What Is Chifle?

Dan Harkins

In many tropical nations of South and Central America, the plantain is as common as its smaller cousin, the banana. This has led to chifle, or fried plantain chips, becoming just as common in countries like Ecuador and Peru as banana chips have become elsewhere. Sweeter than potato chips, this sweet and savory snack is made with oil, salt and thinly sliced plantain.

Chifle can be made with green bananas or ripened plantains.
Chifle can be made with green bananas or ripened plantains.

Also known as tajadas, chifle chips must be made from fresh, ripened plantains or green bananas; otherwise, they will taste too bitter. Many think of plantains as vegetables, despite their official designation as a fruit. Some chefs cut them into circular chips; others slice long strips lengthwise or do a combination of the two. Beforehand, some will dip the fruits in saltwater to make them more savory.

After frying, plantain chips can be should dried and drained of oil on paper towels.
After frying, plantain chips can be should dried and drained of oil on paper towels.

After sliced, the plantain slivers are dropped into hot oil until browned and crispy. The oil should fully submerge the plantain chips. If the chips are packed into the fryer too tight, they may stick together. Finishing the process involves merely drying the chips of oil on a paper towel, then sprinkling them with salt.

Another variation has chefs adding garlic powder and even chile powder for a spicy version known as chifles cerveceros. In some areas, these chips are made on a hot stove instead of in a deep fryer. A common accompaniment with a bowl of chifle chips is salsa rosada, or salsa golf, which is a combination of mayonnaise, ketchup, citrus juice, salt and pepper.

Sacks of chifle chips are commonly sold by street vendors in countries like Peru or Ecuador. They make regular appearances as a light starter on various restaurant tables, alongside cold soup known as ceviche, or with sauces or chutneys made of avacado, fruit or chipotle. Many commercial versions are sold throughout Latin America and further abroad.

A sweeter version of chifle is the also-popular banana chips, which are made the same way. These snacks are more often associated with sweeter pairings, such as trail mix or as a topping for ice cream. Chifle, by contrast, is used in sweet or savory ways throughout Latin American cultures. In Cuba, these snacks are mariquitas, or lady bugs; in Puerto Rico, platanutres; and in Bolivia they are chipilos, or little chips.

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