Arepitas de Maiz can be found even in the most humble Dominican eatery as part of el plato del día, an inexpensive Dominican lunch meal.
Julia Alvarez, a Dominican and one of my favorite writers, once wrote that as a child in Santo Domingo the first thing anyone would ask when she or one of her sisters complained of a stomach-ache, was ‘did you eat anything in the street?’*
Dominican street food has a bad image. As it’s often unhygienic and sometimes unhealthy, that’s not surprising. There is no public health control over vendors, so eating ‘en la calle’ is at your own risk – you may be buying more than you bargained for, like a touch of amoebic dysentery to go with the snack. It’s up to the customer to exercise judgment: look closely at the state of the stall and the vendor before you decide to purchase. It’s worth the effort because along with all the grime and insects there can be some perfectly tasty and harmless treats.
A range of foods can be bought from street vendors: steaming corn on the cob, Middle Eastern-style kibbes (known as quipes in the DR), fried ‘chicharron’ (pork rinds) with casabe (cassava bread), pasteles en hoja (the Dominican version of ‘tamales’: meat and vegetables wrapped in a plantain leaf), empanaditas y pastelitos (savoury hand pies), freshly squeezed orange juice. These vendors often congregate round public buildings, catering for the visiting members of the public who are compelled to spend hours waiting for the slow-grinding wheels of bureaucracy to turn, as much as for the employees.
Chimichurris the Dominican version of the hamburger, a popular late night snack for people out on the town. At night, ‘chimichurri’ vendors and many others set up shop –as it were–in the main entertainment areas of the capital, most famously in the case of Avenida Lincoln north of Avenida 27, an upper-middle-class part of Santo Domingo, which has become a magnet for late-night revelers much to the disgust of local residents.
Popular street food stalls line the Avenue, in contrast with the expensive bars and restaurants in the area. The clientele appears to blend effortlessly between the two types of fare on offer, in a rare meeting of rich and poor social classes.
Frituras – deep fried snacks like pasties – are the subject of much criticism, but their popularity as street food endures. On the healthy end of the scale, most street corners in the cities are graced by a ‘frutero’ – a fruit seller offering the most popular Dominican fruits: bananas, oranges, papaya, melon, passion fruit, mangoes and whatever else is in season. These are sold peeled and in portions as a street snack, or whole for you to take home. In my neighbourhood, the ‘frutero’ calls every afternoon at 4:00.
I try to remember that this is a luxury not to be taken for granted.
*Julia Alvarez – Picky Eater – in Something to Declare, Algonquin Books, 1998
- 1 cup of cornmeal
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons of milk
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of aniseed
- 1 1/2 teaspoon of sugar
- 1 cup of oil for frying
Mezclar ingredientes: Mix cornmeal, milk, eggs, salt, aniseed and sugar. Cover and let it rest in the fridge for an hour (this step is optional, see notes)
Freír: In a frying pan heat the oil over medium heat. Pour the mix one spoonful at a time into pan, making small thick pancakes. Fry and turn till golden brown on both sides.
Serving: Serve hot as a side dish, as finger food, or to accompany an afternoon drink (cocoa, coffee, or fruit shake).
Letting the mixture rest helps the cornmeal rehydrate better and produces a more moist fritter.
The cornmeal that we use in the DR is grittier than wheat flour but finer than polenta. If you can't find something like that, you could get away with using polenta, but you may need to add an extra bit of liquid. Fry the first one, try and go from there. Be mindful that it will not result in the exact texture that we're used to.