There is a plethora of Dominican dishes, ranging from soups and stews to street side fried snacks, and sweet coconut desserts. Beyond the classic Caribbean rice and beans plate are staple specialties unique to the DR. Familiarize yourself with a few of the Dominican’s staples, from table to roadside, to best enjoy your culinary adventure around the country.
Breakfast consists of a plate affectionately called “los tres golpes” or the three hits: mangú–a typically Dominican dish made of mash of green plantains, topped with red onions simmered in a vinegar sauce–fried cheese, and fried salami. You can add on fried eggs for good measure.
Lunch is the main meal of the day. The typical dish is the bandera dominicana or Dominican Flag: a heaping plate of rice and beans– with chicken or meat, a side salad with avocado, and tostones–crispy, fried and flattened plantains. There are multiple rice varieties, including moro con guandules or rice with pigeon peas, and locrio –a rice dish that resembles paella with seasoned rice and chicken, or other meat.
Sancocho has even more symbolic weight as it is often made for a special occasion–including on New Year’s eve–to be shared with family and loved ones. This thick root and meat stew combines chicken, pork, yucca, yam, green plantains, and potatoes. It is served with a bowl of white rice, and avocado slices. Some say it cures hangovers.
Another quintessential Dominican food is pasteles en hoja. Often served at Christmas, these are the Dominican version of tamales, although made with plantain dough, filled with meat, and wrapped in a plantain leaf.
Mofongo is a dish originating in Puerto Rico, but Dominicans make their own version of this mashed plantain dish with garlic, and either pork, or shrimp.
Across the various regions you will find local specialties influenced by the culture of the region. In Samaná for instance, seafood is often simmered or cooked with coconut–an Afro-American influence, and you’ll find pescado con coco or coconut fish on the menu. In the northwest, goat meat is a staple, and the central mountains have roadside grilled meat restaurants or parrilladas.
Seafood is, of course, a big part of this Caribbean country’s diet. You’ll find the freshest fish from sea to table, particularly red snapper, in coastal fishing villages and towns such as Bayahibe, Sánchez, Sabana de la Mar, Samaná, Puerto Plata, and other seaside areas. Heading to the beach and ordering a pescado frito or whole fried fish with tostones, avocado and yaniqueque–a thin, fried crispy round johnnycake–is as Dominican as it gets.
There are plenty more dishes to discover–be adventurous and sample as many as you can.
Dominicans have an ultra sweet tooth. They love sweets and desserts in all shapes and forms, and you will frequently see lines outside of a pastelería, with customers grabbing orders to go or enjoying them on site if there is seating space.
The most unique of Dominican desserts are habichuelas con dulce–a sweet bean dessert mostly consumed at Easter time, but it can be found in various bakeries at other times of the year.
The most popular desserts are coconut-based, milk-based, and corn-based. The coconete is a crunchy, round shaped coconut cookie. Tres leches cake is a must-try, as is majarete, a sweet corn pudding sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Caramelized fruits are popular. You’ll see papaya slices dried and soaking in a sweet syrup. Because of the hot weather, popular ways to cool off, aside from fruit juices, are the frío frío –shaved ice topped with a flavored syrup of choice.
Dominicans love their street foods, particularly at night, and their frituras or fried snacks. One of the most commonly picks, particularly at night, is the chimichurri or “ chimi”–a juicy Dominican version of a burger, filled with a combination of grilled, seasoned meat, cabbage, onions, and tomatoes, thrown inside toasted white bread, and smothered in mayonnaise and ketchup. It is served in a small plastic bag to catch the falling bits, which you must then empty out by hand. Pica pollo or double-fried chicken is among the most popular finds roadside, as is chicharrón de cerdo or fried pork rinds.
Yaroa fills up the late-night owls–a sort of lasagna-looking dish with layers of chicken, beef, sweet plantains, cheese, and French fries baked together, and topped with mayonnaise and ketchup.
Picalonga is a mix of pork meats made from the insides and parts of the animal–sometimes hanging openly from the cart waiting to be cooked–including blood sausage.
Other bite-sized snacks include catibias–yucca empanadas filled with a choice meat, or seafood, such as crab, and conch–and quipes, a Lebanese inheritance and version of their kibbeh.
Fruit lovers will find their bliss along neighborhood roadsides–where vendors often slice on site or prepare fruit salads–in the markets, along the highways or pretty much anywhere in the streets. You will find the usual suspects, such as bananas and papaya, locally called guineo and lechosa, respectively. But you will also enjoy passion fruit– ubiquitous and cheap in the DR–mangoes of numerous varieties, zapote or naseberry, granadillo, guanabana or soursop, carambola or star fruit, tamarind, coconut, pineapple, and guava, among others. There are also fruits with medicinal properties. The jagua fruit is not ingested but its juice, once used by the Taino to make body ink, is preserved and consumed for iron and to boost immunity. The caimito or star apple is known to cure stomach pains. The níspero or loquat is a fruit filled with potassium, magnesium, iron, and calcium.
On a hot day, cool off with 100% sugarcane or tamarind juice, or with a batida–a Dominican fruit milkshake made with evaporated milk, your chosen fresh fruit, and added sugar per taste (though you can also request it natural). These are found often on the menu in cafés, restaurants, and roadside stands. The signature Dominican batida bears a curious name: Morir Soñando, or “to die dreaming,” made with milk and fresh orange juice.
Mamajuana is a must-try while in the Dominican Republic. Bottles are sold almost everywhere, from souvenir shops, restaurants, markets, and roadside. This is a potent herbal drink, made from a fermented mix of cured tree barks, herbs, red wine, and rum. You should not ingest more than one shot at a time because of the high alcohol content, not to mention that it’s an aphrodisiac. And if you are taking some back home, be sure to purchase liquid mamajuana, not the bottles containing tree barks.
A handful of beers are made in the Dominican Republic, including craft beers found in a few places around the country. The most popular brand is the world famous Presidente beer, made by Cervecería Nacional Dominicana since 1935. Brands include Presidente Light, and Presidente Black, a thicker bodied version with a high 6% level alcohol. The custom in the DR is to go to a corner store or colmado, or a restaurant, and order una fría, a cold one, or ask for una vestida de novia–a bottle so cold it is covered in a thin layer of ice. The jumbo size is served with small cups and shared. Other beers are the Bohemia, a pilsner-based beer, and the Quisqueya.
Dominican rum is produced by several big brands, the most popular two being Brugal and Barceló. Ron Bermúdez dates back to the 19th century, with white and golden premium varieties. The newer Ron Macorix has gained in popularity in recent years thanks to its flavored bottles of spiced, pineapple, and coconut rum.
Cigar aficionados know to find their fix in the Dominican Republic, since DR is ranked as the number one exporter of premium cigars in the world. Tobacco cultivation dates back to the Taino, and evolved with Cuban tobacco growers who settled in the DR in the 20th century to escape the Castro regime. Coupled with the country’s fertile lands and favorable temperatures, particularly in the central Cibao Valley, today’s Dominican tobacco is recognized as ranking among the finest in the world.
Popular brands include Arturo Fuente, Davidoff, and Romeo y Julieta. Visits to famous tobacco factories are offered from various resort destinations. The most prestigious factories include Tabacalera La Aurora and Tabacalera La Flor Dominicana in Santiago, and Tabacalera García in La Romana.
Wherever you visit around the DR, you will find a cigar shop and a cigar bar to enjoy the finest hand rolled products, paired with rum.