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What the Mofongo? El Oriental de Cuba in JP serves up a cultural classic


It was another rainy spring day in Jamaica Plain when I ran, soaked with a broken umbrella, into El Oriental de Cuba. There was no question in my mind that I needed to order a big, warm soul-southing bowl of chicken soup with mofongo.

What is mofongo? It sounds like a swear word, but when mixed in with some hot chicken soup, or as a side dish with lunch or an entrée, it is Latino comfort food at its best. Despite being a big fan of Latino foods, I had never heard of mofongo.

Made with green plantains, it's fried once, mashed down in a mortar and pestle with pork rinds, then fried with tons of garlic oil. It can be topped with any kind of fried meat or sauce, like chicharrón, fried pork rinds, otherwise known as pork cracklings. (Seriously, they had me at "pork cracklings.")

Nobel Garcia, owner of El Oriental de Cuba, says the traditional way of preparing mofongo is to smash the ripe plantains with a mortar and pestle. "There's no other way to make it," he says.

There is some debate about the origins of mofongo. It's very popular in Puerto Rican cuisine, but the Dominicans claim it for their own. Scholars will say that it came from the African slave ships, and some say that it all started with the Indians.

Despite where it comes from, mofongo is fun to eat and fun to say. In African cultures, they call it "fufu." According to the website, Slavery in America, fufu was usually made with yams, ripe plantains instead of green, yucca, or other starchy root vegetables.

In any case, mofongo is a staple on Latino cultures and consumed as a side dish like rice. Most folks eat it year-round. You can enjoy mofongo with an entrée like chicken, pork, fish or beef. It's very popular on the menu at El Oriental de Cuba, and has been there "since day one," Garcia says.

You can also order mofongo with a steaming bowl of soup, like I did. The mofongo ($7.95) at El Oriental de Cuba comes with a tomato-based chicken sauce for added deliciousness. It stays a bit crisp in the soup, giving your meal all kinds of texture and flavor. You can order a small bowl of chicken soup ($4.95) with mofongo, but I recommend going for the large bowl ($6.95), which is nearly big enough to bathe in. Together, you've got a rich and filling way to fill your belly for the day for under $16.00 bucks.

El Oriental de Cuba is located at 416 Centre St. Jamaica Plain. Open Monday-Thursday, 8AM - 9PM;Friday and Saturday, 8AM - 10PM; Sundays, 8AM - 8PM Call 617.524.6464 for more information.

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