Plantain Roasting Ovens in Mexico
SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico- Two men strode through the streets of San Cristobal pushing a giant sheet metal contraption on wheels. It was smoking. What was this thing? I had certainly never before seen such a machine, so I walked closer, and asked the men pushing it what the hell it was.
They told me that it was a portable oven, within which they were roasting plantains and selling them in the streets. Subsequent to stopping to talk to me, a crowd began to form around us. The crowd wanted plantains. One of the men pulled out a drawer from the depths of the steel contraption which was packed full of sizzling plantains, and began serving the crowd.
This oven was a simple machine: heated by a live wood fed flame in its under-carriage it cooked whatever was placed into the above drawer which could be easily pushed in or out of the oven’s depths. As I watched with admiration for this hand made contraption — replete with rough cut edges, and seams that were barely still held together — the men though it would be funny to give me a surprise.
As I got close and continued my inspection, they let loose a piercing steam whistled, and I jumped back in freight. The whistle continued blowing loud, I retreated a few more steps, still surprised, unable to hear anything but the whistle.
As the onerous sound subsided, the men continued laughing at me.
“What is that sound for?” I asked.
“To let people know that plantains are ready,” the man at the controls answered matter of factly.
I must say, as corrosive as the whistle was, it did serve its purpose: women in colorful shawls, hungry children, and men in cowboy hats flocked to the call of fresh roasted plantains.
I have a penchant delight reserved for old machines. I like solid metal contraptions where one part hits another which hits another, eventually producing something useful to humans. I like the old style of machine without one hint of electronics, machines that can be used anywhere at any time, machines that can be made and repaired by the skilled hands of a man with the proper materials. As I travel, I photograph and write about the machines that I find people using –least there come a day when many of these machines can only be found pushing up lilies in the disused backwaters of human material history.
More photos of the plantain roasting oven