A Dominican Quest in Chicago: A guide to viandas

My Search for Viandas (A guide to what they are!)

Germania, my lovely grandmother, came to the States from the Dominican Republic in the '60s. She was an amazing cook and from her I learned how to make the Sancocho, a traditional Dominican stew featuring an assortment of viandas and meats. The thing about a Sancocho is that it's a dish meant to be shared with the family plus the neighbors plus the kid from down the block who always hangs out with the neighbor's son plus whoever else happens to be walking by. There's no such thing as a "four portion" Sancocho. Which is why I've decided to make one for some of my students.

Chicago is a mecca for tremendous Mexican cuisine (see New Rebozo—quite possibly the best Mexican food I've had outside of Mexico and certainly worlds better than anything one can find in New York—the chef/owner features 18 kinds of mole) but when it comes to the Spanish Caribbean, not so much. The real trick is the viandas, the starchy vegetables that form the base of the stew. And after six months of looking for these in various supermarkets, desperation has set in.

So, given the sad dearth of Dominican and Cuban ingredients in ordinary grocery stores, I set out on a quest (based on the recommendation of a Puerto Rican employee at Whole Foods) to find the famed Armitage Produce on the westside of Chicago…

Success! Behold, a surfeit of malanga!


Ñame (the true yam)

As you can see, people have split the ñame in half—in this case, the employees themselves. This is to verify that the root is good (people also do that with the malanga and yuca). One elderly gentleman, who grumbled about the mediocre size of the batata we combed through, warned me against trusting the quality of the root from the outside.

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