Sunday, November 11, 2007


From NYDailyNews. com
You don't need to break a sweat exploring Washington Heights to find traces of its hefty Dominican population. But other than the ubiquitous racks of platanos, tabletas de dulce and bizcocho dominicano, there is more than meets the eye at upper Manhattan's bodegas.The list of products from back home that only a clued-in Quisqueyano can find is long and includes prescription medications like antibiotics as well as high-proof rum and beer, all of which can't be imported to the U.S. If you are feeling lucky, you can even play the loteria - the Dominican national lottery. It is referred to as the lottery "de alla" (from there). "I play all the time, it is a custom. Sometimes I dream a number, and then I will play it," said Joselito Royer, 41, a barber."What people like the most is what is forbidden," says bodega owner Fabio Rodriguez, 52, about the popularity of the products. "They are everywhere."

Of course, he doesn't sell them. Nor anyone else we asked for that matter. But customers say among the items that fly out of the back-drawer fastest are cigarettes from D.R. which have more nicotine - a favorite is Malboro light. Also, Brugal rum and Presidente beer, both with a higher octane than the same brands legally imported here."We definitely go for the Brugal. It tastes different because it has more alcohol. It is better," laughed Rafael Rodriguez, 36, a truck driver. "Everybody loves things from one's own country. You want to feel for a moment that you are there."

But getting the goods can be nearly impossible for outsiders as owners are suspicious of unknown customers. The trick is knowing your local bodeguero, says a graphic designer who didn't want to give her name. "They don't just sell to anyone," she said. "But I wanted Dominican rum, and, since they knew me, they took me in the back and they had cases upon cases of it." As for how the supply works, many in the bodegas seem to know someone who turns visits to the D.R. into a business opportunity. "You buy it there for 2,000 Dominican pesos (about $60) and you sell it here for $125," says Jhonovich Scherell, 26, who says he knew others who did it. But word of a September bust at a Dominican bodega in Perth Amboy, N.J., that was selling antibiotics and Viagra has some wary that authorities may target their establishments and that sought-after products will become scarcer. "Since then, people are bringing less stuff over," says Rodriguez.

Happily, some "illegal" products get out of the shadows every now and then. So it was with elation that Jacqueline Osorio, a housewife, found neatly stacked cans of Cafe Santo Domingo - until recently not allowed for importation - when she walked into her corner meat market the other day. It was the same dark, bitter roast that she loves to drink black with a pinch of nutmeg. "It makes me happy," Osorio says. Only the irresistible flavor of the forbidden was gone.

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