A Plantain is Not the Same Thing as a Banana: Merging Family Menus

by N. M. Cedeno

My husband got lucky in food when he married me. He didn’t have to adapt to a foreign flavor palette the way I did. When people create a new joint household, whether they like it or not, the foods they eat regularly will change depending on each family member’s culinary history. Recipes from each side of the family will get adopted, adapted, or eliminated from the household menu depending on how flexible the couple is and how palatable each finds the other’s food to be. While regional differences between couples can expose variations in traditional holiday meal dishes or recipe ingredients, cultural differences can introduce you to cooked critters you didn’t know anyone would eat.

Cultural differences can make the culinary learning curve particularly steep, a baptism by fire even. For instance, before I met my husband, I’d never had a plantain. Or seco de pollo. Or, ick, guatita. Or even weirder, cuy. If you can’t identify those items, they are traditional foods in Ecuador. My husband, on the other hand, had never had kolaches, homemade chocolate chip cookies, or Southern-style white gravy. I had to learn a lot about South American cooking. My husband, as far as I could tell, got off easy, since he’d lived in Texas for over ten years by the time we married and had been exposed to most of my cuisine.

Maduros with brown sugar

As I suspect happens in many cases, the first of my husband’s family’s dishes that got adopted in our household were the ones that I found the tastiest and that had the least ingredients. Consequently, plantain dishes were first. Plantains, despite looking like bananas, taste nothing like bananas. They must be cooked. You can eat them roasted, mashed, formed into balls, thin-cut as chips, thick-cut and fried as maduros, or fried, flattened, and refried as a tostones (also called patacones). It took me a while to learn to cook the variations.

On the next tier are foods that may take longer for the couple to adopt in their joint kitchen because they involve special techniques, or complicated recipes, or need adaptation from the original to work best in the household. Seco de pollo is one of those dishes in my house. Translated from Spanish, it sounds like it should be dry chicken. It’s not. It’s a chicken stew. It took me years before I attempted to make it because the recipe was complicated and included a few ingredients that I didn’t recognize. But, since I liked the dish, I made the effort to find the ingredients and to learn to cook it.

Two traditional Ecuadorean dishes that my husband likes were extremely outside my experience and tastes. In the melding of our family menus, these dishes got eliminated.  One was guatita, which is tripe in peanut sauce. Enough said about that. The other was cuy. Cuy got tossed because most Americans would consider eating cuy to be akin to eating your pet hamster or, well, your pet guinea pig. Cuy is, indeed, guinea pig. Any dish that I’d have to shop for in a pet store, I’m not cooking. Someone would send the SPCA after me.

{Guinea pig is a traditional food source for the indigenous tribes inhabiting the Andes Mountains. Since guinea pigs are an easily portable protein source, they were an ideal food for the environment. If you are wondering, they are roasted with the head still attached. I took this picture of cuy being cooked in Ecuador. Yes, it looks like a rat impaled on a stick.}


So, cohabitation forces a merging of disparate family culinary habits. What gets kept on the household menu and what gets eliminated can depend on a lot of factors. I’m sure you can all think of items that you were only served at the home of one set of grandparents (sauerkraut, anyone?). Those items didn’t make it into your parent’s family menu. What dishes did your parents toss? What items did you toss? What items did you adapt or argue over the “correct” recipe?



N. M. Cedeño writes short stories and novels that are typically set in Texas. Her stories vary from traditional mystery, to science fiction, to paranormal mystery in genre. Her début novel, All in Her Head, was published in 2014, followed by her second novel, For the Children’s Sake, in 2015. In 2016, For the Children’s Sake was selected as a finalist for the East Texas Writers Guild Book Award in the Mystery/Thriller category. Most recently, she has begun writing the Bad Vibes Removal Services Series which includes short stories and the novel The Walls Can Talk (2017).

Find her stories at www.nmcedeno.com or on her Amazon Author Page.

19 thoughts on “A Plantain is Not the Same Thing as a Banana: Merging Family Menus

  1. Interesting blog. Have always wondered about plantains and now I know. My family grew up with lutefisk, lefse, and rommegrot. I suspect those foods will not grace our Christmas dinner anymore once I am gone. However, my family does eat them if I make them. All Norwegian cuisine. Another dying food is coogan and knephla soup where we live now. Doubt anyone under 60 knows what it is. Love it all.


  2. I think you’ve been wise in the foods you’ve chosen to keep and those you’ve scuttled. Seco de pollo sounds delicious (I looked it up). My parents grew up on Southern farm fare, so I did, too, and it fits in with what my husband was accustomed to eating. So no adventures in cooking for me. I have to say I feel sorry for anyone who hasn’t had Southern white gravy at least once. Now I’m thinking about the nachos made from plantains served by the Cuban restaurant up the street… maybe I’ll get through the day without stopping there.


      1. The Cuban restaurant is now one of our places for special occasions. My husband has hit upon a particular sandwich he always orders. But no matter what I choose, I always wish I’d gotten the nachos. Someday I’ll go all out and have paella.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. My reading your blog was good for my marriage! It made me realize that maybe fried chicken livers, corn beef hash, and lamb might not be so bad after all. I should make more of an effort to get these items for hubby once in a while.
    Enjoyed your blog very much!


  4. When I married my late husband Bill, he did most of the cooking, and just starting out as a full-time writer, I was only too glad to eat what he put in front of me as opposed to worrying about what I would prepare. Then, the tables were turned three months after our wedding. He suffered the first of two strokes that paralyzed his left side, and it was up to me to do the cooking. If only I’d paid attention when he was cooking. You can read more about this in My Ideal Partner. For details and ordering information, go to http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com/memoir.htm .


  5. He never had homemade chocolate chip cookies, how sad. Most of the foods my grandparents made were adapted by my mother. Now my step grandmother was a totally different story. She introduced us to homemade perogies, stuffed cabbage, and some really fantastic donuts. Since she didn’t use a measuring cup and didn’t speak English I haven’t had any of these that tasted as good since she passed away. I think you need to make hubby lots of chocolate chip cookies to make up for his deprived childhood. Thanks for sharing.


  6. I have not eaten any of the dishes you mentioned. I am not going to eat a Guinia pig or rat. LOL I don’t want to eat sushi either. I prefer my foods cooked. Fortunately, Del and I are from the same area so our foods were very similar. We have branched out here and there. Our families did not eat out much so Mexican and Chinese Food were new to both of us, as were some other dishes, like alligator and calamari. Interesting thoughts on food. Cher’ley

    Liked by 1 person

  7. When I moved in with the girlfriend and her stepdad back in 2014, I got acquainted with Cuban food. Her father Charles is half-Cuban. I’ve eaten a Cuban New Year’s meal as well as eaten at a Cuban restaurant near the Vegas Strip. And plantains are part of the Cuban diet, so I’ve had them.

    Liked by 1 person

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