When taking a trip to the Dominican Republic, it’s a good idea to chew on a little history before deciding what to eat. Because the country – which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti – was formerly a Spanish colony, many traditional Spanish dishes have found a home there. Meanwhile, there are additional influences from the Taíno (indigenous people), as well as some Middle Eastern and African cuisine. Dominican cuisine does resemble that of other countries in Latin America – primarily those of Puerto Rico and Cuba – though the dish names sometimes differ.
A traditional breakfast might consist of mangú (mashed, boiled plantain), fried eggs, fried salami, fried cheese and sometimes avocado. This is called los Tres Golpes or “the Three Hits.” As in Spain, the largest, most important meal of the day is lunch. Its most typical form, nicknamed la Bandera (“The Flag”), consists of rice, red beans and meat (beef, chicken, pork or fish), sometimes accompanied by a side of salad. Sofrito, a sautéed mix of local herbs and spices is used in many dishes. Here are a few popular dishes you’re likely to encounter on a Dominican menu:
- Guanimos – Also known as tamales or hallaca. A dish that can be traced back to Mesoamerica Aztec and Mayan Cornmeal or cornflour is made into a masa (dough), then stuffed and wrapped with banana leaf or cornhusk.
- Kipes or Quipes – A version of the Middle Eastern kibbeh (deep-fried bulgur roll), brought by a wave of Middle Eastern immigrants that arrived in the Dominican Republic at the end of the 19th century.
- Pasteles en hojas – A dish that originated in Puerto Rico. Tubers or plantains are grated and the paste is formed into a rectangular purse shape, stuffed with meat. They are then tightly wrapped in a banana leaf and boiled. Pasteles are usually served on Christmas and as street food.
- Arañitas – “Little spiders” in Spanish. Shredded yuca(cassava) fritters mixed with eggs, sugar and anise seeds.
- Buche e perico– Literally “parrot’s cheek.” A hearty corn stew made with mirepoix (vegetable mixture of onions, carrots and celery), garlic, tomatoes, cilantro, smoked pork chops and squash.
- Guisados – Braised meat or fish cooked with sautéed bell peppers, onions, garlic, celery, olives, and cilantro. A small amount of sour orange or lime juice, tomato paste, water, orégano and sugar are then added. When done it is served with white rice. This is a popular staple in Dominican kitchens. Carne mechada is braised tenderloin or flank.
- Pastelón – A casserole. A main element of Dominican cuisine. There are more than six variations in the Dominican Republic the most popular ones being pastelón de platano maduro (yellow plantain casserole) and pastelón de yuca (cassava casserole).
- Bizcocho Dominicano – Dominican cake, made with a basic recipe of vanilla, eggs, flour, sugar, margarine and baking soda (though some recipes include milk with orange juice and lime zest). When done, the cake is then filled with pineapple jam and frosted with meringue.
- Palitos de coco – Shredded coconut lollipops cooked with condensed milk. When done, they are formed into small balls and coated in a simple syrup made from sugar, corn syrup and red food coloring.
- Majarete – Corn pudding made with fresh corn, cornstarch, milk, vanilla and cinnamon. Some Dominicans add coconut milk and nutmeg.
Differences between Dominican cuisine and those of other parts of the West Indies include the milder spicing, which mainly uses onions, garlic, cilantro, cilantro ancho (culantro), ají cubanela (cubanelle pepper) and oregano. Dominican sofrito is known on the island as sazón.
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