I like checking out Chinatowns in different cities. A week or so ago I took a walk around the Santo Domingo version. Chinatown in the Caribbean, pretty exotic.
Chinatown proper in Santo Domingo stretches for merely a single block, a kilometer or two north of the old colonial city. Stereotypical Chinese style gates mark each end of the block, but a few shops spill languidly beyond this central stretch. I found Santo Domingo’s Chinatown to be small, and suffering a shortage of Chinese people. There were certainly a few Chinese shops, but most were staffed primarily by Dominicans, with a single Chinese boss sitting around overseeing things. Business seemed to be done primarily in Spanish, and many of the businesses didn’t look Chinese at all.
I had purposefully timed my visit for lunchtime, only to find an alarming lack of Chinese food. Most of the ‘Chinese restaurants’ in Chinatown were simply ‘pica pollo’ (fried chicken) joints likes those Chinese ran (or rather hired Dominicans to run) elsewhere in town. The Chinese touch in this shops is the option of eating abysmal looking fried rice with your fried chicken.
While searching for a semi-reasonable restaurant I found a small Confucius Square.
I also found plenty of aphrodisiac medication. Food was more elusive though.
I decided to ask a girl in a Chinese furniture shop where I could find a real Chinese restaurant. She turned out to be a recent arrival from Guangzhou so I figured I had struck the jackpot. Cantonese generally care about what they eat after all. Weirdly, she told me they were all good. I could not fathom her answer. How could the obvious crap in the nearby restaurants compare with the wealth of dining options in Guangzhou? Perhaps she was being held in Chinatown against her will and suffering Stockholm Syndrome?
After a long walk around the area I decided that one of the side streets held my best hope. There was a reasonably authentic looking Cantonese restaurant, complete with a green tiled roof beneath which roast ducks hung behind glass. The ducks didn’t look exceptional, but they looked clearly better than anything else on offer.
I wandered in. The waitresses were all Dominicans, but at least the menu was in both Chinese and Spanish. Weirdly, despite all the gleaming carcasses displayed out front, the menu had no options for roast meats on rice. The boss was standing by the chopping board so I went and asked him if he could do a roast pork rice. He said he could, but that the pork was still being roasted. What self respecting Chinese restaurant is still roasting pork at lunchtime? The chicken looked reasonable, at least compared to the dubious ducks, so I ordered that.
The food was well presented and I immediately cheered up. I had come to the right place. Little did I know I was about to eat possibly the worst Chinese meal of my life.Â The rice was great, as were the vegetables. The soup was also fine. Sadly the chicken was beyond awful. The meat had been hanging up masquerading as a roast chicken. However, its iron texture and complete lack of any taste suggested it had been boiled for several days – possibly with spells in the microwave for further toughening. Somehow though it had the glistening appearance of a roast chicken, albeit an undernourished one. Perhaps it had been painted and given a final oven roasting. Perhaps it had been an experiment in producing one of those plastic chicken breasts you see displayed in food hall restaurants – but without using any plastic. Anyway, while scientifically speaking the chicken was probably nutritious to a degree, its combination of toughness and tastelessness rendered it effectively inedible.
Before heading back to my hotel I stopped in the Chinese supermarket and picked up some expensive but very average Oolong tea. There was no specialist tea shop in Chinatown, just a small supermarket.
I wandered back to my hotel, not envying the Santo Domingo Chinese. The few that I chatted with had mentioned the weather and lack of pollution as their reasons for immigrating to the Dominican Republic. I guess the weather is nice, but Santo Domingo is hardly unpolluted. In any case, could these minor advantages made up for the crappy Chinese food? I guess it takes a special kind of Chinese to live there. I am not sure if they have much fun.