In a slight but not complete departure from Dominican themes this week, we explore the delights of food in the movies. No, not much to do with pica pollo (Dominican deep fried chicken), as it has not yet appeared in any movie, as far as I know.
There are some movies one should never go to see on an empty stomach. The first time that I learned this lesson was over 15 years ago when I went to see ‘Dim Sum’ (Wayne Wang, 1984) set in San Francisco’s Chinese community, with many detailed scenes of food preparation, presentation and consumption. ‘Dim Sum’ is the name given to scrumptious Chinese appetizers like prawn dumplings. My most vivid memory of it is stepping out of the cinema, tummy growling, and setting out to find the nearest open Chinese restaurant.
I don’t think anyone has managed to better the most lavish treat, ‘Babette’s Feast’ (Gabriel Axel, 1987). Based on the novella by Danish author Isak Dinesen who is perhaps most famous for writing ‘Out of Africa’, this is an unusual tale and an extraordinary cinematic feat. Set in a bleak and remote community in Jutland, it tells the tale of a French woman, Babette, who has fled the French revolution and works as a housekeeper for two pious spinster sisters. Her only contact with her homeland is through writing letters to a friend in Paris. Her friend sends her lottery tickets, and one day Babette discovers she has won a large prize. She then sets out to cook an incredible feast to show her gratitude to her employers, with the most exquisite and expensive ingredients that she has to order from afar. The movie shows this in great detail, and manages to rivet even the most skeptical viewer.
Some years later came ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ (Alfonso Arau, 1992) and on the menu in this film is Mexican haute-cuisine. There is not an enchilada in sight! Between outrageous frolics, high drama and Latin passion, the family sit down to eat succulent feasts rich in exotic ingredients. The novel by Laura Esquivel actually has a recipe at the head of each chapter.
More Chinese culinary celluloid delights came in the 1990s with films such as ‘Eat Drink Man Woman’ (1994) and ‘The Wedding Banquet’ (1993), both by Taiwanese director Ang Lee who went on to make mainstream hits like ‘Sense and Sensibility’, ‘The Ice Storm’ and ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’.
We also have films with food scenes memorable for their ability to turn your stomach, like the eating of sheep eyes in Indiana Jones, or that scene in Monty Python’s the ‘Meaning of Life’. Mondongo anyone?
So to return to matters Dominican in my parting shot, what would a film featuring Dominican food consist of? A family saga where four generations banter and bicker over a steaming sancocho? A road movie where the main characters eat their way up the Autopista Duarte? A childish farce packed with jokes about the effects of beans? Or a romantic comedy with an unforgettable risqué scene in a Pica Pollo restaurant? And speaking of which…
Step aside KFC, here comes the Dominican version of deep fried chicken. You’ll find pica pollo (Dominican deep fried chicken), in every small town of the Dominican Republic, it’s the meal of choice after a night of party.
- 1½ qt [1½ lt] water
- 12 chicken drumsticks
- 1 small red onion, halved
- Juice of 2 limes
- 3 sprigs of parsley
- 3 teaspoons of salt, divided
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- ½ teaspoon of oregano
- 1 teaspoon of pepper
- 1 cup of all-purpose wheat flour
- 4 cups of vegetable oil (soy, corn or peanut)
- Pour in the water into a pot, and boil the chicken in a deep pot, adding the onion, lime juice, parsley, 2 teaspoons of salt and garlic to the water.
- When the chicken is cooked through but firm (about 15 mins) remove from the heat.
- Take the chicken out of the water and set chicken aside (you can skim the fat that rises after the broth cools and use it for another dish).
- Mix 1 teaspoon of salt, oregano, and pepper with the flour.
- In a small frying pot heat the oil over medium heat.
- Cover the drumsticks with the flour, shake off excess.
- Deep-fry the drumsticks no more than two at a time until they turn golden brown. Drain excess oil on a paper towel.
- Serve with tostones and ketchup.