Growing up in the Dominican Republic, eating international food or other non-Dominican cuisines was something animate and an experience that was considered sophisticated and encourage to reaffirm a particular socioeconomic and social status.
My first non-Dominican food was probably, wait for it, Pizza. They were a handful of pizzerias in my medium size town of Moca, in the Dominican Republic (Encarnación, Pala Pizza, Honky). Pizza will be eaten as a threat on special occasions like birthdays or if you got good grades in school. As middle-income Dominican family eating pizza, considered an exotic food, was special, a break, from the perpetual rice and beans that my grandmother and our food culture implemented in the household. At the same time, eating more "authentic" pizza was reserved for the ones that could afford to pay for higher quality.
Growing up in the Dominican Republic, they were two kinds of pizzas: the one you ate casually when friends wanted to do a get-together or a school fundraiser selling Pizza by the slide (Encarnacion, oldest establishment and famous for its corn topping pizza). Then, the more indulgent ones for birthdays and recognition of scholastic performance (Pala Pizza, Honky). Nevertheless, they were many who this foodway did not apply and eating pizza was part of their normal foodways. Usually, higher income Dominicans have more mobility to towns near like Santiago or La Vega . That have American brand pizzerias such as Dominos Pizza or Pizza Hut. Most of the time they will have more exposure to American culture because they were frequent travelers to the United States. They were accords, fusion experiments in some pizzerias, like putting ripe fried plantains as a topping in Pizza.
For my 13th birthday, I asked to go to the town over (Santiago) for a pizza night at Pizza Hut as a birthday gift. This Pizza Hut was a neat and opulent restaurant in the Dominican Republic that included a water cascade for the ambiance and white table clothes to reaffirm the extraordinary experience. For a middle-class Dominican family, this was a special treat, one that my mother was able to provide as she wanted to share this cultural experience with her daughters, as she lived in the states for much of her teenage years. At the same time, please consider how expensive this birthday gift was, as the bill and transportation cost could easily be around 10 percent of the median Dominican household income in any given year.
Now, the first Domino's Pizza just opened in my town of 80,000 people in the Dominican Republic. It heard, it is a success. They are now many other Pizza places in my hometown. I completely ignore them when I go back to visit. Do you know why? Because after lazy college and family nights, Pizza has become my scapegoat. There is a club meeting in college: pizza. You were in the library past midnight and needed food: pizza. My mom did not want rice and beans for dinner: pizza.
In my new hometown of North Providence, Rhode Island we have over ten pizzerias or otherwise eateries that serves Pizza. For a town of 33,000 that most of it is population identifies as Italian-American, that is a small rate. As a Dominican immigrant family we identified the pizzas we like for takeout emergency days of “ se subió el gato a la estufa,” a Dominican saying use when nothing is being cooked on the stove because there is an allegory cat on top of the stove (Speedy's). The pizzas we like for special occasions such as birthdays that we eat at the restaurant (Santoro’s). There are others such as the pizza of “we have too many families over, and they are hungry” (Ronzio’s) and the “we want to try something new and extravagant once a year” pizza (Golden Crust). Sometimes, the younger generations will venture to other Rhode Island locations to diversify their Pizza experience.
Now, let's talk about my grandmother Mama Alicia. Mama Alicia is really particular about how she likes her pizza. Hot, thin, lightly burn crust, cheese but not greasy, flavor and little kick of hotness that won't hurt. Sounds delicious, but even if one of the pizzerias mentioned before will deliver on this demand my grandmother will pronounce “La estan dañado,” or they have damaged it the next time she eats the same Pizza. Her way of saying that the recipe has changed or they are longer to deliver to the same quality of expectations that she has grown used too. Dear pizzerias, do not take this to a hearth, she says that about every pizzeria we go, her verdict always the same. These are my grandmother’s expectations, but this concept of a perfect Pizza belittle me, where they came from? Pizza in Dominican Republic with a sweet tomato sauce, non-mozzarella cheese and corn as a topping, did not gave her these expectations.
Regardless, I chose to reconnect with his old tradition and yesterday for my 22nd yesterday. I ordered Pizza from Santoro’s in North Providence. It was a delivery. Half pepperoni and half cheese. My mom thought I like peppers. Although my favorite Pizza is a supreme style (pepperoni, sausage, olives, onions, peppers). That is the Pizza that I remember from that 13th birthday in the Dominican Republic. Without ceremony, me and my sister shared the Pizza and exclaim our excitement over tasting such a tasty treat compare to the ones that have obscure our palate in college.
There is a new pizzeria in the Dominican neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island called “La Broa”. It is own by Dominicans and mostly serves Dominican immigrants in the surrounding area. I wonder, Do they have Pizza with corn? Let me know if you want to go together and find out.
P.S. on January 20th I went with fellow Dominican immigrant Benjamim Concepcion now living in Rhode Island. We order "La Dominicana", corn and ham pizza, and we reminisce about birthdays traditions in the Dominican Republic.