I had done my research. I already knew about the frituras. But to test the accuracy of this suggestion, that the traditional grab ‘n go breakfast in Santo Domingo is actually fried slices of bologna with plantain and, in some cases, spaghetti, I asked the dudes seated outside our neighborhood colmado. They had, after all, proven very useful as bullshit detectors before. When I mentioned frituras they looked at each other slack-jawed; their faces lit up with surprised smiles. “Yes that is very normal here.”
On our hike out to a lechonera in Miramar we passed a woman, her food stand and her group of late morning regulars hovered all around her. She had a table set up outside a somewhat neglected backyard, the latter of which featured a messy chicken coup with a handful of scraggly roosters picking violently about. Her mise en place included two pans of frying oil, a chopping board and a wooden “masher”, a big sack of plantains at her feet, a tube of bologna, some eggs, some ketchup and limes for garnish. Her signature was fried bologna and plantains, a choice of verdes or maduros. There was also some awkward spaghetti and red sauce of indeterminate provenance in a tupperware container and a rather suspect pile of fried bird wings that we sincerely hoped had not been locally sourced from the yard poultry nearby. Besides that just OJ and water. A modest selection.
Emboldened by the approval of our colmado companions, I walked up rather deliberately to the woman and asked for “platano and salami porfa.” To be clear, the tubed meat chopped into slices and fried is not actually salami. Salami is dried, cured and fermented charcuterie that it wouldn’t make much sense to fry. This stuff is bologna, pale pink in color with a soft but rubbery texture and virtually no flavor besides a slimy porcine sweetness. It’s the lunchmeat in your 7 year old’s cafeteria sandwich. It’s the stuff they feed to dogs for breakfast in Hungary, where it is (rather ironically) known as párizsi or “Parisian.” But in the DR everyone calls it salami and to show respect I do the same.
The woman asked me whether I wanted my plantain verde or maduro and I deflected the question onto a guy already stuffing his face earnestly while standing. He stopped chewing for just long enough to tell me, “Up to you. I like maduros more.” My follow-up got his attention, though. “Those are the sweet ones, right?” He lowered his styrofoam box and we talked. He helped me translate to the woman that I only wanted a tiny portion, just enough for both my friend and I to try. “We have many other stops today,” I explained and he supported the decision. “You get fat if you eat too much of this stuff,” he admitted, pointing at his own considerably-sized pansa for reference. According to my friend, he bears a slight resemblance to Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. From him we learned that this place is favored by Santo Domingo University students and folks working in the area. While we spoke I watched the woman fry the bologna and plantains in separate vats of oil. She took the plantains out first, laid them on the chopping board and flattened them in one deft movement with her wooden masher. She salted them slightly. Next, the salami was sliced into irregularly shaped pieces and lain besides the plantain. I notice some platano verde she had fried recently and asked her whether I could just try one. She acquiesced, adding one slightly rounder, drier and crunchier slice of unripe plantain on top of the pile of ripe ones. Then, a generous squirt of ketchup and a squeeze of lime over the top.
It’s simple and satisfies the most basic of human urges. Platano verde offers a sandy, brittle exterior and an oil-soaked crunch when bitten into. It’s a tad dry and doesn’t taste too much of anything except salt and oil, but the texture is a nice contrast to the sticky, mushy, tanned flesh of the platano maduro. It’s caramelized brown on the exterior, but glows golden under its slightly charred crust and sticks to your teeth as you chew. It’s sweet; a natural, sun-ripened, fruity dulzor lingers and balances the salty and very much vegetal flavor of the verde beside it. Contrasting the sweetness of the ripe plantain is also the super salty bologna with its grainy, crispy outer layer and a softer, bouncier filling of pink, ground who-knows-what. The rough skin scrapes the tongue pleasantly before the teeth can sink into the plump, tight, milky smooth stuff that is warm bologna. It’s dumb, like a big dumb hug from a big dumb guy. It’s fried and salty and sticky and sweet. It’s exactly what you expect it to be and that predictability adds an element of comfort.
“You guys [I assume he means Americans] eat bacon for breakfast. It’s kind of the same,” our friend says and I nod in agreement, though the analogy would perhaps be more appropriate with spam. He pays for our meal without us noticing and tells us to enjoy our stay before strolling off. Frituras are a comfort food with the simple task to satisfy. They get that job done. And they’re beloved, you can tell. A strange cultural quirk embraced all the more for its modesty. It’s a custom that seems to skip joyfully over social barriers. It’s “very normal from here” and though I don’t feel the nostalgia or patriotism I’m sure it inspires in Dominicans, it still feels good to have tasted their staple.