Mamawhat, you ask? You know, Mamajuana the spiced rum that you may have had straight from the lid of its bottle on the street (oh, was that just me?).
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Someone recently inquired whether or not Mamajuana was available for export. Mamawhat, you ask? You know, the spiced rum that you may have had straight from the lid of its bottle on the street (oh, was that just me?), or perhaps as an after-dinner liqueur. Spiced with cinnamon, medicinal leaves and herbs - among other things - it is a sweet, yet fiery concoction that will leave you breathless, maybe even a little "frisky".
Mamajuana is readily available in most markets of the DR, and served in many a restaurant, and can even be made to order. If it’s virility you are looking for, then you will of course request that more mariscos be included in the composition: conch, octopus, snail, and assorted insects, for example. If it’s medicinal effect you require, there is a slew of ingredients for that purpose as well; things with strange names like anamú or timacle, which supposedly cure everything from prostate to ovarian problems. Lastly, let us not forget the ever-popular, and oddly named herbs "nail of a cat", or "claw of a parakeet", said to promote pregnancy.
Someone recently brought us a bottle from the DR. It was a giant gallon-bottle, ridiculously wrapped - absolutely swathed in newspaper and "teipi" - a gift from my husband's family. Canadian Customs had our traveling friend unwrap it (because it looked like a huge bomb, I think) while he explained that the alcohol in it was something like a fixing agent (ha!) that would be emptied out here so that the herbs and leaves and stuff could be used to make WINE. I don't know why he felt the need to tell such an extravagant, weird lie - talk about overkill - but they believed it! No further questions asked!
The bottle was emptied quickly; we drank it down, over the course of a weekend, as if it were the nectar of the gods. I don't remember ever being a big mamajuana fan while I lived in the DR, so it’s ironic that I should now be ogling our empty receptacle, where it sits ominously on my kitchen counter, with all its leaves and roots in a strange form of arid petrification, as I hatch my plan:
* I have to get some rum. Apparently, the roots in mamajuana have a seven-year shelf life, so that the bottle may be refilled over and over again. In this instance, the rum needn’t be very good - un ron "del malo", like a Carta Dorada, would be ideal. In my less than ideal world, I would usually settle for Bacardi or Havana Club, but for the making of mamajuana I insist that the rum at least be Dominican. In fact, I’m going to get a bottle of Brugal from an online vendor who ships internationally. I think it will be worth the ass-kicking I'll take in duties and GST.
* I'll need some honey. Shouldn't be a problem. We have that here.
* I'll need a "miembro de carey". This could prove slightly more problematic, as I don't know where to even begin looking for a sea turtle's penis and probably won't find one here in all of Canada. Oh, you didn't know you were drinking sea turtle's penis extract in your mamajuana? Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but, yes (or so I've been told by enthusiastic vendors, though it would actually be illegal). Dominican sea turtle is supposedly exported as far away as Japan for its alleged medicinal and aphrodisiac properties, but I bet there's not a single sea turtle's penis to be had in even the highly multi-ethnic Montreal. We won’t kid ourselves into thinking I'm going to find the "miembro de carey", but we may hope there may still be some remnants of it, even if it's just sea turtle penis residue, stuck to the sides of the godforsaken flask.
And perhaps that’s the lure of mamajuana, no matter where you are; the collection of the diverse ingredients, its careful preparation, the time it’s given to
fester ferment… If it were to be readily available for export to the non-Dominican world, well, it just wouldn’t be the same. And I would hate to see mamajuana go the way of the industrially manufactured jabón de cuaba – but that’s a rant for another day.
Jill, a member of our original team (where we knew her as Aunt Jane), and contributor to our book, is Canadian, mom to two Canadian-Dominican boys and resided in the Dominican Republic for several years.