Habichuelas Dulce

As a native from the Dominican Republic, I’ve always been familiar with the spirit of survival that lies deep in the heart of every fellow Dominican, especially those who have chosen to leave the motherland and buscársela in the U.S., in search of a better life. But it wasn’t until recently that I discovered that Dominicans are so much more than fun-loving merengue-dancing people; their hard-working entrepreneurial spirit is confirmed on the sidewalks of uptown Manhattan, in Washington Heights.

It is Saturday afternoon and the Dominican Mecca of Washington Heights is buzzing with commercial activity and dizzying sounds of frantic merengue music.

Caridad Gonzalez, 51, a street food vendor has tapped into her entrepreneurial spirit to make a life for herself and her 16-year old daughter. She doesn’t sell the ubiquitous briny hotdog and limp pretzel you find throughout Manhattan, but a selection of Dominican desserts that can seduce the most conventional of palates.   

Stationed between an ice-cone cart and a table piled high with plastic jewelry on 181st street and St. Nicholas Avenue, Mrs. Gonzalez stands behind two water coolers filled with sweet, creamy treasures from her kitchen: habichuelas con dulce or sweet creamed beans is a Dominican dessert traditionally prepared during Easter season, which she sells throughout the entire year. Chaca, a thick corn drink known in other parts of Latin America as atole and mazamorra, is the other best seller.

As she ladles the rich warm concoctions into paper cups that she sells for $1, she recounts how she first started preparing these recipes for another vendor up the street from her called Nena La Rubia. She went on her own in 2003.

“I learned to make habichuelas with my mom back home and finished learning all I needed to know with Nena,” she says in Spanish.

For the past five years, she’s risen at 5 a.m. and prepares her dishes until 10 a.m. in her home kitchen five blocks away.  In describing the cooking process, she tries to use only the best ingredients she can find. “I use Carnation milk,” she says proudly, pointing to an empty can of evaporated milk in a plastic bag behind her. She says it’s the Carnation milk that makes everything taste so good and that people like her desserts because it gives them energy. Other ingredients in her habichuelas include whole milk, red beans, cinnamon, nutmeg, sweet potato, and round milk cookies of the Dominican Guarina brand.

Every day she sets up her cart and has Cecilia Ureña, her 50-something friend, help her out until 2 p.m. She then returns to her cart and works until 8 p.m. “I work hard, real hard,” she says. “My parents taught me to work from when I was little.”

Caridad Gonzalez arrived in New York 18 years ago from the Dominican Republic. Little did she know she would end up cooking for her life. With seven kids back in the Dominican Republic, she tries to visit them whenever she can. “One is a college graduate,” she says, beaming. ”None of them has ever given me any trouble.”

She also has a teenage daughter named Karina who will soon graduate from high school.

According to Mrs. Gonzalez, the neighborhood has changed significantly throughout the past five years. “There are a lot more people, a lot more vendors,” she says.   Most of her earnings come from her habichuelas, which are her most popular item. Aside from the $1 cups, she also sells small containers of habichuelas and majarete, a soft corn pudding she makes from scratch, for $2 and large containers for $5.

Although her spirit has been bent but not broken, and her stern face softens only when she speaks of her daughter, her desserts, especially her habichuelas are one of the best in the neighborhood.

She says that aside from all of the Dominicans who live in the area, there’s a large Jewish community in the neighborhood. “They pass by here but they never buy anything.”

Feeling bold in the kitchen? Find the recipe at:


6 Responses to Habichuelas Dulce

  1. Miriam Ponce says:

    Hey young Lady I have never had they pleasure of tasting the Habichuelas dulce since
    i presume you and Mom can make them get over to Miami soon and will have a Habichuelas party

    great writing keep them comming

  2. Melissa says:

    Very useful post. I thought to let you know that you website wasn’tt getting displayed properly on msie-mobile mobile web browser on my pda.

    Have a nice time…sorry for typos

  3. I am definitely bookmarking this page and sharing it with my friends.


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