There are more than 1,000 varieties of bananas in the world, but most of us living in America are only familiar with the ubiquitous Cavendish variety. These bananas are tasteless and mushy, but they are widely available thanks to their excellent shelf life. Chiquita (formerly United Fruit Company) created a formula to cultivate and export these bananas for next to nothing by exploiting the workers in Latin America. With their success, other growers such as Del Monte and Dole joined in and flooded the markets with these cheap fruits.
Vietnamese people are extremely particular about fresh fruits because they serve as the majority of snacks and desserts. A variety of banana that is very popular is chuoi moc, which is about ½ the size of a regular banana or smaller. The skin is thinner and the flesh is firmer. It tastes rich and sweet with a subtle hint of tartness. My favorite way to enjoy this fruit is to make banana tempura.
My parents took a few banana offshoots from my aunt’s garden and planted them in my sister’s garden over 3 years ago. The fruits from these plants have been pretty small (2 bites), but with the incredible amount of rain we’ve had in the past few weeks, this batch turned out extremely plump (3-4 bites).
Aside from eating the fruits, we slice up the banana flower/heart (bup chuoi) to add to salads and soups. Each banana bunch produces a single, sterile, male banana flower that hangs down. The female flowers produce the actual fruits that you see above.
The beautiful leaves are used to steam-cook various fish and rice dishes. Gone are the days of buying frozen banana leaves from the market. :)