Habichuelas con dulce was the dish that had my heart when I left home almost two decades ago. And then I found it — or rather it found me. Right smack in the middle of Washington Heights, from a street vendor who sold it in plastic containers for a dollar. It was an honest way to flee the hardness of the city, if only for a few spoonfuls, and travel to a place where breezes blew salty and flowers shone bright. Right around the beginning of Lent this year, I thought of it again. My Dominican tribe was ready to indulge and secretly fulfill my wish.
Within the tribe was Argentina Diaz, a self-taught cook who began tinkering with the stove by the time she was eight years old. Born in Santiago, Dominican Republic in the late 1950s, she was part of the Dominican exodus who left the island and made its way to New York City after Trujillo’s dictatorship fell in the early 1960s. Her mother ran restaurants in Queens and she learned the secrets of Caribbean creole cooking early on. Today, after a life-long career in finance and still in her 50s, she’s retired and living in a light-filled two-bedroom apartment she shares with a roommate on the second story of a single family home in Ozone Park, Queens.
Easter in a bun04.16.11
Ever since we moved to Clinton, a year and a half ago, we’ve been savoring the perks of living in the heart of the city. We not only walk to work, but to a butcher shop, spice market, flea market and fishmonger all located within a 5-block radius. But one of the most treasured discoveries has been the “Chinese Bun”. Ming Du, formerly known as Ying Du, is a Chinese bakery located on 38th street and 7th Avenue, and a neighborhood goldmine. Some days, when I get my breakfast on the go, a quick stop gives me a glimpse into the early morning buzz of Chinatown. When I place my order at the counter, I always notice a devoted clientele stationed throughout the restaurant, ready to start the day with noodles, hot broth, the daily paper and sweet milk tea.
However, the main reason G and I visit Ming Du are for the assortment of their breakfast pastries. They are puffy, golden spectacles filled with red bean, pineapple, egg cream or onion scallion, making them one of the most affordable breakfasts in the city. A bun plus a small cup of tea usually sets you back about $1.35.
Which brings me to the main point of my story. Lately, I’ve been craving my habichuelas con dulce, that unique Easter dish from the Dominican Republic made from cooking red beans, coconut milk and sweet potato. With the red bean bun from Ming Du, now I can get the sweet and creamy flavors of my habichuela in a slice from the Far East right down the street.