By MSc. Domingo Cuza Pedrera
Asking for a hot mandanga anywhere in Cuba will surely be greeted with a smirk or laugh. In most parts of the country the “mandanga” is a slang word referring to the male sexual organ, that is, everywhere with the exception of Yara, Bayamo and nearby villages. Here, the mandanga is one of the most traditional dishes of the region. The gastronomic region of Bayamo, which includes the Cauto planes (the Cauto is the country’s longest river), is rich in traditional dishes, so much so that some researchers consider this to be the place where Cuban cuisine was born. Dishes such as ciruelas borrachas (drunk plums), el bollo prieto (black roll), the matahambre (the hunger killer), los suspiros (the sighs), and the bayamese ajiaco (a traditional stew) are all part of the extensive list of original dishes of this historical region, but without a doubt one of the most popular and well-liked is the mandanga.
To find the origins of the mandanga we would have to go back to the aboriginal era. According to Pachalo, one of the main connaisseurs of this tradition, the Bayamo Indians were making this dish with fish as its filling rather than meat.
Mandanga is made with two parts cooked corn and one part raw shredded yuca. The two are grinded together, kneaded into balls and then boiled. The balls are then made into a dough which is extended with a rolling pin into a rectagular shape, then filled with meat seasoned with onions, garlic and cilantro.
The mandanga can be served hot or cold. If one prefers to have it cold, it can be served as is. If one wants it hot, then it must be deep-fried in pork lard or vegetable oil. Some like it with hot salsa. Pachalo was one of its main promoters, that is why in the nearby municipality of Yara the everyone calls it Pachalo’s mandanga.
The mandanga is so popular and appreciated that during the last Bayamo Gourmet Festival it received the A lo Cubano award, a prize that is awarded to individuals or families that best contribute to the preservation of Bayamese culinary tradition. In addition, the municipality of Yara gives tax exemptions to those who promote or sell this great dish.
It is not just cooks and leaders that recognize the importance of the dish. The popular appreciation of the mandanga has been part of poems and songs. In Yara many people dance to the catchy rhythm of a song whose refrain says:
And what did the young woman like?
When one visits Bayamo and goes to the Cuchipapa inn, or goes through Yara, one can ask for a hot mandanga without worrying about being misinterpreted. In our region, everyone knows that this is one of the most delicious and authentic Bayamese dishes.