Cacao is a tall tropical tree that can reach 4 to 12 meters tall. The cacao tree produces an average of 150 fruits every year. These fruits are long oval pods called cacao pods. The pod color varies from yellow to orange.
Inside this pod are an average of about thirty cocoa beans. A white glutinous pulp covers each bean. The pulp is quite tasty when you pop it into your mouth and suck on it.
During the first drying, the entire seed with pulp is placed in the sun to dry. When dry the white pulp can easily be removed. The second drying is to dry the seed itself.
You can see these beans drying in many places in the country, even along country streets. The beans are laid out on tarpaulins or in large covered beds. They are constantly being moved to get them to dry. As the beans dry they are being picked over to clear out the inferior beans.
The dry beans are then cleaned, roasted and crushed into a powder. When you pass by cacao drying you can get the wonderful sent of the aromatic bean drying in the sun. With each step of the drying process, the smell gets more intense.
Dominican Republic is the perfect place for the cultivation and development of cacao because of the rich, fertile soil and the favorable climate. Individual farmers and large corporations grow cacao trees alike. The best cocoa beans in the country are grown in the Cibao Valley, San Francisco de Macoris, and Santiago. Dominican Republic produces two types of cocoa beans, the Hispaniola (about 4% production) and the Sanchez (about 96% production) varieties.
Cocoa beans/ Cacao is a very nutrient rich and complex food. Cacao is considered by some experts to be the best antioxidant food, having the highest source of magnesium of any food. Chocolate contains A1, B1, C, D, E vitamins and iron. The cacao beans are also used to produce cocoa butter that is used in many cosmetic applications. The Aztecs considered the cacao tree as a paradise tree.
The Dominican Republic is currently one of the chief producers of organic cocoa in the world when they started marketing their product as early as the 1980’s.
There is a Museo de Cacao on Calle el Conde and also on Calle Arz. Meriño in the Colonial Zone. They sell many different products made in Dominican Republic (including the Vino de Cacao pictured above)
The food of Dominican Republic / Comida de República Dominicana is a blend of many different cultural dishes all combined to make a style of cooking that is unique to this island. With influences from the Taino Indians, Spaniards, African Slaves and many other immigrants, the Dominican dishes or comida criolla has evolved. The Dominicans have created their own food and cooking styles into dishes that have their own distinctive flavors, tastes and appearances.
Dominican food is high in carbohydrates and starch. Most recipes are not complicated and are made from very natural and locally grown foods that are readily available in gardens, trees and from local vendors. Add a little locally raised meat or a fresh catch of fish, and some sazóne (spices) and you have a typical Dominican meal. Remember that typical Dominican foods are usually not spicy. In local type eateries there is a high chance that you will not see any black pepper. If you ask many will give you a bottle of hot sauce instead. They, in general, do not like their foods hot/ pica.
Breakfast – Desayuno
Breakfast Dominican style has many options from which to choose.
One of the traditional foods served for breakfast is Mangú, which is mashed plantains with some flavoring added and topped with lots of red onions. The orange squash/ auyama is used to make mazamorra that is also served with onions. Spaghetti is also a favorite of the Dominicans. Fried cheese is also a favorite served with fried salami and eggs. People love their oatmeal/ avena that usually a bit runny cooked with milk and is very sweet. Of course, there is always a good variety of fruits from which to choose. I have seen many people eating Sancocho and Mondongo for breakfast as well. To wash it all down have some jugo de avena, hot chocolate made with water or milk, some fresh juice and of course a hot cup of espresso style coffee made fresh to order.
Lunch – La Bandera Dominicana
The typical Dominican lunch, called La Bandera Dominicana/ The Dominican Flag (La Bandera recipe), consists of beans/ habichuelas and rice/ arroz, meat/ carne or fish/ piscado, and a salad/ ensalada of some sort.
First, the plate is filled with the most rice I have ever seen heaped on a plate. The habichuelas/ juicy beans come in black, red, white or green, depending on the type of bean used. These beans are usually served in a small bowl or cup on the side and you pour this on top of the rice, along with some of the sauce from the meat if you so desire. You eat this with a large spoon and a knife used for pushing the food onto the spoon. The meat is usually cut into pieces and is stewed. The portion size of meat is dwarfed when it sits next to the hugh amount of rice on the plate. There are different varieties of salads that can be served the most popular being, Green Salad / Ensalada Verde, Avacado Salad/ Ensalada de Aguacate, Russian Potato Salad/ Ensalada Rusa, and a boiled salad I love with tayota, carrots and potatoes. When the beans are made just right and the rice has the perfect amount of salt, along with a little concón/ crispy fried rice from the bottom of the pan, this meal is wonderful.
I can see why most Dominicans eat this meal everyday of their lives. It is a joke among my Dominican friends, if they do not eat rice everyday they will not live. After living here for many years I have come to believe this as truth.
Sancocho is the national dish of the Dominican people. It is made with a variety of meats and vegetables such as pork, beef, goat, fish, sweet potatoes. The recipe for sancocho is on our recipe pages. There is also another type of soup – stew type dish called asopao which is meat, veggies and rice in a flavorful broth. Make some for yourself, here is the recipe for Sancocho.
Dinner – Cena
The evening meal is usually something light because the main meal is served midday. You will see Dominicans eating a sandwich or a soup or stew such as Sancocho.
They do eat full dinners if they go out to a restaurant in the evening but at home it is usually light. Maybe they will pick up a snack on the street such as Chicharones, pasteles en hoja a hamburger or some fruit. Along many of the streets throughout the country you can find small trucks selling all types of fried foods and sandwiches. The roasted pork sandwiches are wonderful. Some snacks/ picadera consisting of olives, cheese and salami to go with a cold drink with friends are also popular.
Dessert – Postre
The Dominicans know how to make desserts and sweets just right. They use all the local ingredients to make candies and cakes like no other place in the world.
Try out a mixture of beans, condensed milk and some other sweet and interesting ingredients. The name of this sweet mix is Habichuelas con dulse (habichuelas con dulse recipe *the link is to the old html web site). It is a traditional dessert served during Easter but can also be found the year round if you make your quest in the right places. It is also made into an ice cream that can be bought at Bon’s Helados. I never thought of beans as a dessert and ice cream. This is a must taste for sure. There is also the Dominican cake called Bizcocho that you can get with or without icing. The Flan is sweet and creamy and the candies made from coconut, papaya, almonds and other local fruits are yummy.
Fruits – Frutas and Juices – Jugos
The fruits grown here are the best. There are a wide variety of fruits that you have never seen or heard of before. Some do look ugly but don’t snub them because of the way they look. You have never eaten a pineapple/ piña until you have tried one here in República Dominicana.
The Mangos (season May thru September), of which there are many types, sizes and textures, are wonderful and very messy.
Mangos are best eaten with a knife as the little strings of fiber get stuck in the teeth. Do not let the mango juice get on your clothes because it stains.
Papaya/ lechosa is unbelievably tasty and nothing like what you will find in other countries.
An Avacado grown in DR has so much more flavor than any I tasted elsewhere.
Buy a banana or a peeled orange for a few pesos while walking the street for a quick pick me up. Just make sure that when you visit you do not pass up a taste you will always remember.
You can buy a juice on the street fresh squeezed and many restaurants serve their juices fresh as well.
There are a few different types of oranges. The china, which is the sweet orange, is used to make juice (sometimes it is mixed with sugar to make it even sweeter) and to eat whole. Then there is the bitter orange/ naranja sevillana that is used for cooking.
The Guava/ guayaba, a pink colored, pear-shaped fruit with yellow skin, is wonderful when made into juice or a greenish colored jelly (try it made into a paste and eaten with some cheese, I was shocked that this tastes so good).
I highly recommend everyone tries some zapote juice, the fruit is ugly but the juice is sooo yummy. The Guanabana and Passion fruit/ Chinola also makes a scrumptious juice. To learn more about the products grown in Dominican Republic go to our Grown in DR page.
Whatever you choose to eat while you are in Dominican Republic you should try new things. Things that may look strange to you might be a new yummy for your pallet. Some you might not like but I am sure that most of the cuisine in this country you will enjoy. You should keep your mind open to new taste sensations and try new foods. Whenever you visit a new place it is always important to try something different. You just might be pleasantly pleased. Try going to a restaurant and asking for something typical Dominican. If invited to a persons home for dinner make sure you try everything, no matter what it is. Even if your not crazy about what is served let them know how much you enjoyed everything. They are always hospitable and will probably be watching you while dining to make sure you are comfortable and happy. Many times when you are sitting in a restaurant, having a drink or snack in a Colmado or enjoying any type of food or drink Dominicans will pass by and say “Buen Provecho”. This means “Enjoy your meal”. Dominicans are friendly people and they use this phrase often.
Each part of this small island country has their own foods and recipes. Each dish is cooked in different ways depending on which part of the country you are in and which part of the country the person cooking comes from. There are also have different fruits and veggies that grow and thrive in certain parts of the country. Strawberries are grown best in Constanza, the Bani area is known for its Mangos. No matter where you are in our small island country you will find the most amazing tasting fruits, vegetables and foods all with its own Dominican taste and flavor. Be adventurous and enjoy our original Dominican sabor. Check out our Dominican Recipes and cooking terms.
We have our food words list so you will know how to say the different foods and exactly what they are. Impress your friends…
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