Tuesday, March 23, 2010
One of the very first things we discovered when we got here was chinola. Chinola is passion fruit. I'm not actually sure anyone in the States eats or drinks passion fruit. My guess is that you might buy some sno-cone called passion fruit, but I'm pretty sure it's not a common fruit in the States. Here it's like gold. You don't eat chinola, by the way. You juice it and drink it. It's amazing. However, it is difficult to imagine how it was discovered. It's not something you look at and think, "Yum!" The outside is dry and wrinkly and feels a little bit like….I don't know how to describe it…kind of like if ping pong balls were inflatable and you partially deflated a peach-sized one. Does that make sense? Anyway, they're ugly. You open them up and they look a little bit like an orange, rotten pomegranate. They are filled with seeds and have a sour, bitter taste - like if you crossed the juice of a lemon with orange zest. Sounds horrible, doesn't it?
However, once you complete the long process of juicing it - which includes scooping the insides into the blender, then pouring the blended juice through a strainer, pressing out the juice from the pulp, discarding the tiny black seeds (they look just like poppy seeds), mixing the juice with water and sugar syrup, you literally have one of the tastiest beverages imaginable. For some extra kick in the evening…or, you know, it's DR so afternoon is fine too…mix in a little of the fabulous and inexpensive local rum and it's smooth sailing on your tropical paradise.
We had Austin friends (who now live in New York) visiting this weekend - a pure joy and total treat - and I'm pretty sure their favorite DR food moment was that first sip of chinola. Their love only grew stronger when they tried it that evening with rum. What a surprise chinola is - this ugly thing with a horrific taste that somehow transforms itself into to liquid comfort right in front of your taste buds. My oldest son loves the story The Ugly Duckling. I guess it's the classic tale - you never know what is lurking beneath the surface.
It's true in life and in food. When our friends were here we ended up eating much more local food than we ever do when it's just us. Maybe that's because we get our fill, but I think it's also because when it came down to it, we wanted to show them a little bit of the local flavor (and they're pretty adventurous eaters). Santo Domingo is big and bustling and, while I actually think it's beautiful in its own way, many people do not. I felt the need to show them here like it truly is our home. Not just the surface, but the nooks and crannies too. We found ourselves driving around rattling away non-stop about this and that. They may have tuned out, I don't know, but I at least felt this need to get at it all, to cover every single detail. Now that they're gone, I am sure I will start working on the narrative, the sights, the food for the next set of visitors.
It's a big part of the Foreign Service life - this creation of a new home somewhere else. It's my favorite part I think. Because, you know, for all the waiting we do, for all the hoping, for all the unexpectedness - we do end up somewhere. And when we do, we want to share it because even though it's not always pretty, it's always ours and it's always, always, always good to see the good stuff in the middle of the crazy.