Weaving through the stylish crowd at Williamsburg boutique Concrete + Water, Manolo Lopez looks right at home. With his man bun, crisp guayabera, and baby face (in spite of the beard), he could be another 20-something partier trying to nab some of the free rum being served in the back. But then he ducks into the backyard’s makeshift kitchen, where mofongo is being mashed up for the clamoring masses, and you can tell right away that he’s running this show. It’s the second annual launch party of Mofon·GO NY, and Lopez has a lot to celebrate. His mofongo stand – the only Puerto Rican fare among hundreds of vendors at Smorgasburg – is gearing up for another successful season, and 2015 will also see him serving up the boricua comfort food at music festivals, pop-ups and more.
If you’ve never had it (in which case, you’re missing out), mofongo is Puerto Rico’s unofficial national dish. Green plantains are mashed with garlic and folded with savory ingredients like chicharron, chunks of chicken or shrimp, and vegetables, then piled into a compact mound. The hearty meal is more than a starchy, satisfying treat – it’s a reminder of Puerto Rico’s West African heritage: mofongo can be traced back to that region’s fufu dish.
Mofon·GO NY makes their own version – based directly on a recipe from Lopez’s mother – which they serve in biodegradable cups and top with fresh chopped cilantro, bell peppers, and a choice of mayoketchup or Sriracha mayo. The cups look deceptively small, but trust that a serving of these bold flavors and radiant colors will have you stuffed for hours.
We caught up with Lopez at the launch last month to hear more about his concept and where it’s going this year. Make sure to check them out at Smorgasburg on weekends!
What does the word mofongo mean?
Fongo is just an old word or method that the Africans used to use. Back then it was fufu, but it basically means to master grinding different spices or different root vegetables in a wooden mortar.
Where did the idea for Mofon·GO NY come from?
Mofon·GO NY was created because I saw a void in street food culture. There wasn’t really any authentic island-flavored food, and I think a lot of the food industry in the Latin community isn’t represented strongly enough here in NY. I wanted to give it some aggressive marketing, a more modern taste and a more modern look.
Five words to describe Mofongo…
Unique, eclectic, innovative, fun and futuristic.
So what makes your mofongo unique?
Our mofongo is unique because this is a family recipe from Puerto Rico. This is a bunch of young people doing it from scratch, and we’re just redefining what our culture is through a small bowl.
Where and when can we find you?
You can find us every Saturday and Sunday at Smorgasburg, in Williamsburg and Brooklyn Bridge Park (DUMBO).
Do you have any other events planned over the year?
We’re doing music festivals, Mystery Land, Full Moon Festival. Also pop-ups and a lot of collaborations with the Village Voice, Rums of Puerto Rico and much more down the line.
So a very important question, what do you drink while chowing down on mofongo?
Mmmmm [laughs]… Ron Caña