Tuesday, June 25, 2013

La Comida Dominicana: Specialties and Street Food


Mealtime in the Dominican Republic usually means eating with a large group: close family, relatives from out of town, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and possibly any number of household animals. Dominicans therefore know how to cook for big crowds. One of the most popular dishes for such times is sancocho, a hearty stew prepared with several kinds of víveres, a multitude of other vegetables, and various kinds of meat. The stew simmers for hours over an open fire, serving dozens and making everyone happy. A similar dish is called asopao, prepared with a base of rice instead of víveres.

Habichuelas con Dulce
At Easter in the countryside, neighbors might build a fire alongside the nearest river, and prepare moro de guandules (rice with pigeon peas) with bacalao (salted cod) accompanied by generous amounts of rum. A popular dessert during this time (referred to as Semana Santa) is habichuelas con dulce, a pudding-like dessert made from a base of beans, along with white sweet potato, condensed milk, sugar, and cinnamon. It is usually topped with small milk cookies.
Pig Roasting on a Spit

Christmastime brings the smell of crackling pig skin wafting through the air as men rotate whole pigs over a spit. After slow-roasting the pig all day, hosts serve the tender meat alongside ensalada rusa (potato salad with the festive addition of beets), and pan telera (a long white bread). For dessert, children and adults alike munch on apple slices, grapes, gum drops, nuts, and marshmallows.


Tostones are the French fries of the Dominican Republic. What better to do with unripe plantains, found in abundance across the country, than twice-fry them and serve with every meal? To make tostones, plantains are sliced less than an inch thick, fried, flattened, and then fried again. They are ubiquitous and delicious, found in every fancy restaurant and roadside stand. When in doubt, order tostones.


Sharing a Caribbean island, the DR features those sweet and colorful tropical fruits all your dreams are fresh-squeezed from. Some fruits grow all year, while others have a short growing season. Two of the most popular fruits that have specific seasons are aguacate (avocado), in the fall, and mango, in the spring and summer. Also try limoncillo (a slimy sweet and sour fruit resembling a lychee), and chinola (passion fruit), available in the summer. Year-round, enjoy lechosa (papaya), guineo (banana), china (orange), and coco (coconut).

Street Food

Pica Pollo with Tostones
Those with strong digestive systems should certainly try some of the food from roadside stands. Of course, it is important to be cautious: make sure your street meat hasn’t been sitting out in the sun for too long. Visit fried food stands called frituras to try out famed tostones, chicharrón (fried pork skin), arepitas (fried balls of cornmeal), quipes (a fried wheat dumpling with a ground meat center), yaniqueques (savory dough that is stretched, then fried) and the ubiquitous empanada, sometimes called a pastelito (depending on the size and filling).

We also recommend visiting brick-and-mortar joints called “Pica Pollo,” which can be found every few blocks in any town. These spots specialize in moist, delicious fried chicken (goes perfectly with an icy Presidente), and often serve the chicken with fried rice introduced by the small Chinese population on the island.

Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/remolachaoficial/8491126110/">Remolacha.net pics</a> / <a href="http://foter.com">Foter.com</a> / <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">CC BY-NC-SA</a> 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

La Comida Dominicana: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Before we get to discussion of the meals, we have to talk about the vívere, or starchy vegetable, which is ubiquitous in the Dominican diet. The most common include plátano (plantain) and yuca (cassava root), but others include batata (a kind of sweet potato), yautía (taro root), and auyama (pumpkin). Víveres are served most often boiled or fried.

Mangu: Boiled and Mashed Plantains with Red Onions

When morning hunger strikes, there's an answer, and his name is plantain. This first meal of the day is a twofold affair. The first half involves a serving of víveres - usually plantains, and often boiled to high pliability.
The second is played by one of a trio of delicacies, usually fried to a crisp: huevos (eggs), queso (cheese), or salami, topped off with some of that delicious frying oil. 
Breakfast is taken with a short, sweet and strong cup of coffee.

One popular breakfast dish is mangú, made from mashed boiled plantains. It's then topped with red onions marinated in vinegar to cut the grease of that frying oil. A lighter alternative to víveres is hot chocolate boiled with cinnamon and allspice served with pan de agua (bread).  In the cooler months, you might also receive oatmeal prepared with generous amounts of milk, sugar, and cinnamon.


The famous midday meal is by far the heaviest and most involved in terms of preparation and consumption time. Lunch features la Bandera Dominicana, i.e. the Dominican flag. The food trio on the plate, after all, reflects the trifecta on the flag. (Dominicans are clearly as patriotic about their homeland as they are about their food.)
La Bandera Dominicana: Rice, Beans, Meat

This meal features a base of arroz, or white rice, topped with habichuelas, or beans, and carne, or meat (usually chicken, but sometimes pork, beef, or goat). 

One variant on the all-purpose rice-and-beans dish is called moro, in which the beans and rice are cooked together in one pot. For a well-balanced meal, a small salad or a vegetable side like eggplant, potato, avocado, or okra accompanies the bandera.


Nighttime dining is fairly straightforward, mirroring breakfast with a carbohydrate and protein component. Boiled víveres are again paired with fried eggs, cheese, or salami. Bring on the oil.


Dulce de Naranja (Orange Sweet)
Anyone eating in the DR, home of the endless sugarcane plantation, would be remiss without a sweet ending to a savory meal. Dessert may be simply that liberally sugared cup of coffee. A popular treat is a piece of dulce (literally, sweet) made with milk, sugar, and fruit boiled to a pulp. In restaurants, you’ll find international flavors like flan and tres leches, a dish made with three iterations of dairy product. Coconut, when available, is popular in postprandial sweets, made into cookies or biscuits called coconetes.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

La Comida Dominicana (Dominican Food): An Introduction

Pastelón de Yuca with Chicharrón 
A nation’s cuisine speaks volumes about its culture, and the Dominican Republic is no exception. Dominican dishes and basic staples draw from a mix of European, African, and native foods and preparation styles to form a unique Caribbean island cuisine. Talk to any Dominican, and you’ll find someone who is supremely proud of the food that represents her heritage. And while the most stereotypical foods are rice, beans, and plantains, Dominican cuisine is so much more.

The biggest meal of the day is lunch, while breakfast and dinner tend to be lighter affairs. The basic Dominican meal is also not complete without a starch and a protein; if one is missing, the meal is called vacío, or empty. This might make things difficult for vegetarians, since meat may be served at any time of day. And the diversity and abundance of sublime tropical fruits available adds a sweet touch to any dish.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll profile several areas of Dominican cuisine, giving you a deeper look into what makes the food of this island so special. Grab a fork and join us on this tasty journey. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Top Beaches near Puerto Plata: Playa Encuentro & Its Environs

Playa Encuentro

Playa Encuentro

Encuentro means “meeting” or “find,” and this isolated beach is certainly a gem of a find, bringing together man, his board, and the surf. Playa Encuentro is one of the highest rated beaches in the DR for surfing.

There are five distinct breaks that vary by season and time of day, and wave heights generally run from 1.5 to 3.5 feet (but can reach up to 9 under certain conditions). Surfing season is during the winter, from November through April, but summer can also produce very ride-able breaks.

Several surf rental and lesson shacks are set up on the beach. It is best to arrive early in the morning, as the breaks are best before noon. Less than 5 kilometers west of Cabarete, accessible by catching a moto or public transport. The entrance to the beach is by the Coconut Palms resort.

Surfing 321
Surfing 321 is one of the larger and better-known surf outfits in the area. The multilingual staff speaks English, Spanish, German, French, and Russian. Surfing 321 offer many deals and options for all levels of surfers, including rentals, lessons, trips, and the newfangled stand-up paddleboarding. Located at the entrance to the Coconut Palm Resort, continue to the beach and find the TakeOff School; 963-7873; www.321takeoff.com; 321takeoff@gmail.com

Pauhana Surfing
Pauhana is another reputable option for surf lessons located on Playa Encuentro. Rates for lessons run from US$45 for a day to US$225 for a week. 902-1212; www.pauhanasurfing.com; surfpauhana@gmail.com

Blue Moon Cabanas Nestled in the Hills
 A Detour for a Night

Blue Moon
Guests Enjoying Blue Moon's Indian-Caribbean Fare
Just a short drive from the coast, this retreat center is a peaceful oasis in the northern hills, affording occasional views of the mountains and sea. The property is green and well-tended, with a generous dining space, pool, patio, kitchen, bar, and lounge areas. The evening meal, diverse and decadent, is the highlight – an Indian-Caribbean affair served on banana leaves, eaten lounging on plush cushions. A large breakfast is included with the price. 
US$40-60 per cabana; in a private vehicle from Cabarete, turn right at the intersection of Sabaneta de Yásica, heading south for 6 kilometers over the bridge in Los Brazos. The entrance to Blue Moon is on the left. If coming by public transport, take a guagua to the Sabaneta intersection. Here, catch another guagua headed towards Jamao al Norte, and disembark at the entrance to Blue Moon, a five-minute walk off the highway up a short hill. Must book prior to arrival. 757-0614, ask for Eneyda; www.bluemoonretreat.net; info@bluemoonretreat.net