Monday, August 22, 2011

¿Tostones o los amarillos?

So there I was, trying out a local puerto-rican restaurant for the first time.  I ordered the lunch combo, fried fish, rice and plantains.  When I ordered my plantains, that's when "la pregunta del millón" (the million dollar question) question came up.   

¿Tostones o  los amarillos?

Great.  Now what?  There I was thinking "what the hell is he talking about?".  Once again, Spanish has left me dazed and confused.  Only this time I think I had every right to be, I just didn't know it yet.

Luckily, this story did have a happy ending, I got what I wanted, some very delicious plantains.  It also started me down the path of a Spanish lesson that didn't end for a few months.

Here's what I ordered from that Puerto-rican restaurant:

We know them as plantains.  In the Spanish speaking world they're known as platanos.  Sort of.  

Let's go back to my restaurant adventures for just a minute.  If you recall, I was offered two choices when I asked for platanosLos amarillos o tostones.  It only took about 3 more visits to the restaurant for me to burn into my brain which is which.

Los amarillos are the delicious plantains shown in the photo above.  And at some point they were even refered to as los dulces.  Now here's a picture of tostones.

While I do enjoy this style of plantain, they aren't my favorite.  Not that you care.   Anyway, with my new found knowledge I later went to another Puerto-rican restaurant and proudly ordered "amarillos" with that confident, smug look on my face.  It disappeared quite quickly when the waitress made it clear she didn't know what I was talking about.  I also tried "los dulces".  That didn't work either.  This story ends with me not getting my amarillos, but instead I got tostones.  By the way, tostones are also called patacones.

Needless to say, I was completely confused.  And it got worse before it got better. 

Today I'm hoping this blog post will help save you from the confusion I suffered.  With that in mind, let's take a step back and talk about what a plantain is.

Here's a picture of a plantain, or plátano.  OK, two platanos.

Notice one is green and one is yellow.  While they're both platonos, the green one is called  a platano verde (a green plantain) and the other plátano maduro (a ripe plantain).  Simple, right?  Oh wait, in Mexico the plátano verde is also called a plátano macho

This is where things get tricky.  This is also a plátano:

No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you.  That is what we call a banana.  Definitely not a plantain.  Also remember that the very first picture I showed you was also of platanos.  Aside from being called a plátano, it's also called a banano.  In Venezuela, it's called a cambur.  You may also hear it called a guineo. Got all that straight?  Oh, did I forget to mention you might also hear this called a banana?  With a Spanish accent of course.

I still find it hard to keep everything straight, I just hope I see something I recognize on the menu and pray for pictures.  I'm hoping you'll have better luck than me.  And if you're looking to me for advice on how to order the type of plátano you want, that's probably a bad idea, I'm batting about 50-50.  But I'll try to help you anyway. 

In general, if you want the sweet plantains, ask for platanos maduros or platanos dulces.  For the other kind, go with tostones, especially if you're in a Puerto-rican restaurant.  And don't be afraid of giving me advice, I've already admitted to only batting 50-50.  Clearly I need all the help I can get.

The last thing I'll leave you with is a link to an interesting article discussing this very subject, but it has the added bonus of several Spanish speakers chiming in.  They provide some great insight into what is what in they're respective countries.  It's in Spanish, so you can get some good practice in.

OK, one more last thing.   Here's another banana related post you might enjoy:


 ¡Hasta la próxima!


  1. In Mexico the word "tostón" is used to refer to the old fifty cent coin.

  2. also, hondurenos use "guineo" for a different type of green banana, (not an american banana and not a plantain) that they use to make something like french fries.