Yes, We Still Have Bananas

I read Dan Koeppel's article Yes we will have no Bananas when it came out back in 2008 and was struck most by this sentence - There are more than 1,000 varieties of bananas — most of them in Africa and Asia — but except for an occasional exotic, the Cavendish is the only banana we see in our markets. It explained something I sort of knew noticed grown up eating a variety of different kinds of bananas- something that I am reminded of again now that I'm back here in the tropics where there are so many different kinds of bananas available it's hard to keep track of their names.

The one pictured on the left is Pisang Mas (gold banana) and is easy to remember because of it's much smaller size- like little sausages. They also remind me of a similar banana that my grandmother liked which I vaguely remember being called Pisang Monyet (monkey) which had some discernible seeds and perhaps closer to the wild species. According to Dan Koeppel's blog the Pisang Mas is starting to become available in the US under the name Chiquita Mini.

Apart from looks, the flavors and textures are also different. I'll have to do a more thoughtful comparison of a few different ones another time but the Pisang Mas for example has a warmer, peachier color, much firmer texture and it's harder to peel. Combined with a local yogurt from Little India that is both thicker and saltier, it is altogether a delightfully more complex flavor combination than 'bananas and yogurt' might imply.

I almost always buy bananas from the night market from a certain Malay lady who has a small stall with produce from her own garden or as she replied to my question  about this- 'from the village (kampung)'. The other banana pictured is also from her, one that I am not familar with Pisang Embun (dew). This is an alternate universe from that described in the article where huge economies of scale are arrived at by only supplying one type of banana efficient to produce, uniform in quality and universally affordable....all the bananas in a shipment ripen at the same rate.

The main thrust of Koeppel's article is that this singularity of banana production is capable of wiping out the world's commercial crop because of vulnerablility to disease coming from the same gene pool, it's happened before in the 60's. The diversity found here, ensures that we might still have bananas in this part of the world when that happens. Hopefully the 'grow your own' movement might eventually catch on here as it has done in the US and we might  return to what was a common practise- growing bananas in our own backyards.

Ironically, where bananas were a staple in my NYC kitchen for the very reasons that are causing it's precarious situation- it was cheap, and easily available, I don't eat bananas as often here. The reason being -there are so many other options. I eat almost 3 times the amount of fruit I did in NYC -Mangoes, Jackfruit, Papaya, Mangosteens, the list goes on but bananas only when the Malay lady has a good looking batch on her table that week.


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