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.
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.
VISIT NEIGHBORHOOD KITCHENS