We, Dominicans, are known throughout America as “Plátano Power“… Guess why?
Platanos (plantain bananas) delicious creation of nature, together with the Yuca, is one of the main ingredients in our daily diet. We eat the plantain banana at breakfast as Mangú (plantain banana puré), at lunch as plantain banana chips, accompanying our food, called “Dominican flag” (rice, beans, meat, salad and plantain banana chips), as desserts as Plátano al caldero and at dinners. It is consumed in several dishes and adding its magic to such native dishes as the Sancocho, the Mofongo and a large additional list.
But it is not our only ingredient …
Since 2017, Dominican Republic was selected as the Gastronomic Capital of the Caribbean by the Royal Ibero-American Gastronomy Academy and the Royal Spanish Academy of Gastronomy, and I’ll tell you why.
Dominican cuisine, with strong roots that come mainly from three great cultures, offers a great mix of flavors with the most diverse ingredients and, over the years, has developed modern techniques and interesting presentations, without losing its roots and its authentic flavors.
Our gastronomy influences
Our culinary map is rooted in the convergence of the Tainos culture, aboriginal population that inhabited our island and much of the Antilles in the pre-Columbian era. The Spanish culture, transmitted through the colonizing groups. And the African culture, population that was brought to our island as slaves and which has strongly influenced the Dominican cuisine of today.
Tainos used Yuca as one of their main food and with it they elaborated the Casabe, an unleavened bread that is still preserved in our current gastronomy. At the present, the yuca is the fourth most important crop in developing countries and is consumed by around 800 million people. Also, in the productive part, our Taino aborigines developed tools that allowed them to rely on hunting and fishing. They used a kind of barbecue to cook their food. Even today, in many Dominican fields, the way to cook their food is in the Fogón, a kind of rudimentary stove that uses coal as a means of combustion.
Before the arrival of the colonizers, the Tainos cultivated yuca, sweet potato, guava, pineapple, guanabana, papaya and to a minor extent, corn. They also produced the mabí, a drink produced from the fermentation of the bohuco root. The mabí, not only survived until our present time, but has been the first local product that has achieved the first patent on our island.
With the arrival of the Spaniards to the island, first port of the colonizers, sheep, cattle and swine livestock were imported, and with it the consumption of meat. New techniques of preservation and cooking of food with the use of salt and some condiments, not known at that time by our first settlers, were also implemented. Europeans also imported legumes to our island, such as beans, chickpeas and lentils, and ingredients such as garlic, onions, ginger, carrots, radishes, lettuce, and dishes such as paella and stews.
Later, with the arrival of African slaves, plantain banana was added to our menu, an ingredient that is very present in our cuisine today, as
well as bananas and molondrón. They also imported the pylon tool. In addition, other cooking techniques, such as fried foods, were added. One of the most emphasized African influences in our gastronomy is the elaboration of chicharrón de cerdo, escabeche and mofongo. Also as African heritage we have chenchén and chacá, dishes made with tender corn and which is very common in the southwest of the island and its consumed also for our neighbor in Haiti.
With the second trip of Christopher Columbus, the first American sugarcane seed was imported, an ingredient that for many decades represented one of the most important industries on the island and was the main economic activity and the second line of export of agricultural origin of the country, after the banana. (Source: Press article “History of the production of sugar cane in the DR” – Instituto Azucarero Dominicano, January, 2018).
Years later, other culinary cultures were added to our gastronomy and they were integrated little by little with those already existing. Such is the case of Arab gastronomy, which leaves its influence on our island with dishes as common as Kipe and the niño envuelto. We inherit yaniqueque and domplin from the Antillas Menores. Of the Africans we also inherit the use of coconut in the elaboration of fish. Of the Chinese, chicharon de pollo. From Italians we inherit the use of pasta, which over the years has detached from its roots and has acquired a very own character, creating pasta sauces not known (and possibly not approved) by the Italian community. 😉
All this translates into an enormous variety of dishes, prepared with the most diverse influences and techniques. In our country we can even divide our gastronomy by regions, which allows you to travel from one side to another inside the island savoring very particular flavors and native of each town. I know so many Dominican people living in one region that are not aware of the food of other regions.
This is how you can enjoy a delicious Chivo Liniero de Montecristi, in the northwest of the country, or a rich chenchen and chaca in San Juan de la Maguana, in the southwest of the island. You can enjoy a delicious sancocho, traveling to Constanza or an exquisite mofongo from Moca, in the center of the island, or a fish in coconut sauce, in Samaná, in the northeast. Of course, as in all big cities, all this delicious dishes converge in Santo Domingo, capital of our country, allowing you to enjoy a culinary journey without leaving the city, but the interesting thing in this kind of trip is to be able to enjoy each of these recipes prepared by the expert hands that have been elaborating them through the years.
In brief, my little island is a land of endless culinary amazement that can surprise and convince the most demanding palates.