Neighborhood Kitchens

Neighborhood Kitchens Visits Merengue

By Margarita Martinez

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June 29, 2012
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Getting ready to shoot at Merengue in Roxbury. (Patricia Alvarado/WGBH)

BOSTON — I love Merengue. I am speaking about the restaurant, not the music from which the restaurant gets its name. Don’t get me wrong. I like Merengue music and have been known to cut a rug or two to the music of Wilfrido Vargas and Elvis Crespo, but I am more of a Salsa girl myself. Perhaps it’s because I am Puerto Rican. Unlike Merengue music, which is firmly believed to be a Dominican invention, the origin of Salsa music is debated in the Caribbean and Puerto Ricans definitely argue that it is their creation. Another cultural staple whose origin is hotly contested in the Caribbean is Mofongo. Who wouldn’t want to lay claim to the delicious and very satisfying Mofongo? Almost everything you want in a meal is right there in every forkful. There is starch, protein, and definitely flavor. Growing up, my family enjoyed many of the same dishes eaten by Dominicans. We frequently had rice and beans and tostones, but Mofongo was a treat reserved for visits to lechoneras, or Puerto Rican roast pork restaurants. And this is one of the reasons I love Merengue. A visit to this Dominican restaurant means that I can have Mofongo and other delicious comfort food prepared very well.
 

  
Chef Héctor Piña and his Puerto Rican wife Nivia began Merengue with the intention to serve traditional Dominican cuisine to a growing Dominican population in Roxbury. And they wanted to serve it as close to the way Hector's mom made it back home and as freshly prepared as possible.  Héctor and Nivia also wanted to create the experience of the Dominican Republic within the walls of their restaurant. Their goal was two-fold: to offer a taste of home and also provide an introduction to Dominican culture to non-Dominicans from Roxbury and beyond. 
 
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Wall photo of Red Sox player David Ortiz, aka Big Papi, at Merengue (Patricia Alvarado/WGBH)
Merengue resides on Blue Hill Avenue behind an unassuming yellow restaurant store front and next door to a car repair shop. Walk inside and you are greeted by the bright colors of the Caribbean, paintings by Dominican artists and a large display reminiscent of a Dominican beach shack. Merengue is a neighborhood destination. It is open seven days a week from 10am to 10pm, serving neighborhood families, other Bostonians and, judging from the wall of photographs, many local and international celebrities. Baseball player David Ortíz, author Junot Díaz, singer Frankie Negrón, and Senator Bill Richardson are only a few whose photos hang on the wall. It is as if Latin celebrities coming to Boston know that they must make a stop at Merengue.
 
The restaurant's longevity and popularity did not just happen from serving delicious food. It is also a result of being an active part of the community. From fundraisers for local non-profits to voter registration drives, Merengue is committed to making an effort to give back to its community. Even when Héctor and Nivia were looking to expand Merengue, non-profit organization Nuestra Comunidad helped secure some of the initial capital for the expansion because it recognized how important this restaurant is to its community.
 
I love how the Piñas and Merengue serve as representatives of Dominicans living in Boston; how they create an awareness of and a home for their culture.

*****

Watch Neighborhood Kitchens online to find out more about Merengue and Roxbury.


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About Neighborhood Kitchens

Building on a 35-year history of producing Latino and multicultural programming, WGBH’s award winning La Plaza team has a new offering — Neighborhood Kitchens, a series about the exploration of culture through food. Every week the show offers a unique window into immigrant communities in New England.

Saturdays at 4pm on WGBH 2
Fridays at 7:30pm on WGBH 44


About the Author
Margarita Martinez Margarita Martinez
Margarita Martinez grew up in the Bronx, NY and Ossining, NY with a Puerto Rican father and a Franco-American mother. She now calls New England home. Margarita has always had an insatiable appetite for travel and food. She made her first empanada as a teenager visiting Argentina, satisfied her sweet tooth with poffertjes and stroopwafels while studying in Holland, engorged herself on Thai street food for a month in Bangkok, and continues to search for authentic international cuisines in the Northeast. Margarita loves to discover new ingredients, flavors, and cooking approaches that she can bring to her own home kitchen.

On the Go

In each episode, host Margarita Martínez visits a different ethnic restaurant and learns three delicious recipes from the chef. She also explores the restaurant’s neighborhood, discovering hidden gems along the way. Join her as she learns about new ingredients, new cultures, and new neighborhoods. ¡Hasta pronto!

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Find a Neigbhorhood Kitchen
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Margarita's Neighborhood Visits

»Boston: Bristol Lounge
»Boston's South End: Orinoco, Teranga and Oishii
»Boston's Back Bay: Casa Romero
»Boston's North End: Taranta
»Roxbury: Merengue
»Boston's Beacon Hill: Scampo
»All Around Boston: Mei Mei Street Kitchens
»Cambridge: Muqueca, Oleana, and Sandrine's
»
Somerville: Dosa Temple
»Lawrence: Cafe Azteca
»Lowell: Simply Khmer

»Fresh from the Fish Market
»Jamaica Plain: Tres Gatos
»Dorchester: Pho Le and Cafe Polonia
»Medford: Bistro 5
»Portland, ME: Emilitsa
»Newport, RI: Tallulah on Thames
»Pawtucket, RI: Rasoi

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