Why I'm Bringing Back Dominican Spaghetti as a Beach Dish This Summer

I feel nostalgic whenever I reflect on the cherished memories of gathering with family and friends at the beach. Whether in the Dominican Republic or bustling New York City, these moments hold a special place in my heart. Our favorite beach destination in the city was Coney Island. Yes, the Bronx had Orchard Beach, but there was something special about Brooklyn's beach that drew us there.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Luna Park was the go-to spot if you were a working-class family that couldn't afford to visit Disney World. Unlike the simplicity of packing sandwiches and soft drinks, our beach preparations were events in and of themselves. The night before, amid the hustle and bustle of gathering beach essentials, one item stood out — a caldero (traditional Latin cooking pot) brimming with Dominican spaghetti. I just remember thinking how illogical it was to bring spaghetti to the beach. I worried about sand getting into the food (and what if we forgot the proper utensils and ended up with food that couldn't be eaten with our hands?).

I used to suggest the more practical idea of bringing sandwiches or just buying something from the Coney Island food vendors if we got hungry. My parents would scoff and ignore me, making me resentful about eating the spaghetti. Regardless, my siblings and I still followed the usual routine of waking up at 6 the following morning and packing our grocery cart to meet our cousins at their train stop.

We would lug our coolers and towels, and I remember my family's anticipation of indulging in the savory spaghetti mingled with the salty sea breeze. We would place our freshly washed blankets on the sand, using bags and shoes to anchor each corner. There would be the clinking of Coronas for the adults and the fizzing of Coca-Cola for us youngsters as the aroma of home-cooked spaghetti filled the air, accompanied by the rhythmic beats of bachata, merengue, and salsa from our boom box.

These beach days were a feast for the senses. At the time, I didn't see it that way. One year, when I was about 12, I was beyond annoyed by the inconvenience of carrying so many things. I decided to rebel and refrain from eating. I was envious of the other people there with their families, buying delicious Nathan's warm hot dogs and fries. I told myself I would eat a sandwich and not touch that cold, sandy spaghetti if I got hungry.

But after getting distracted by playing with my cousins in the water and making sandcastles, I lost track of how many sandwiches were left. Depleted from using up all my energy, my stomach started growling. When I headed over to make myself a sandwich, which we would assemble on the spot with cold cuts from the bodega, I noticed that there was no bread or cold cuts left. The only thing to eat was that dreaded cold Dominican spaghetti.

But once I gave in, I didn't regret it. I could taste the chopped salami and all the Dominican spices; it was the first time I realized how good spaghetti tastes cold. Despite my reluctance, I also realized it never tasted better because I was there eating it with my family.

As the years went on, I realized it wasn't only my family who brought spaghetti to that beach. Many other Dominican American families did, too — it was a thing. I no longer envied the Nathan's hot dog eaters because I left the beach with a full belly and a lifetime of memories without spending an extra dime. It soon became an integral part of our tradition, a hack I later adopted with my friends.

Now, living in LA, I haven't enjoyed the tradition of Dominican spaghetti beach days in a while, so I want to revive it. The prospect of re-creating these cherished memories on my own terms is both thrilling and comforting. I envision a gathering of loved ones, the aroma of simmering spaghetti mingling with the sea air as we bask in the warmth of summer in Malibu or Santa Monica. I can only imagine how perplexed people will be when they see an iron pot of spaghetti on the beach.

This year, I vow to honor my cultural heritage by bringing back this beloved tradition. Whether I'm preparing the spaghetti on my own or sharing the responsibility with my chosen family, which includes vegans and those with gluten allergies, my version will pay homage to the flavors of home while I add my own twist. The location might differ, but the sentiment remains unchanged — Dominican spaghetti beach days celebrate family, food, and the enduring bonds that unify us.

Preserving cultural traditions is increasingly important in a world of constant change. These rituals connect us to our roots and remind us of who we are and where we come from. On this journey to reclaim and embrace our nostalgic beach tradition, I do so with the knowledge that I am keeping a part of my heritage alive for generations to come.

Sasha Merci is a first-generation Dominican American actor, comedian, and viral digital creator. She showcases over a decade of diverse experience in entertainment with roles in films like "Righteous Thieves" and "De Lo Mio," along with collaborations with renowned brands such as Target and Bumble. She shares her Bronx roots and passion for Latine culture by being vocal about mental health and navigating comedy.