For our third mini-interview with Dominicans from the artistic and cultural world we bring you the words of famed Dominican writer Chiqui Vicioso, one of the luminaries of Dominican literature.
What is your favourite Dominican dish?
CV – It’s very difficult to answer that question because I love practically every Dominican dish and don’t really have a favourite as such. I’ve travelled all over Latin America and no cuisine compares to ours. The only national culinary tradition that gets close in terms of variety and exquisiteness is Brazil’s. There is just so much variety [in Dominican cooking]: rice, pulses, meats, plantains, yuca (cassava), ñame, yautía (taro), aubergine – not just stewed but also in pastelones (bakes). Our pasta dishes are better than Italy’s – and I’ve said this in Italy where it’s considered heresy!
Have you got any food related memories to share?
CV – My mother was a shy and reserved woman – some would say undemonstrative – and her way of showing affection was through food. Whenever I told her I was coming to visit she would spend a week making me all my favourite dishes. She collected recipes and cooked the food, and in my home this was always a celebration.
My grandfather used to say that the initial feast was for the eyes. The table had to be nicely decorated, with a salad, which on the Dominican table is more decoration than actual food.
The routine in my house was like this. At 11 in the morning we were served a wonderful soup, and we had lunch at between 1 and 2 in the afternoon, with salad, rice, beans or pigeon peas, and some kind of meat, tostones and arepitas, sometimes fried sweet potatoes. Almost always the Dominican flag with some variations: fried aubergines, plátanos al caldero, which doubled as dessert.
How has food influenced your work? Does it feature in any of your writings?
CV – I have a poem where food plays a part, dedicated to my mother when she passed away three years ago. It’s called Madeleines for María Luisa, inspired by Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. In the novel, when the author visits his aunt she offers him a madeleine (like a cupcake) and he dips it in his café-au-lait and this opens his doors to the past. In my poem I recall how when I arrived in New York and mami wanted to offer us all the delicious foods that were new to us: apple pie, lemon pie, all sorts of pies. Every Sunday we had a party. Then I wrote Nuyor Islas, when my mother returned to the Dominican Republic and moved to El Embrujo in Santiago, where lots of people who had come back from the US lived. At the time the typical ‘marchantas’ (women street vendors) of Santiago still existed and one in particular would arrive at my mother’s house on her donkey and they would watch the telenovela together. Mami would offer her juice or coffee and if it was noon she would invite her to stay for lunch. This is part of the Santiago culture of hospitality. In Santiago my grandmother would cook extra food – “for the visitors who might arrive”. This hospitality was almost like an obligation. You don’t find that tradition in the capital.
Have you got a secret or a recipe to share?
CV – Chicken a la Chiqui is a dish that I invented because I was bored with the Dominican way of cooking chicken. I clean it, season it with salt only and sauté in olive oil until golden. Then I add a couple of cans of cream of mushrooms (and water) and then a generous amount of chopped green peppers. Once the chicken is cooked through I cover it with fresh mushrooms and cover so that the mushrooms cook with the steam. I serve it with rice. Another dish of mine is Chicken with honey, but it’s dangerous – you have to close all the doors and windows in the kitchen because the smell will attract all the bees in the neighborhood!
Writer Sherezada Vicioso, better known as Chiqui, was born in Santo Domingo on 21 June 1948. She studied in the US and in Brazil. She holds a degree in Sociology and Latin American history from Brooklyn College, in New York, a Masters in Education from the University of Columbia and a Post-graduate degree in Cultural Administration from the Getulio Vargas Foundation (Brazil).
She is the winner of the Anacaona de Oro award for Literature and the Gold Medal of Merit for Women in 1992.
She organised the first Circle of Women Poets, now called the Circle of Women Creators. She has worked for several UN agencies including UNICEF and as a consultant for UNESCO, UNIFEM, UNDP and others.
She was appointed Ambassador for Women’s Children’s and Youth Affairs for the Foreign Relations Ministry. In 2012 she was the vice presidential candidate for the Alianza País party.
Viaje desde el agua (1981)
Un extraño ulular traía el viento (1985)
Bolver [sic] a vivir: imágenes de Nicaragua (1986)
Julia de Burgos (1987)
Algo que decir: ensayos sobre literatura femenina (1981-1991)
Salomé Ureña de Henríquez, 1850-1897: A cien años de magisterio (1997)
Wish-ky Sour, winner of National Theatre Prize in 1996
Salomé U: cartas a una ausencia
Desvelos (a dialogue between Emily Dickinson and Salomé Ureña)
Photo by Pedrito Guzmán