I asked Amma (Sandeep’s mom) to make her delicious banana bondas (similar in disposition to Duncan Donut Munchkins). After returning from her grocery run she said she didn’t find the right type of bananas. This confused me. Kerala is lined with stalls that sell nothing but bananas in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colors.
Before meeting Sandeep and getting to know about Kerala, I thought Chiquita was a the one and only banana species. I couldn’t stand the smell or taste of bananas. My friend Amanda still remembers the time I kicked her out of my car in college when she peeled open a yellow case. However, when I fell in love with a Malayalee, I was forced to expand my banana knowledge. I watched from afar as Sandeep consumed a few bananas every day. He would relish dried bananas from India, the stench of which sent me escaping to another room. The years soften me. I even learned how to make banana bondas because Sandeep looks so happy when he eats them. The truth is that I’ve come around and, once in a while, you can find me eating a banana.
The fertile South Indian state of Kerala alone is home dozens of banana species that grow year round. Each serves a purpose, which is why Amma said she couldn’t find the right one for the bondas. For example, palayankoda is the most versatile banana. This variety is yellow and about four inches long. It can be eaten as is when ripe, or sliced to make banana chips when raw. This is also the type sliced and dried in the sun, yielding the stinky snack that sent me running. The palayankoda is what Amma needed for the banana bonda. Njalipoovan are yellow and about three inches. They are mostly eaten as is. Kadalipazham are fat red fruits about five inches long and are generally taken to Hindu temples as offerings.
Every respectable house in Kerala has at least one banana plant. A true Malayalee uses it in its entirety. The banana flower, which needs to be cut off in order for the fruit to grow, is made into numerous dishes.
The leaves are used as plates. The inside of the trunk can used as a vegetable. The outer layer serves to decorate exteriors. The stalk and the peels are gifted to the local cow as treats. Malayalees have strong emotional attachments to the banana plant. As one Malayalee lamented to me, “The banana flower is a tragic thing, like a mother being killed to save her children.” When cooked, the purple flower tastes faintly like black button mushrooms and has the texture of cabbage.
In Kerala it is a crime to confuse a banana with a plantain. I have been frowned upon with great disdain over this mistake. Plantains are a whole other story.
Want to get closer to the Kerala banana bonanza? Try your hand at banana bondas.
Banana Bonda Recipe
Beware – This is Amma’s recipe. Like all her recipes, she gives me approximate measurements and frequently omits ingredients. This is why none of the dishes I try taste like hers. Either way, I have tried to be precise by recollecting my own bonda experiments. Bottom line – be creative.
1/2 cup all purpose flour (I use half rice and half tapioca when I make them gluten free)
1 large ripe banana, mashed and whipped (yes, you can use Chiqita if you don’t have access to palayankoda)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
Mix all of this in a bowl. If needed, add just enough water to create a thick batter. Spoon teaspoonfuls into a deep fryer. Remove when brown and dry on a wire rack or paper towels.