While little known, the Dominican Republic’s dishes are a fascinating blend of its multiple cultures, from African, Taino, and European to influences from immigrants who settled in the DR from the Middle East, Asia, and the Mediterranean. This has led to significant contributions to the gastronomy scene. You’ll taste Caribbean rice and beans to uniquely Dominican dishes such as mangu and sancocho. Here are 10 specialties you must try while in the Dominican Republic.
Often on the menu as a side and one of the most commonly found fried snacks in the Dominican Republic, tostones are deep-fried plantains. The plantains are flattened after taking them out of the frying pan, making them soft on the inside but crunchy on the outside. Spray on lots of ketchup and mayonnaise like locals, and enjoy. You’ll find tostones sold roadside as well as in Dominican restaurants and resorts, sold alongside fried chicken and other meats.
Another authentic Dominican dish you should try is sancocho—rich, hearty meat and root vegetable stew made of beef, pork, chicken, yucca, yam, potatoes, among other ingredients. It’s often prepared as a family for special occasions, including on New Year’s Eve. A bowl of sancocho is served with a small side plate of rice and avocado slices. Petrus has it daily, in the Colonial City, and you’ll find it occasionally served at Dominican restaurants around the country, particularly in the December and January period when the weather is cooler, and families gather for the holidays.
If Puerto Ricans have mofongo, then Dominicans have mangú. This quintessential, African-influenced dish consists of a mound of mashed green plantains, topped with sauteed red onions in a vinegar sauce. The plantains are first peeled and boiled, then ground together into a delicious soft mash. This dish is popular for breakfast, along with a side of fried eggs, fried salami, and fried cheese, known as “los tres golpes” or the three hits. Mangu is also consumed at dinner in many households. While in the Dominican Republic, you’ll find mangu served as part of the breakfast buffet at resorts and hotels countrywide, in addition to local restaurants. For restaurants, try the mangu at Hermanos Villar or Buen Provecho in Santo Domingo.
La Bandera Dominicana
Considered the traditional dish of the Dominican Republic and consumed mostly at lunchtime, la bandera Dominicana or “the Dominican flag” consists of a plate of rice and beans, with stewed chicken or beef and a side potato or pasta salad, as well as the occasional slice of fried sweet plantain. This ubiquitous dish is also called “plato del dia” in local restaurants. The beans can vary, from red beans to pigeon peas or “guandules and beef, fish or pork can also be the meat, depending on the day and restaurant. There’s no bad spot to have a plate of rice and beans in the DR, and it’s the one dish you’ll have no trouble finding. In Santo Domingo, head to Villar Hermanos or Cafe Mimosa for lunch.
Chicharrón or Pica Pollo
Fried pork rinds are so popular that they’re considered a delicacy, sold streetside and in restaurants by the pound. Some of the best chicharron can be found in Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata’s restaurants. If you’re not a pork eater, sample the Dominican fried chicken or pica pollo—seasoned with oregano, garlic and lime, and deep-fried. Not everyone can stomach these fatty, greasy fried meats, so choose your streetside vendor carefully and opt for a restaurant version when possible.
Traditional drinks are just as symbolic in the Dominican Republic as food is. You’ll understand after you sample a morir soñando, a batida (milkshake) made of orange and condensed milk. This frozen drink not only cools you off; it could quickly fill you up on its own. Another favorite is made with chinola or passion fruit, as abundant in the country as oranges.
Pasteles en Hoja
A Christmas specialty, pasteles en hoja are like a Dominican version of tamales. Made with plantain dough, stuffed with meats or vegetables, they're then wrapped with a green plantain leaf. You will find these sold at select pastry shops or by asking locals where to get it, especially during the December season. In Santo Domingo, a variety of cafes and pastry shops offer it, including Hermanos Villar and Maria La Turca.
The Dominican version of empanadas are made with cassava flour and stuffed with beef, chicken, lobster, conch, or shrimp, among other options. The most popular catibias are served as appetizers at the renowned Meson D’Bari, once visited by the late Anthony Bourdain.
A popular late-night snack food, yaroa is a delicious mound of seasoned ground beef, layered with potato fries and topped with melted cheese. This Dominican lasagna of sorts is a great way to soak up the alcohol. Top it off with mayonnaise and ketchup and enjoy. You’ll find yaroa served from food trucks around the city’s nightspots. Some local restaurants also offer it on the menu. In Santo Domingo, one of my favorite yaroas is at the small Fabrica Contemporanea restaurant.
Habichuelas con Dulce
A dish revered by Dominicans, habichuela con dulce is a sweet bean dessert, served primarily during Easter Week. It’s said to have been brought to the Dominican Republic from southeast Asia, but its origins remain unclear. Ingredients making up this unique dessert are coconut milk, condensed milk, boiled red kidney beans, cinnamon, sugar, vanilla, cloves, salt, and raisins. The entire mix is made in a large pot, then served cool and garnished with cookies.
It is customary for neighbors and families to share their versions of homemade habichuelas con dulce all weekend. You must try it if you’re visiting the DR during Easter Week or at your resort if you’re lucky. You’ll find it and many other typical Dominican desserts, from cakes to glazed fruits, at Dulceria Maria La Turca in Santo Domingo, or any pastry shop in the country.