Banana Homesickness

There are things in Asia that one simply cannot find here in Germany, and one of them is decent bananas. Before you go into a tirade about European banana pride, let me remind everyone that bananas are not native to Europe, are all imported from Asia, Latin America or Africa, and the imported bananas must comply with the EU standards and guidelines. Ironically, many of the banana exporting countries are also referred to as banana republics, a derogatory term to describe a developing country with continuous political instability and limited resources to export. This has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with the clothing store of the same name.

Back to the bananas: There are 1000 officially registered varieties of bananas around the world. What you find in the markets and supermarkets here in Germany is uniformly sized, pristine yellow Cavendish banana. It meets all the requirements of what a perfect banana should look like, but if you grew up in Asia, Africa or Latin America, you know that they taste nothing like the ones back home. The Philippines alone, as the third largest banana export industry in the world, has 12 varieties, which include the cooking and table varieties, each with its own unique flavour and purpose. My favourite for cooking is the traditional Saba, and for snacking the Señorita, my mother preferred the Lakatan, whereas my father the Latundan, but we agreed on the Saba for cooking. So at any given time we always had at least three varieties of bananas at home. I remember Mommy throwing fits each time the housekeeper returned from the market with just the Lakatans and not a trace of any others. The banana wars were to be taken very seriously, especially since Daddy spent over 30 years in the food industry and was very particular about his fruit to begin with.

The Cavendish was unacceptable in our home, and when I moved to India, I was delighted (as was Daddy when he came to visit) to discover 20 varieties of bananas! Which was no surprise, considering that India is the leading exporter of bananas in the world. Ecuador comes in third, followed by Uganda. In India too, the Cavendish is frowned upon, to the extent that the local fruit vendor on the streets is not likely to have any Cavendish for sale either, but who cares, there are so many other to choose from.

Bananas are supposed to cheer you up with their levels of trytophan, but I am pretty sure that the Cavendish bananas from my local supermarket in Berlin are very low on that. In order to export the fruit to Europe the bananas have to be harvested in an unripe state, which means the amino acids have not reached their full potential. It is no wonder that eating the bananas here depresses me each and every time. The darn banana may be compliant, looks good, one can argue it is healthy, but is tasteless, and ever so boring – utterly reflective of the state of EU politics.

For more interesting facts about bananas, check out The Banana Link!

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