Despite my oft-misunderstood predilection for Marmite, there are some English institutions that have failed to rub off on me. Most notable has got to be the strong, sweet, milky tea that most English people can’t contemplate living without. While I prefer Té de Jengibre (Ginger Tea), the Dominican equivalent would be giving up coffee, and I can definitely relate to that. My love for coffee pre-dates my arrival in the DR so I can’t hold this quirk up as evidence of my aplatanamiento. My love for ginger tea, though, it’s entirely owed to my living here.
Aunt Clara has written about this phenomenon before, but for those new to all this, I’ll quickly explain that the state of being aplatanado is what happens to foreigners when they ‘go native’ in the Dominican Republic. Its literal meaning is something approximate to ‘becoming like a plantain’. It is no coincidence that the plantain is used to symbolize this process of cultural assimilation. As we all know, plantains are a central feature of Dominican eating culture, pretty much like coffee in fact.
To be aplatanado is to become more Dominican than the Dominicans. Symptoms might include demanding mangú for breakfast when your Dominican family is reaching for the baguettes and croissants. It’s when you look for the beans whenever served a rice dish, or more to the point, when you choose tostones over fried potatoes. It’s when you say ‘let’s go and eat mofongo’ when your Dominican friends are headed for the pizzeria. It doesn’t have to be food-related, of course, but this is a food site, and aplatanamiento is much more meaningful when the proverbial plantains are involved.
But back to tea. Some of my British and colonial friends and acquaintances living in the DR pine for a good strong cup of PG Tips or, for more refined moments, a pot of Earl Grey. I don’t even think about it. Call me aplatanada if you must, but I prefer the Dominican varieties of tea myself.
When I worked in an office in Santo Domingo the conserje would do the rounds every morning with a tray rattling with mugs of realte de jengibre — ginger tea — that she brewed herself using fresh ginger root. Apart from requesting a reduced sugar version I was an instant convert and soon became addicted to this delicious beverage, which is reputed to have a cleansing effect. I can also testify to its efficiency as a much-needed mid-morning pick-me-up.
Another refreshing Dominican tea is limoncillo or lemongrass tea, made with the leaves of the lemongrass plant that grows abundantly in the countryside here. As its name suggests it has a lemony flavour and like ginger tea, it is believed to be good for the digestive system.
That other famous English tradition, afternoon tea, has no equivalent in Dominican culture. There isn’t even a word for it: merienda can mean a mid-morning snack or elevenses as well as the snack you might eat in the middle or late afternoon.
This reminds me of a British friend, a tea drinker, who sometimes had trouble explaining his requirements when away from what some of our compatriots regard as ‘civilisation’. Tea is not unknown in most parts of the world, but drinking tea with milk the English way is not appreciated by all and sundry. My friend would ask for ‘a cup of tea with milk’, only to be presented with a strange look followed by a cup of hot milk with a tea bag inside. He soon learned to phrase it slightly differently: ‘a cup of tea, with some milk on the side’.
- ½ cup of chopped fresh ginger root
- 8 cups of water
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- ⅓ cup of sugar (or more taste)
- Cut the ginger into fine slices. Boil the cinnamon sticks until the water is lightly colored. Remove the cinnamon.
- Add the ginger roots and boil for 5 minutes.
- Remove the ginger and add sugar to taste.
- Serve hot with cookies of your preference.