When I was young, I would regularly spend summers with my grandparents in the San Juan de la Maguana, and on Sundays we would get all dressed up and walk along the main street to my Aunt’s house. She lived right next to a large park where a band would play in the evening. They would start with the national anthem (the Dominican national anthem is impossibly long) before playing popular merengue songs. All generations would be present too, from grandparents sitting on park benches to kids running between the trees.
While on the surface San Juan has changed since then, in many ways it hasn’t changed at all. For one, my grandmother’s house is pretty much exactly as it was. Today we were sitting outside on the covered terrace, enjoying an incredible lunch of rice and beans, fried plantains and fresh avocados drizzled with lemon juice and garlic. The mayor of San Juan, who is up for reelection, organized a big party a few blocks away. Someone in her electoral campaign team created a theme song for her by taking a popular merengue song and replacing all the words with “We love you” “Our life is so much better with you” and “What would we do with out you”. This song played repeatedly all day long, so loud we could hardly think.
A neighbor dropped off a bag of mangos from his mango tree. While the tree in our yard was covered in them,they weren’t ripe yet, which is a kind of culinary torture. The neighbour’s mangos on the other hand were perfect and the dozen he dropped off were devoured within hours. A bird of paradise flower has just emerged in the garden as well, and the orchids all have flowers at the moment. The backyard was looking so vibrant with every kind of green you can imagine, leaves catching the light and dancing in the breeze.
San Juan is a beautiful little city. It is the 10th largest city in the Dominican Republic, far away from any beach but surrounded by gorgeous mountains. The road from Santo Domingo to San Juan continues on from San Juan to the Haitian border where it ends, so there are very few, if any tourists here. The city is full of colour and music, lots of very noisy motorcycles and friendly people. The celebrations were building up for Independence Day while I was there, so there were daily parades along the main street with school children dressed in traditional costumes, accompanied by different local and regional politicians and, of course, a band playing music.
In the DR the choice for hot chocolate is Cortes chocolate, which I have previously reviewed. In San Juan you mostly see the Cortes Embajador brand which is sold in little, individually wrapped tablets. I find it is best not to look at the ingredients list when you are emotionally attached to a particular hot chocolate, because I suspect I will be disappointed at some of the added ingredients. I am pretty sure that they do use Dominican chocolate as the company supports a lot of Dominican cacao cultivaton projects. I hope they do because Dominican chocolate has such a beautiful rich flavor, with hints of tobacco and different spices. Whatever they have in it, it works for me, at least here in San Juan.
Once lunch was finished we prepared our hot chocolate. My aunt Carmen put a little bit of chocolate and water in a pot on the stove,and added a generous portion of fresh ginger. This sat for ages, probably a good hour, just simmering ever so slightly and then resting. I’ve said it before, in one of my very first posts, and I’ll say it again. Something magical happens when the women in my family make hot chocolate in the Dominican Republic. The secret may or may not be the chocolate. The secret is most likely in part the fresh ginger which in the DR is nice and spicy. Maybe it is magical mix of the ingredients, the pots used, the vessel it is presented in and perhaps a family hot chocolate superpower. That must be it.
When we were ready we added the rest of the chocolate and whole milk. This was poured into my grandmother’s china, perfect for tea, but perhaps even more perfect for hot chocolate. Ginger and chocolate were just meant to be together, they are both better versions of themselves when combined. This is one of my certainties of life.
I took my hot chocolate and drank it while walking around the garden. The song “Ojalla que lleva café nel campo” (I wish it would rain coffee in the fields) by Dominican musical god Juan Luis Guerra popped into my head. Replace café with cacao and this is a pretty perfect soundtrack to a pretty perfect hot chocolate.
Verdict: Anything the women in my family make makes it onto the list of ultimate hot chocolates. That’s just how it goes. But try adding a bit of fresh ginger to your hot chocolate to recreate this at home. Embajador Chocolate