Happy Cultural Tidbits Monday! Today we are Traveling through Dominican Republic food (and dessert!), continuing our series of delicious photo essays, introducing you to traditional dishes from all parts of the world.
I lived in Dominican Republic for a month, when I was just 12 years old, with my aunt Lissett. The beautiful Puerto Rican married a Dominican cardiologist named Rafael (“Rafelito”) and moved to the neighboring island short after I started elementary school. I have fond memories with this particular pair of relatives because I would see them daily, even more than my always-hard-working mother, as they would take me and pick me up from school, cook me breakfast and dinner, and watch me study until mom picked me up after work in the evenings.
It was a sad day when they moved away, so mom thought it would be a great surprise to send me to Dominican Republic for a month after graduating from 6th grade (end of elementary school in Puerto Rico).It was a little more than mom wanting me to spend some quality time with my favorite aunt, though. Of course, she knew I’d been wanting to scratch my itchy travel feet! Ahh, mom does know best
Now that you know a little bit more about my connection to the Dominican Republic, with no more preambles, I introduce you to the Dominican Republic food! A succulent mix of Taíno, African, and Spanish cuisine. As its neighbor Puerto Rico, you may ask? My answer to that question would be “same same but different” ¡Buen provecho!
I don’t think any article talking about Dominican Republic food can start with any other dish. Mangú is as traditionally Dominican as the turquoise Caribbean waters that bathe La Española‘s coasts. Very similar to Puerto Rican mofongo, it is a West African dish made of mashed, boiled plantains. The main difference is that mangú firmer than mofongo, in addition to having 3 special Dominican ingredients, typically dubbed as los 3 golpes. Meaning “the 3 hits” in Spanish, these are the traditional sides (acompañamientos) of the mangú: Dominican salami, eggs, and fried cheese. Albeit a heavy dish, mangú is more-often-than-not eaten for breakfast — although it can be mangú time at any hour!
Another dish brought by the African, mondongo is beef stripe soup. It is also a traditional dish in Puerto Rico, although it is more commonly eaten (and a favorite!) in DR. The best thing about the dish, naturally, is the spices that go on the sauce. All-purpose seasoning, celery, tomato paste, spicy sweet peppers (ajíes dulces), cilantro, and Sazón Goya with culantro y achiote might not seem like much…but they can be magical together! Oh, before you try to make mondongo yourself, though? Mrs Diana Cruz warns: “It can take anywhere between 15-20 minutes to cook it, so its all about observing and checking for tenderness. DO NOT OVER COOK OR YOU’LL HAVE SLIME FOR DINNER.” Noted!
Another quintessential Dominican Republic food, I personally dubbed it “plantain lasagna” when I first ate it. Others think it looks more like a Dominican Shepard’s pie. Regardless, this is how I can best describe pastelón to you: Think of the noodles/pasta being replaced with layer upon layer of sweet, ripe plantains instead. Then, stuff with adobo-seasoned ground beef or chicken, but without a chunky sauce. Finally, top it off with a mix of cheeses, cheddar preferred. Pop it in the oven and listo Plantain pastelón, however, is only one of about 6 variations of the dish. Other kinds are made with yuca (cassava) in lieu of plantains. Want to try it out? Here’s a good Dominican pastelón recipe I found!
Sancocho is a very chunky, hearty soup made of a myriad of ingredients. It is similar to the asopao, but even thicker. Both are traditional dishes in several Latin American countries. However, the unique Dominican varieties are sancocho de siete carnes (7-meat sancocho) and sancocho de habichuelas (bean sancocho).
Ready for some snacks? The Dominican bollitos can be made of either plantain (bollitos de plátano) or cassava (bollitos de yuca). As its Spanish name suggests, they are like little deep-fried dough balls filled with cheese — the “dough” being mashed plantains or cassava. Think of light-colored hush puppies with different ingredients and you get the idea. A delicious blend, of course!
Of course, I had to add the “odd dish” to this Dominican Republic food post! Direct translation is “spicy tongue” — and comes from a cow. Allegedly, it is not the rubbery flavor you expect! If cooked right, it should melt in your mouth. Today, I also learned that it can be a perfect treat for Rosh Hashanah. Nope, I haven’t tried it yet…
Habichuelas con dulce
As a Dominican would say, in order to close this post with broche de oro, here’s a sweet delicacy from the Caribbean nation. This dessert means “beans with candy” and it is just that: Red beans, cinnamon, nutmeg, coconut milk, condensed milk, raisins, butter, sugar and salt (Katrina Taveras, Daily News NY). What I didn’t know before is that this is actually a soup! All you do is puree the boiled beans with salt, then add the coconut and condensed milk, along with the rest of the ingredients. Interesting! If you want to give this a try, here’s a recipe for you.