If you are staying at one of the larger hotels or resorts, we recommend that you
take the opportunity to have a look at the full range of foods on offer. Along
with the variety of international dishes on display, almost all hotels will
present their guests with a couple of traditional Dominican options, as much for
their Dominican guests as in the hope that the visitors from abroad will also
sample them. Dominicans are justly proud of their cuisine, and enjoy sharing it
with visitors, who more often than not do not regret deciding to try something
Dominican cuisine has a lot in common with the gastronomic traditions of the
neighboring islands of Puerto Rico and Cuba, as well as with the country it
shares the island of Hispaniola with, Haiti. It has less in common with other
Latin American countries, although there are some shared traditions there too.
The different cultural influences that combined to make the Dominican people are
also reflected in their favorite foods. The three primary ingredients in this
recipe are Spanish, Taino and African, with a peppering of Italian, Chinese and
The breakfast buffet will always include mangú, which is a savory puree made
with mashed plantains, yautía (taro) or yuca (cassava). Another variation of
mangú is ‘mazamorra’, made with the pumpkin-like squash known in the Dominican
Republic as ‘auyama’.
‘Mangú’ is traditionally served with fried red onions, and can also be
accompanied by fried white cheese, eggs or salami.
Tropical fruits are eaten at breakfast and other times of the day. This is one
attraction that the foreign visitor will always be drawn to, even if he or she
is unadventurous when it comes to prepared dishes. Papaya, passion fruit,
pineapple and the sweetest bananas you will ever taste are always in season.
When it is the time of year for mangos, you will be in mango heaven. There are
also several less familiar fruits like ‘jagua’ and ‘zapote’ that you might wish
to try, either as juice or by eating the fruit itself.
Lunch is always ‘La Bandera Dominicana’ - the Dominican Flag - which is made up
of bean stew, white rice and meat. There are many variations of this tricolor
treat. The beans can be black, red, white or ‘guandules’ (pigeon peas). The rice
is usually white, but Dominicans sometimes also make rice with noodles, rice
with sweet corn, or rice with vegetables. The meat can be chicken, beef, pork or
goat, and these are made in any number of ways too: stewed, fried or roasted.
Codfish stew is sometimes served instead of the ‘meat’ option. The ‘bandera’ is
usually served with a small mixed salad or a plate of boiled vegetables.
On the menus, you will see mentions of ‘salsa criolla’ or Creole sauce, which is
the Dominican name for a vegetable based sauce made with onions, green peppers
and tomatoes, which can be combined with fish, shrimp, chicken or other meats.
Other popular sauces or seasonings include ‘al ajillo’ – garlic sauce, or ‘a la
crema’ – similar to a béchamel sauce.
The evening meal is usually light, and can be a variation on what is eaten at
breakfast, a simple sandwich and hot drink, or in the hotter months, simply a
glass of natural fruit juice. Dominicans are also particularly partial to ginger
and lemon grass teas, and thick hot chocolate drinks.
One of the enjoyable parts of discovering a new cuisine is encountering
unfamiliar ingredients. ‘Yuca’ and ‘yautía’, ‘tayota’ (chayote or christophene)
and ‘plátano’ (plantain) are virtually unknown in Europe and North America,
which comes as a big surprise to many Dominicans for whom these foods are as
familiar as cornflakes and milk are for the tourists. In addition, the visitor
will find familiar ingredients prepared in new ways, like boiled green bananas
which are commonly served as side vegetables.
On special occasions, Dominican food takes on a festive air. Sancocho, a thick
stew made with up to seven types of meat and a large array of vegetables and
tubers, is the ultimate Dominican party food. Christmas time is when families
get together to share a roast suckling pig (lechón asado) accompanied by moro de
guandules (rice and pigeon peas) and potato salad. At Easter, a large vat of the
unique ‘habichuelas con dulce’ (sweet beans) bubbles on every Dominican
Street corner food stands and roadside sellers are a picturesque part of the
Dominican experience. It is advisable to take this slowly if you are a newcomer
to the country, because hygiene is not always that great, and your stomach is
still adjusting to being in a different climate. Once you feel you are ready,
frituras (fried snacks), chicharrones (pork rinds) pollo frito (fried chicken)
and chimichurri (hamburgers) are all there for the taking.