Note from El Equipo: If you’re here to grab the Villa Lagarto (paladar in Cienfuegos) green plantain chips recipe (do it, do it, do it) from author Cynthia Carris Alonso’s book, scroll down. It’s at the bottom.
Many of you have visited Havana. Yet, about 140 miles southeast of Havana, is another historic, interesting, and charming city: Cienfuegos. There is a mix of Taino, Spanish, and French influences in both the architecture and the food in this city, founded in 1819. Christopher Columbus referred to Cienfuegos as the “Pearl of the South,” for the beauty of its bay, and the city was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 2005. Cienfuegos has a main plaza surrounded by important buildings for governing, worship, culture, and education. Centrally-located shops are interspersed with street vendors under beautiful large trees that sway gracefully from winds off the nearby sea.
The colorful and well-preserved facades of Cienfuegos’s structures give the city a calming and whimsical character, which is also very present at the Villa Lagarto (lizard) inn and paladar. Located at the end of the long malecón, by the bay, Villa Lagarto has a pretty view of the water and a refreshing breeze. This oasis for dining and tranquility is run by May Cruz and her husband, Antonio Lleonart. Its long, lush entryway is decorated with typical Cuban wooden rocking chairs, a decorative pool, polished wooden bridge, and a large ceramic alligator with water streaming from its mouth into the pool, as well as smaller, colorful ceramic statues of criollo Cuban women, and a tower of tropical fruits which they generously offer visitors for free.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, both the paladar and the inn at Villa Lagarto are closed right now. However, May Cruz assures me that they plan to open again as soon as possible! In the meantime, May and her husband are selling food and coffee grown on their cooperative farm near the nature reserve park, Topes de Collante, where they grow organic foods such as yucca, guava, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, plantains, and more. They must sell 20% of their produce and 80% of their coffee to the government; they can sell the rest of the bounty privately or enjoy the delicious food with friends and family.
Christopher Columbus referred to Cienfuegos as the “Pearl of the South,” for the beauty of its bay, and the city was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 2005.
Since it is still not easy to travel to Cuba due to U.S. policies, COVID-19 health risks, and travel restrictions, it is my pleasure to share the classic taste and recipe for Cuban plantain chips with you here, which you can now try to cook in your own kitchens!
Green Plantain Chips (Mariquitas de Plátanos Verdes)
1 Green plantain, peeled
Salt, to taste
With a mandoline or a very sharp knife, slice the plantains thinly on the diagonal to no more than 1/16 inch thick and 2 inches long.
Heat 4 inches of vegetable oil in a deep large saucepan to 350℉. Add the plantain slices and deep fry until crispy, about 3 minutes. Remove the plantains from the oil with a slotted spoon and set on a paper towel to dry. Season with salt.
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Cynthia Carris Alonso is the author of A Taste of Cuba: A Journey Through Cuba and Its Savory Cuisine (Apollo Publishers, 2018), and a book of photography, Passage to Cuba, an Up-Close Look at the World’s Most Colorful Culture (Skyhorse Publishing, 2015).