You might know the Dominican Republic for its incredible beaches and robust culture, but it’s time to dig into Dominican food. This tiny but vibrant island gets the mouth watering with color, flavor, and unique twists that set it apart from other Caribbean cuisine. Time to turn up the heat and learn more about Dominican foods you won’t be able to resist!
A World of Flavors: A Brief History of Dominican Food
Dominican food combines a long culinary history with wide regional inspiration. The indigenous people of the island of Hispaniola, the Taíno people, utilized the wide variety of food resources available to them on the island. Seafood, root vegetables, tubers, and extensive cooking methods defined the island’s cuisine. In fact, the word barbeque and barbacoa come from the Taíno word “barabicu” which describes the process of slowly cooking meat over a raised bed of flames. The Spanish brought a new variety of meats, fruits, and grains from Spain, mainland Europe, and other regions of the world. These additions blended with native food culture to produce new variations. Lastly, enslaved Africans introduced cooking methods that are essential to Dominican food. Techniques like braising and stewing meats added depth and compounded the rich flavors of the Dominican Republic.
Today, these global influences come together to dazzle the senses in the festive, flavorful cuisine developed in the Dominican Republic and embraced in the world beyond. Read more to explore ten Dominican foods you simply can’t live without!
A staple of Dominican cuisine, sancocho is the crown jewel of Dominican food. Sancocho is a savory stew consisting of several kinds of meat and root vegetables. Though many countries in Latin America have their own sancocho, the Dominican style is unrivaled. Typically sancocho is made with beef flank, chicken, pollo vieja, pork, and goat meat. Some specialty recipes call for up to seven types and cuts of meat! Vegetables may include plantain, yams, squash, corn on the cob, root vegetables, herbs, and spices. The combination of meat, starchy vegetables, and long, slow cook times leads to a thick broth with deep flavor. It can take many hours or even days to prepare, so this culturally important dish is often saved for holidays like Christmas, Easter, or other special occasions.
It is usually served with arroz blanco (white rice), avocado, and a special Dominican hot sauce called agrio de naranja, a bitter and tangy orange-flavored hot sauce. Die-hard sancocho fans and Dominican cooks are firm on the point that a true Dominican sancocho will never include tomatoes or pasta. Sancocho is revered by the Dominican people, often called the king of Dominican food. Recipes may differ by family and region but the heart of Dominican cuisine lives in this spectacular stew.
If you visit the Dominican Republic, there’s one tasty food item you’ll be certain to find sold on every street corner. Empanadas are crispy fried pockets of pastry dough stuffed with a delicious savory filling. They’re equally portable and delicious, making them the ideal street food. A similar street food morsel is the pastelito, however, pastelitos are usually round in shape while empanadas tend to be half-circles. Pastelitos also are typically baked while empanadas are fried to crisp perfection.
Empanadas can be made of many different kinds of dough. Most commonly wheat flour is used to make the crust, however, yuca, cassava, and other roots can be ground into a fine flour to create the savory pastry. Empanadas de yuca, also called catibia or cativia, are considered a delicacy due to the lengthy process and hard work it takes to grate yuca for the dough. Empanadas are filled with a wide variety of delectable fillings, such as chicken, beef, pork, cheese, a wide variety of vegetables, or any creative combination. You can even find dessert empanadas filled with tropical fruits and sweet jams. One bite of a versatile and handy empanada and you’ll understand what the hype around traditional Dominican food is all about!
Rich, creamy, and distinctly Dominican, mangú is a widely popular dish made of mashed green plantains rather than ripe plantains. It is commonly embraced as a breakfast food, a hearty and dense meal to start the day off right. To prepare mangú, first, green plantains are boiled for several minutes. Once they’re soft, they are removed from the water and mashed to a smooth consistency. Butter or other cooking oils are added to develop an irresistible creamy texture. It can be enjoyed on its own, topped with caramelized red onions, or combined with other treasured Dominican foods.
Mangú is often served at the morning meal alongside salami, fried cheese (queso frito), and a side of fried eggs in a traditional Dominican dish called los tres golpes (“the three strikes”). Mangú can be made from any of the dozen varieties of plantain commonly found in the Dominican Republic. Each variety of plantain offers a distinct flavor and texture that cooks in different families and regions may prefer. It is believed that mangú has roots in the Dominican Republic’s African influence, closely resembling a Congolese dish called mangusi. Mangú is the dish that the Dominican Republic awakens to in the morning and the flavor it dreams of at night.
Mamajuana is the native spiced rum of the Dominican Republic. It combines the robust flavor of Dominican rum with red wine, honey, and infused with tree bark and herbs. The infusions vary by locale so the flavor of mamajuana is defined by its natural and cultural environment. Its rich, complex flavor has made it the official alcoholic beverage of the Dominican Republic, mirroring the heat and magic of a Caribbean paradise.
For genuine Dominican mamajuana, it’s best to find brands and distilleries that source all ingredients from the island. Candela combines rum, spices, and sugar cane from the Dominican Republic itself to create a bold flavor unlike anything you can find away from the beaches of the Dominican Republic. An additional eight- to ten-month small-batch aging process in bourbon casks creates complexity and depth that captures the essence of the Caribbean. Mamajuana takes the high-quality experience of Dominican rum and raises the bar for the ultimate taste of the Dominican Republic.
In a country known for its beaches and access to the ocean, it only makes sense that seafood plays a big role in Dominican cuisine. Salpicon brings the bounty of the sea to your spot on the beach. It is a mix of various chilled seafood and vegetables. The seafood component may vary by season. Depending on what can be caught fresh, salpicon may include a mix of octopus, conch, seabass, red snapper, shrimp, or crab. The seafood is often boiled or grilled and cut into small pieces. Vegetables like sweet potato, pumpkin, corn, beans, and squash are also boiled or otherwise cooked and cut into small pieces. Once all the ingredients cool, they are combined and tossed with a refreshing and tangy vinaigrette. Then it’s time to kick back in your beach chair and enjoy the taste of the sea.
Tostones, or fried plantain chips, are an essential side dish in Dominican cuisine. Plantains were brought to the Dominican Republic from Africa centuries ago. The plant flourished on the tropical island while its unique texture and flavor flourished within the food culture of the Dominican people. Tostones are made with unripe plantain.
The plantain is fried, flattened, and then fried again to a satisfying crisp. Tostones can be served as a side dish or eaten as the main course for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Nothing goes down better than a plate of crispy tostones and a refreshingly cold beer! This delicious snack is enjoyed in many Caribbean and Latin American countries. You might find tostones in Peru, Ecuador, Cuba, or Puerto Rico, but the best tostones are made in the Dominican Republic.
Goat meat is a staple in Dominican food. Chivo guisado, or goat meat stew, highlights all the reasons that goat meat is king in the Caribbean. The meat is cooked for several hours in a tomato-based stew along with oregano, salt, garlic, rum, and sour orange juice. Many Dominican cooks kick the heat up a notch and add cubanela or bonnet peppers to the marinade. In the northwest region of the Dominican Republic, the goats used to make chivo guisado are fed diets of wild oregano, deeply infusing the meat with unique flavor and dimension. Many people who are accustomed to western cuisines believe goat meat is tough. However, when goat meat is cooked a low heat for many hours in a medley of flavors, the texture of the meat becomes tender and flavorful. No dish exemplifies the delicacy of goat meat in Dominican cuisine more than chivo guisado.
Similar to mangú, mofongo is a dish made of mashed plantains. However, mofongo differs from mangú in a few key ways. To make mofongo, you must first fry or roast the plantains. Once they’ve been cooked, they are mashed with a combination of garlic, salt, oil, and chicharrones (fried pork skin). Next, the savory mash is rolled into a ball and served as a side dish with braised meat, seafood, and a chicken- or beef-based broth. Broth often accompanies mofongo to moisten the mash and add another layer of rich, meaty flavor. Variations to the conventional recipe may call for chicken, bacon, shrimp, or beef in place of the chicharones. This dish is also popular in Puerto Rico, where it is often served with a hearty tomato stew. The intensive process necessary to make mofongo sets it apart from other plantain dishes but the hard work is well worth it when you dig in.
La Bandera Dominicana
What kind of meal is hearty enough to satisfy a Dominican family? La Bandera Dominicana! This meal is considered the national lunch dish of the Dominican Republic. Meaning “The Dominican Flag”, the name of this meal comes from the colors that can be found on your heaping plate. Each component of the meal corresponds to a color of the Dominican flag: white, red, and blue. White is represented by arroz blanca, or white rice. Red makes a colorful splash with a scoop of red kidney beans, pinto beans, or cranberry.
The flag’s blocks of blue are represented by the various meats of la bandera. Chicken, beef, pork, and fish might all make an appearance in this exceptional Dominican dish. La bandera dominicana is generally served with a salad of fresh vegetables, tostones, and avocado. Rice, beans, and meat may be simple elements, but they’re the lunchtime fuel of the Dominican people and essential to this iconic meal.
Habichuelas con Dulce
A well-loved dessert item in the Dominican Republic, habichuelas con dulce, or “sweet beans”, will satisfy your sweet tooth! This decadent treat is commonly made during Holy Week in the days preceding Easter. Dominican family kitchens mix up large batches of this creamy treat to share with family and friends during Easter festivities. Recipes may vary by family and region, but habichuelas con dulce generally consists of red kidney beans, coconut milk, evaporated milk, and plenty of sugar.
Baking spices such as cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg are added to create rich and festive aromas. Many families have special add-ons unique to their own traditions. Some recipes call for raisins, yams, or graham cracker cookies to add texture and sweeten up the experience. There are many ways to whip up a rich and creamy sweet treat but the bottom line is this: habichuela con dulce reigns as the king of dessert foods in Dominican cuisine.
The Dominican Republic has so much to offer beyond the pristine white sand beaches and enviable resorts. Dominican food brings the culture of D.R. to life in tantalizing and flavorful ways. If you haven’t yet tried these ten irresistible Dominican foods it’s time to grab your passport and make your way to the Caribbean!