Santo Domingo’s Chinatown: Blending Asia and the Caribbean

Santo-Domingo-Chinatown-gate

On Friday, I finally got to do something I’ve been dying to do since the first time I came to Santo Domingo back in June: I visited the city’s small but bustling Chinatown.

This Chinatown had everything you’d expect to find: quaint little shops, plenty of restaurants, colorful signage, and even red lanterns draped above the streets.

Once you enter the gate, you’re in a world within a world – the hot Dominican night spilling into the realm of markets and dim sum and dragons. Motorbikes zip by on the streets, just like they would anywhere else, and stray dogs laze about on the sidewalks. Bachata stills blares here, as it damn well should, but for once your eyes are met with imagery more indicative of Asia than Latin America.

My sister, our hosts and I wandered into a small shop and giddily picked out items for sushi, a culinary adventure we’ve been waiting for far too long to undertake at home. I found tapioca pearls, hoping to make homemade bubble tea (I’m still working on this – an experiment to cook them today proved fruitless and slimy). I also snagged some melatonin, which might help knock me out on the nights when the sounds of the city outside my window keep me tossing and turning.

The four of us also toured the aisles sniffing various goods, like dried mushrooms, almond cookies and other sweets left out on display.

Check out the photo of the “sliming massage cream” below. I couldn’t resist.

As I walked through the streets and snapped photos, I could feel one of my hosts staying close to my side. Pulling out my DSLR always makes them a little nervous, and I’ve been told by more than one Dominican that I shouldn’t walk around with it on my neck. In fact, I had hoped to step just outside of Chinatown and take a photo of the decorative gate from across the street, but was told that I had better not.

I glanced toward the area right outside the gate and saw the frenzy of the street, the crowded sidewalk, and the busy road full of speeding guaguas, and while I still felt a bit defiant, I decided it probably was best if I didn’t take any chances.

Naturally, the smells of delicious food made their way to our noses after a short time. And as long we were in Chinatown, we figured we’d do as the Dominicans do and try some of the cuisine on offer at one of the district’s dining establishments. Here’s the problem: While the Chinatowns in New York and Toronto are home to some vegan-friendly spots, Santo Domingo’s Chinatown is not as accommodating. After checking out the meat-heavy menus at a couple of places, we counted our losses and headed out for falafel somewhere else.

Still, I would count our trip to Chinatown as a success. Scoring the Sriracha sauce and seaweed wrap alone was worth the trek. If I make it back, I promise myself I will track down that one elusive staple of a vegetarian’s diet: tofu.

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