient to wait for the bananas to ripen, you have nothing to fear here. Bananas are also perfectly edible when they are green. Boiled green bananas make a nice starchy vegetable side dish that is popularly served with Chicharrones, or fried pork skin, in Costa Rica. Green bananas or plantains are also delicious in soup, where they have a similar taste and texture to root vegetables such as potatoes and yucca.

There are so many other aspects of life here that I want to write about, but spotty internet reception and days away from the computer are making it hard to keep the blog posts regular. I’ll do my best to keep up the daily posts.

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