There is a question I have been asked many times in these ten years: What makes a dish “Dominican”?
The answer escapes me. And since Aunt Ilana is the anthropologist here I have put off coming up with my own definition. The fact is that I doubt there will ever be a consensus on the subject.
As an exercise in mental “fartery” (and if that is not a word it certainly should) I will try to explain my up-to-now loose rationale for selecting the dishes for our collection, then I will just probably refer people to this post if I am ever asked again.
It is very difficult to come with a working definition of what makes a dish Dominican. There is no denying that some are indisputably “imported”, like our beloved kipe (which came to us as the Lebanese kibbeh), or the ever-popular chofan (which we adapted from the Cantonese chow fan).
Are these two dishes Dominican?
I say yes. If you disagree with me consider this: the people who brought these dishes to us are now fully fledged Dominicans. Dominicans of Chinese or Middle-Eastern origin have no other allegiance but to the Dominican Republic and have made important contributions to our country in the fields of culture, politics, commerce, civil service, education, etc.
The fact that their cultural heritage is more recent and traceable makes it no less important than that of the dominant traits in our culture (Spanish, African and Taino).
Some cases are more complicated as there doesn’t seem to be a clear “chain of evidence” (OK, so I watch too much Law and Order) on how these dishes arrived in our shores. In those cases I just ask myself a few questions: “is this dish known by a large segment of our population?”, “would it be recognized by significant group of the “man on the street?”, “are the ingredients easily available in our country?”, “is this dish consumed with some frequency by Dominicans?” and “is there any cultural significance to it?”.
If the answer to these questions is “yes” then by all means, that dish is Dominican, even if in some cases we have to acknowledge that we can trace it back to another country (or not in some cases). Which is why our “‘espagueti’ a la dominicana” is as Dominican as Spaghetti Bolognese is Italian.
Would you agree?
And speaking of which…
Several readers wrote to us requesting a recipe for this salad and it was the last one we added to our Spanish site before we moved to a new format a year ago.
I have no idea where and how this salad came to be but it is very popular, I have found, as part of the “plato del dia” fare in popular eateries. The fact that it contains raisins, would suggest it is a very Dominican thing (although not universally-liked, raisins pop up in several Dominican savory dishes). At first it led me to believe that this was not merely an adaptation of coleslaw or other well-known cabbage dishes. And then I find out via Aunt Ilana that the addition of raisins is also popular in the UK, and apparently not unknown in the US.
So, what the heck do I know?
- ¼ head of cabbage, shredded
- 1 large carrot
- ¼ cup of raisins
- ¼ cup of mayonnaise
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- Grate the carrot with the coarse side of the grater going along the length to obtain long strips. Mix cabbage, carrot and raisins in a deep bowl.
- Warm 4 cups of water. Remove from the heat when it breaks a boil and add to the cabbage mix. Soak for 5 minutes. Drain the water, preferably with a salad shaker to remove all the water. Let the cabbage mix to cool down to room temperature.
- Mix in the mayo, season with salt to taste, and chill. Serve chilled.