A representative element of the Caribbean and Cartagena de Indias is gastronomy, a set of techniques and knowledge that are passed down through generations and are part of the city’s popular traditions. Meals based on a product such as “Musa Paradisiaca”, a fruit of Asian origin also called plantain, have become popular and has been appropriated by the homes of Cartagena families, as well as restaurants and fried street sales. This is why in Cartagena we can find the plantain in different presentations, such as ripe plantain slices, “patacón”, plantain in temptation and grilled plantain.
The “patacón” is the most famous preparation of the plantain. It receives different names such as “tostón”, “frito”, “fisted plantains”, or “tachinos”, and despite being elaborated in different countries like Cuba, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Venezuela, it has become into an identity element of Colombia and Cartagena de Indias itself.
The origin of the word “patacón” comes from the Arabic “batakká”, and it was the name given to many coins used by Arabs in the Middle Ages. Later “batakká” was transformed into Italian as “patácca”, to indicate the currencies that came from Islamic countries. Eventually the name “patácca” became “patacón”, which was the name of the first known Colombian coin, and it is believed that due to its rigid and almost round appearance, the famous plantain preparation was named in the same way.
Cooking a good “patacón” could be considered an art. First you must peel and cut the plantain, either green or ripe, into thick wheels that are placed to fry in boiling oil. Then you remove them to flatten them, moisten them with salt and garlic water, and put them back to the oil to get the crunchy texture that fascinates to everyone who tries this delicious food. All of this in less than 15 minutes.
Mainly we can find the “patacón” served as a complement to the typical dishes of the region, but in the informal shops we can buy portions of this delicious preparation accompanied by cheese or “suero” sauce, a perfect contrast between the crunchy texture of the fried plantain, and the tender dairy products.
Another proposal, even more interesting, is the so-called “patacón con todo” (patacón with everything), easy to get at fast food stands. This is a different preparation, in which the plantain is not cut into slices, but it is fried whole and flatten creating a big size “patacón”, that in this case works as a support for a mixed plate with bites of different types of meat, such as beef, chicken, sausages, chorizo, cheese and veggies… Delicious in every presentation!
As breakfast, lunch or dinner, the “patacón” will always taste well. There is not a single person of Cartagena who has not been seduced by its flavor, and it is a culinary proposal that tourists should try once they visit the city. And it is thanks to its shape, like a cookie, that invites to savor every bite.
On the other hand, being a part of the local cuisine makes it an element of the city’s intangible cultural heritage, therefore, it is important to preserve this recipe, a part of Cartagena’s diet that represents the traditions and customs of the Caribbean culture in which Cartagena de Indias is immersed.
Visitors who do not know how to prepare this wonderful dish, can find in the beautiful Historical Center different places to taste the “patacón”, from restaurants that offer typical Caribbean food, to the corners where fried stalls are located, the same ones in which other very local flavors are exhibited, such as the famous “arepa e’ huevo”, the “carimañola” and the corn “buñuelos”. However, for many people, the “patacón” has no equal.