Plantain Chips Are The Classic, Crisp Side For Cuban Sandwiches

Few people forget their first time eating a plantain, not knowing what to expect but likely imagining a taste similar to bananas. They have similar exterior features and belong to the same Musaceae family as bananas, but the difference is obvious when a plantain hits your tastebuds. From flavor to texture, size, and at what stage to eat them, the distinctions can be remarkable. When it comes to food pairing, particularly with a Cuban sandwich, there's no question which one rises and shines. It's the plantain, specifically in the form of plantain chips.

You'd be hard pressed to find a Cuban restaurant or food service that doesn't offer a classic Cuban sandwich with a side-dish option of crispy fried plantain chips. A hint of sweetness in the plantains perfectly complements the savory elements of the sandwich, making a heavenly Havana-inspired meal any time of day.

Adding a side of plantain chips sounds simple, but plantains in general are a bit more complex than meets the eye. They're typically not eaten in a natural raw state, and for good reason: When raw, they tend to be starchy and sometimes bitter. Though you can boil plantains and mash them like potatoes, a hands-down favorite way of enjoying them is sliced thin and crispy fried into plantain chips. You can also bake them to cut down on cooking oil, but when served with a Cuban sandwich, they'll likely be either fried from fresh plantains or served as precooked bagged plantain chips.

Why plantain chips are a preferred side for Cuban sandwiches

Plantains are a staple fruit in Caribbean countries, including Cuba, where the Cuban sandwich assumably originates. Plantains grow there primarily for domestic consumption, with plantains and bananas together sometimes making up as much as 70% of the country's overall fresh fruit production. Plantains are available year-round, making them an integral part of the Cuban diet. As such, it's no surprise that fried plantain chips accompany lunch sandwiches and even stand alone as snacks and appetizers, often served with dipping sauces.

If Cuba isn't in your immediate or future travel plans, no worries. Plenty of Cuban restaurants in the U.S. offer the delectable duo on their menus, especially ones in tropical climates such as the state of Florida. Just be aware that plantains are also called maduros, which are fried ripe plantains, while tostones are plantains that have been fried before they ripen. You can also purchase plantains in Latin grocery stores or even mainstream supermarkets, including Trader Joe's.