Thursday, February 4, 2016

The mysterious pionono

Here's an interesting puzzle in food history and etymology for you.

How does one go from this:

To this?

Let me backtrack. I was talking to a man from Puerto Rico recently when the conversation turned to food, as it will. I had him give me a complete rundown on his native cuisine, and the word pionono popped up. I asked him to repeat it, then spell it. It was indeed pionono. I informed him that this was a famous Italian pope, Pius IX, in Italian Pio Nono. We both pondered the link between a Pope and a scrumptious roll of ripe plantain and seasoned ground beef.

I did some sleuthing, of course. Some version of the pionono is found in a number of Spanish-speaking countries and even the Philippines. What they all have in common is that they are all roll-like, with a stuffing that can be sweet or savory. But the grandpa of them all is the Santa Fe (Spain) pionono, shown in the illustration above. How did this happen?

The pionono was invented in 1897 by pastry chef Ceferino Isla in Santa Fe (Granada), who as a devout Catholic decided to name it after the pope of his time. The resemblance is apparently in the top that looks like a mitre, and some impertinently say in the pudgy consistency of the body. Others maintain that the Pope himself partook of the pastry. Ironically, it is believed that the confection has Arab origins.

From its original home in Spain it morphed into various versions in Latin America, some sweet, some savory. A search of the term (as one word) in Google Images will show you the variety of dishes derived from Ceferino's creation.