Mangú is the best known and most representative dish of the Dominican breakfast, one you should most certainly try.
Mangú (Mashed Plantains) is one of Dominicans' favorite dishes, and yet we sometimes hear that "el plátano embrutece". It means that eating plantains is associated with intellectual inferiority. The popular extension of this myth is that children who eat corn flakes are more intelligent than those who eat Mangú.
What lies behind this saying?
Do plantains make us stupid?
Could this be true? To be honest, I think I already knew the answer to the question when I first came across this belief, but I thought I’d look into it anyway.
I looked up the nutritional information for the best-known brand of corn flakes but did not lose sight of the fact that for Dominicans, corn flakes (pronounced ‘conflé’) is the generic word for any breakfast cereal, many of which are junkier than standard corn flakes, with even more sugar and artificial colorings.
Nutrition in plantains
According to my research, plantains are nutritionally beneficial, they have more than twenty times the amount of vitamin A, about three times the vitamin C, double the magnesium, and almost twice the potassium as a banana. Very low in fat and sodium, they are cholesterol-free and offer a good source of fiber. One-half cup of cooked slices contains about 89 calories.
Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
In both cases, it also depends on how you eat the plantain or the cornflakes. Most children eat cornflakes with some sugar and some milk.
Los Tres Golpes
Plantains for breakfast are usually eaten as mangú, which involves boiling the plantains and mashing them with some salt and oils or butter. It is traditionally served with fried eggs, Fried Cheese, and fried Dominican salami. The dish is then referred to as Los Tres Golpes (the three strikes).
A little heavy on the system, perhaps, but nutritious enough. It also depends on how monotonous your diet is. If you eat little else but plantains it is not as beneficial as a varied diet that includes plantains.
I realize too that I am making a huge assumption in that I am linking good nutrition to intelligence. I’m applying the information that says that children who eat a good breakfast do better at school, so maybe that’s it. What I can’t accept is that there should be a difference between children who eat corn flakes and children who eat mangú.
There is a socio-cultural element here and that’s probably where the myth originates. Mangú is a traditional Dominican breakfast, eaten in the campo and in poorer homes. Families who can afford corn flakes are also the sort of people who send their children to private schools. Having said that, I have still to meet a middle class or even an upper-class Dominican who looks down on mangú Dominicano.
That is one of the things I love about the country: despite sayings like ‘el platano embrutece’ Dominicans are still fiercely proud and appreciative of their traditional cuisine, and are not about to replace it completely with foreign substitutes.
What is Mangú?
Mangú (Mashed plantains) is one of the best-known and most representative dishes of Dominican cookery. It could probably be called Dominicans' Official Breakfast Dish.
Why is it called "Mangu"?
There's a cute apocryphal story going around that explains that mangú got its name from the expression "man, good!" (which makes no grammatical sense, anyway) supposedly uttered by American soldiers during the American occupation of the Dominican Republic when they tried mangú. This is almost certainly not the origin of the name.
Conveniently, the story doesn't even mention which American occupation. By the second American occupation in 1965, mangú had already appeared in various Dominican books dating decades prior (1), and a mere couple of decades from the first occupation. None mention anything about this purported origin of the word.
Plantains arrived in Santo Domingo from the Canary Islands in the early 1500s (2), about a decade after the first African slaves. Plantain was by then an already established crop in West Africa, and various mashed plantain dishes are part of the traditional West African cuisine (like Matoke, and Fufu, the last one still surviving in Cuba). The word "mogo" for the Cuban fufú --the closest dish to mangú we've found-- was already in use over two centuries ago in Cuba and attributed to "la nigricia", referring to people of African descent (3). It's certainly possible that these names are related, but we have found no definitive evidence of it.
It is still more than likely that the word and dish mangú are of African origin, as are many of our dishes.
Curiously, mangú is also the name for a type of religious practice of the Azande people in Congo (where most of our African ancestors came from). Mangú is the magical substance that inhabits the stomach of witches.
Mangú (Mashed plantains)
To make mangu
- 4 unripe plantains
- 1 ½ tsp salt
- 4 tsp olive oil, or butter
- 1 cup water, at room temperature
To make onion garnish
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 red onions, large
- 1 tbsp fruit vinegar
- Peeling: Peel the plantains (see how-to) and cut lengthwise, then divide each half into two. Remove the center where the seeds are located (optional, this is just my preference for a smoother mangú).
- Boiling: Boil the plantains in enough water to cover them plus an inch until they are very tender, having added the salt to the water before the water breaks the boil.
- Mashing: Remove the plantains from the water and mash them right away with a fork until they are very smooth and there are few to no lumps (be careful not to burn yourself). Mix in olive oil, and water at room temperature and keep mashing and mixing until it turns into a smooth puree.
- Cooking onions: Heat a tablespoon of oil in a skillet over low heat. Add onions and cook and stir until they become translucent. Pour in vinegar and season with salt to taste.
Notes and Tips
How do you get very smooth mangú?A common question we get is how to get a soft mangú, my trick is to add a bit more water than it seems necessary at first, as it cools down, mangú will inevitably get harder, so start with a mushy mangú and by the time it gets to the table it will be soft and creamy. Also, you'll need to mash very well, there's nothing worse than a lumpy mangú.
Can you reheat Mangu?Yes, you can! Microwave or reheat in a pan, just remember to add a bit more water because it will be otherwise too dry.
(1) Amanda Ornes de Perelló, Manual de Economía Doméstica. Sto. Dgo: Imp. La Información, 1938.
(1) Manuel A. Patin M. Dominicanismos. Sto. Dgo: Ed. Montalvo, 1940
(2) A. de Humboldt. Examen Político Sobre la Isla de Cuba. Gerona: Imp. de A. Oliva, 1836
(3) Esteban Pichardo. Diccionario Provincial Casi Razonado de Vozes y Frases Cubanas. Habana: Imp. El Trabajo, 1875
"[...]plátano salcochado y majado con manteca [...] En Bayamo se denomina Mogo, que tal vez será síncopa de Mofongo, palabra de Nigricia, usada en algunas de las Antillas."