Category Archives: CULTURE

The Culture of the Dominican Republic.

National Symbols

Plazoleta Padre Billini

Plazoleta Padre Billini

Beautiful and intimate Plazoleta / Small Plaza Padre Billini, named after and dedicated to Padre Billini who contributed many important things to the Dominican Republic. Here his statue, made by French sculptor Ernest Gilbert, stands proudly.

The statue of Padre Francisco Xavier Billini stands in the center of the plaza named after him, Plazoleta Padre Billini
The statue of Padre Francisco Xavier Billini stands in the center of the plaza named after him, Plazoleta Padre Billini

Padre Francisco Xavier Billini (December 1, 1837 – March 9, 1896), known as the protector of the poor man. He was also a great Philanthropist. Billini founded the National Lottery in 1882 to help pay for the poorest patients of the Hospital de la Beneficencia. This was the first charity hospital in the Dominican Republic, later known as Hospital San Andrés. We now know the hospital as Hospital Docente Padre Billini located on Calle Santomé in the Colonial Zone.

The statue of Padre Billini, The protector of the people, stands in the center of the Plaza
The statue of Padre Billini, The protector of the people, stands in the center of the Plaza

The Legend of La Casa de Garay

Where this Plazoleta Padre Billini is now, there once was a large beautiful house, The Casa de Garay. This private home was built around 1520. It was torn down because of a disagreement between neighbors.

Located on Calle Arzobispo Meriño on the left is La Bricola Restaurant and the Plaza Padre Billini is where the beautiful Casa de Garay once stood
Located on Calle Arzobispo Meriño on the left is La Bricola Restaurant and the Plaza Padre Billini is where the beautiful Casa de Garay once stood

A widow, who lived in her home where La Bricola Restaurant is located (across the street from the Plaza), saw a sight from her window. A slave from the Casa de Garay decided to milk their masters’ cow in the middle of the street. The elderly lady complained. The owners of the House of Garay made a nasty comment about this. The widows’ nephew heard about the comment and came to his elderly aunts’ defense. He wanted to defend the family name of Franco Medina.

The nephew wanted the owner of the slave to apologize. They even offered to purchase the slave so they could punish him and end the dispute. The owner refused. It was against the law to speak badly or defame someone’s character. It was a very serious offense (and still is in the Dominican Republic). A long court battle entailed because they questioned the persons’ honor. The elderly woman won the lawsuit.

In this time in history, many lawsuits were settled by giving the losers home to the winner of a suit. The owner of the lost home said angrily (general translation) “It’s easy for anyone to get rich!” The Franco Medina family, who won the property, announced that the house will not be lived in by me or anyone. They destroyed the home because they did not want the owner to think the Medina family fought and won just to take the home.

The empty lot was turned into a plaza. This plaza has had many different names over time, including Plaza de las Franco, Plaza de las Lebrón and Plaza de las Mañón. Finally, Damián Báez (the son of Presidente Buenaventura Báez), purchased the property to make a plaza dedicated to Padre Billini.

Plaza Padre Billini Now

Plazolita Padre Billini has large shade trees where one can sit and enjoy a rest from the Dominican sun
Plazolita Padre Billini has large shade trees where one can sit and enjoy a rest from the Dominican sun

The small plaza has benches under large shade trees where you can sit and enjoy the breeze. It is now half occupied by some of the restaurants that line the site. These restaurants are nice but expensive places. You can sit outside in the Plaza or inside the enclosed restaurants or private patios to have a meal and a drink.

The Plazoleta Padre Billini is a favorite spot to take wedding pictures.
The Plazoleta Padre Billini is a favorite spot to take wedding pictures.

They hold many special events in the Plaza from meetings with the President to small intimate weddings. It is a great place to take wedding pictures too.

Plazoleta Padre Billini is located on Calle Arzobispo Meriño and Padre Billini where the beautiful Casa de Garay once stood
Plazoleta Padre Billini is located on Calle Arzobispo Meriño and Padre Billini where the beautiful Casa de Garay once stood

Location:

Walking from Calle el Conde turn on Arzobispo Meriño south toward the sea. Walk about a block and a half and small plaza, Plazoleta Padre Billini, is on the left side before you get to Calle Padre Billini.

Beverage Recipe – 1

Beverage Recipes Page 1

There are so many great drinks and beverages made in Dominican Republic. They use all the fresh fruits and other ingredients that are readily available. The cold drinks are perfect for refreshment during the hot Caribbean summers and the hot drinks are perfect when the Dominicans think it is cold outside at 70°F.

Jugo de Avena/Oatmeal Juice or Drink | Té Jengibre/Ginger Tea | Jugo Tamarindo/Tamarind Juice

Jugo de Avena / Oatmeal Juice or Drink

Jugo de Avena is easy to make and it is a hearty beverage served any time.

Recipe:
Soak 1 part oat flakes (If you want to make 4 servings start with 1 cup of oat flakes) in 2 parts of water for about an hour. It is best to use a finer cut of oats for this drink.

Blend for about a minute and strain out the lumps.

Take 4 parts evaporated milk (or regular milk if you want it to be less rich and have a lot fewer calories) and 2 parts ice to make the milk really cold.

Add 2 parts of juice with sugar added to taste. The more traditional juice to use is jugo de china/orange juice. You can also use lime juice, papaya, pineapple or a blend of juices. Try apple juice with a little cinnamon added.

Make sure to stir the milk/avena mixture when you add the juice to keep it from curdling. Adding the sugar to the juice helps guard against this happening.

It is like a liquid glass of oatmeal, a great way to get your fiber and enjoy it.

Té Jengibre / Ginger Tea

Té Jengibre in the cup with a cinnamon stick for those cold winter days.
Té Jengibre in the cup with a cinnamon stick for those cold winter days.

Té Jengibre is a traditional Christmas drink (more on Dominican Christmas foods). It is said to keep you warm on those cold, tropical Dominican nights (that is a joke). It is a staple for the winter months.

Boil about 5 cups of water and add 8 cinnamon sticks. Boil until the color of the water is a very light brown and it has a little cinnamon flavor, maybe about 5 minutes.

Add about 1/2 cup of peeled, thinly sliced ginger to the cinnamon water. Simmer together for about 5 more minutes adding water as some evaporates.

Strain and add sugar. You can add the sugar to the mix or add it to the cups separately.

The smell is wonderful. It is truly a warming drink. Served sweet, Dominican style it is heavenly.

Some of the virtues of ginger:
Ginger is said to keep away colds because of its warming effect.

It is also good for calming the stomach (how many times did your mother give you ginger ale when you had an upset stomach?). It aids in digestion by getting rid of gasses and breaks down fatty foods.

It is said to enhance circulation and be very stimulating.

People say it is an Aphrodisiac probably because of it’s warming qualities.

Ginger is served with Sushi because it is said to kill parasites in raw fish.

Jugo Tamarindo

Jugo Tamarindo / Tamarind Juice is sweet yet sour beverage. It is high in acid, sugar, B vitamins, calcium and in fiber (used as a natural laxative).

Recipe – Use the very ripe tamarind to make juice.
Remove the pulp from ripened pods or buy in bags with the shell already removed. Remove the seeds. It is easiest to just get your hands into the mix and squish it around to get the seeds loose.

The pulp of the tamarind
The pulp of the tamarind

I usually mix 1 part tamarind to 5 parts of water and 1/2 part sugar depending on how sweet you like it (that would be 1 cup pulp, 5 cups water and 1/2 cup sugar).

Put it all in a blender and mix it up good.

Strain the pulp, pour in your glass, add some ice and enjoy.

Nice cold Jugo Tamarindo in my glass
Nice cold Jugo Tamarindo in my glass

More about tamarindo in the Grown in Dominican Republic pages.

Recipes 3 – Yuca

Yuca

One of my favorite tubers (I never tried yuca until I moved to Dominican Republic) is Sweet Yuca (jooka). It is also known as Manioc or cassava root. When it is cooked and prepared just right it has a subtle sweetness that is just right. Here are some simple recipes for cooking up some yuca.

Yuca Boiled | Yuca Mashed | Yuca Fries | Yuca Chips

Yuca is a brown to black skinned tuber sometimes it is covered with wax to preserve it. Pealing yuca can be a bit of a hassle but it is well worth the trouble. Use a sharp knife or vegetable peeler. Cut it into smaller sections to make the peeling easier. Cut off the ends of the tuber. Remove the brownish black outside layer and also the pink inside layer (it is pink on the outside and white on the inside) that is between the brown outside layer and the tasty flesh that you will be cooking. When you get going with the outer skin removal it is easy to get a long slice in the skin and try to remove the outside in one long piece. After peeling place the pieces in water to preserve their color.

*For more information and the history of yuca go to the Grown in Dominican Republic page about Yuca/ Cassava.

Yuca waxed to last longer
Yuca waxed to last longer

Boiled Yuca

To cook Boiled Yuca cut the yuca pieces into about 3 to 4 inch lengths and cut the pieces in half lengthwise, or in quarters if they are really fat.

Place these pieces in a pot covering them with water to which you add some salt or you can flavor with some stock or bouillon for a different taste.

Bring the water to a boil in an uncovered pot then turn down the heat to keep the water at a simmer.

Stir them occasionally so they don’t stick to the pot and to boil them uniformly.

When you can stick a knife in these pieces and the knife slips out easily (about 1 hour or so) remove them from the heat.

Leave them in the hot water until you are ready to serve (if you are going to store them for later or have leftovers store them in this same water – they will last about 3 days in the fridge).

Some of the yuca will have hard centers which you can easily remove once they are cooked.

They are wonderful served with sautéd onions (red are the best and prettiest for this dish) on top.

Place on your plate, put into your mouth and enjoy!

Mashed Yuca

You prepare the yuca as above but cook a little longer until they are falling apart and are really mushy.

Place in a pan and mash them up (the texture might not be really smooth but don’t worry, lumpy yuca is acceptable) using the stock or milk as you like and a little salt.

Adding some garlic into the mix really livens up the flavor.
Enjoy!

Yuca Fries

When making yuca fries do the same preparation method as above but leave the pieces a little firm so they are not mushy when you fry them. I ilke to do Yuca Fried with left-over yuca.

Do just as you would making french fried potatoes.

Dry the pieces on a towel so they are not all wet and cause the oil to spatter.

Cut the yuca into strips.

Heat oil in a deep fryer or a sauté pan or you can just bake them in the oven at a medium temperature.

Add the pieces a little at a time and fry until they are the desired crispness and golden brown.

Drain on paper and serve.

This is my favorite way to eat them.

Yuca Chips

To make Yuca Chips peal and slice the uncooked yuca into round slices (just like potato chips) as thin as you can possibly get them.

Heat the oil in a deep fryer or pot to around 375°F.

Drop the slices into the oil one at a time so they don’t stick together. Do not crowd these little chips. Make sure you give them room to cook freely.

Turn them as needed until they are a firm golden brown (1 to 2 minutes).

Remove and drain.

Add some salt, garlic salt or just eat plain.

These little crispy pieces of yuca are a great snack treat.