Fried dough. Just about every cuisine in the world has its own version. Call it fry-bread, call it beignet, call it a buñuelo or puri. In Hungary it’s lángos and its sacred. No summer afternoon at Balaton Lake is complete without it. It’s almost always the cheapest snack a region can offer, yet it is also often the most beloved and nostalgic. The recipe and choice of toppings are unique and proudly maintained. Lángos isn’t lángos, for example, without a brush-on of garlic water, a generous smear of sour cream and yellow edam cheese sprinkled over the top. In the Dominican Republic its yaniqueque.
The dish can be traced back to a similar pancake type thing called a “Johnny cake,” which was brought over by Afro-Caribbean immigrants two centuries ago. Cheap as hell, full of calories, with a welcoming crunchy texture, the snack caught on. These days it is sold all over the country and are most popular on beaches around Santo Domingo, which is where we also got ours. Near Juan Dolio. We met a sunglass salesman named Benjamin who insured us he knows the best place to get it and invited us to his friend’s restaurant just a few minutes from the water.
The dough is made from wheat flour, oil, salt and baking powder. She pinches off a piece and stretches it out slightly before poking two holes and lowering it in a vat of sizzling hot oil. There’s an unspoken agreement among Dominicans that the murkier, more ominous the color of that oil the better the yaniqueque will taste. At beach shacks where the oil is not changed too often but kept at a consistent temperature for over an hour perhaps each yaniqueque soaks in the flavors of the one fried before it. Who knows?
After a few minutes bubbles form, fry and solidify into golden brown lumps with a sandy surface and fresh crunch when bitten into. The pancake is laden with oil yet light in volume, since baking powder keeps it relatively airy. Yaniqueques get no topping besides salt. When I asked about this Benjamin suggested cheese but it never came, so I assume it’s not typical to add.
It’s a crunchy, greasy, fried thing that tastes good after a day on the beach. Cheap and simple, but a beloved childhood memory for many Dominicans.