Dominican Food Culture 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.
The Dominican Food Culture 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 Arab.
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 a 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 Culture 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 household stove.
Street corner food stands and roadside sellers are a picturesque part of the Dominican Food Culture. 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.