The visit to Dominican Republic would not be complete without trying local flavours and delicacies. When planning my trip to Dominican Republic I was expecting to have a cuisine based on seafood and exotic fruits which was to some point true but the island still holds few pleasant culinary surprises. If you want to try traditional and authentic Dominican cuisine (often with a modern twist!) you should definitely head to Santo Domingo which is the capital city.
The best seafood is (of course!) served in Punta Cana region since all those exotic fish land on your plate few hours after it was caught in the ocean. Surprisingly, Dominican Republic signature dishes are actually based on meat.
If you want to try traditional Dominican meal, order Sancocho which is a stew prepared from 7 types of meat. The best can be found in Santo Domingo (struggled to find in Punta Cana area). I ate this very filling dish in Mesón de Bari which has amazing Spanish colonial nostalgic vibe.
- Bandera dominicana
Another delicacy to try is la bandera dominicana consisting of white rice, red beans and stewed meat.
Equally famous are empanadas which are pastries filled with seafood, vegetables or meat inside. These snacks are very common in Spanish, Latin American, and Iberian-influenced cultures. We tried few empanadas and our favourite one was with crab filling.
African origin dish called mofongo made by mashing fried plantain, garlic and pork rind in a mortar.
All mentioned dishes you will find in Santo Domingo restaurants, all accompanied by excellent drinks based on rum, followed by delicious Dominican coffee. I actually strongly recommend to try those delicacies in Santo Domingo, where a lot of authentic colonial restaurants serve them.
- Seafood in Punta Cana region (or just close to the seaside)
When closer to the ocean, it’s worth changing the meat based diet for seafood. We have spent half of our stay in Punta Cana region and had fish there every day! Don’t hesitate to ask in the restaurant for fresh catch, the list of names of local fish was very long and sounded quite exotic! The dishes are not very complicated but the seafood is so fresh and high quality that you don’t need any fancy extras!
- Dominican Coffee
Dominican Republic has a lot of coffee plantations which are mostly grown in the mountains of the country. The coffee has a rich taste with low level of acidity. The areas that meet the needs of coffee trees are generally the tropical environments which experience heavy rains. To systematise the coffee production in Dominican Republic, the grains come from 6 regions: Cibao, Bani, Azua, Ocoa, Barahona and Juncalito.
The coffee can be found in local supermarkets in Dominican Republic, but when I tried to search them in the shops in Europe, it was difficult to get the same brands.
A very interesting coffee (and I think my favourite) is Café Montana de Jarabacoa con Macadamia. The highest elevations in the mountains of Jarabacoa keep coffee plants at a temperature close to 20 degrees which ensures a very favourable growth environment for coffee.
Another very good coffee is Café Santo Domingo Gran Origen Perla Roja from Barahona region. Barahona is considered the cradle of the best Dominican coffee. The sea breeze and the fertile soils are the key features that characterises its coffees with delicate acidity, subtle caramel aroma and sweet notes of tropical fruit.
Another coffee worth trying is the arabica from Cibao region. It is grown at higher elevations and is known for its low acidity and slight sweetness.
Still searching for those coffees in France as my stock from Santo Domingo is about to finish soon.
- Exquisite Dominican cacao and chocolate
The tropical environment of Dominican Republic is perfectly suitable for growing cacao trees. All cacao in Dominican Republic is grown in the shadows of leaves of citrus, banana and avocado trees. The Dominican cacao is famous of its low acidity and notes of yellow fruits.
Interestingly, the country is the largest producer of organic cacao in the world. The cacao beans are used to produce top quality chocolate, you can find a chocolate manufactures and make your own chocolate in Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo.
My favourite chocolate manufacturer is Kah Kow situated on Calle las Damas within the Colonial Zone.
You can try there their freshly made chocolate pralines (my favourite is with pistachios–the combination of sweet and salt in melting chocolate is just perfect), hot chocolate to drink and many other chocolate delicacies.
You can hide in the shadow of their small cafeteria and watch the machines producing chocolate.
On the side there is also a lovely shop with their produce where you can buy their cacao and chocolate for your loved ones. I recommend their delicious chocolate mousse (must be kept in the fridge though).
If you bring just Dominican organic natural cacao powder (easier to transport), you can prepare at home your own delicious drink from the recipe below.
Cup of water or milk
3 tablespoons of cacao powder
1 tablespoon of vanilla
Pinch of cinnamon
How to do it:
Boil a cup of water or milk. Next, add cacao powder, vanilla and cinnamon. Stir all the ingredients. Simmer for 7 minutes. You can add sugar for taste.
- Country full of fruits
I was expecting to try a lot of exotic fruits (and vegetables) in Dominican Republic. The country doesn’t disappoint. You have enormous stands with fruits in bigger supermarkets, some of them I have never seen before. Dragon fruit, zapote, chinola, carambola, bread fruit, guava…wanted to eat them all! I was shocked by the size of Dominican avocados- they are enormous, their taste is much sweeter than those which are imported to Europe.
I was in the shop during Avocado Festival and could observe the locals choosing the best pieces. Looks like they are also big fans of this fruit.
Dominicans are also fond of the plantains (which is a sort of vegetable banana) which are harder and need to be cooked. You will find a lot of mashed plantains (mangu) accompanying many traditional dishes. Attention–they are very filling so don’t order too much if you want to have space for your main meal.
- Famous Dominican rum
One of the biggest culinary highlights is of course Dominican rum. An evening with a glass of this golden beverage and a slow smoke of cigar is a very authentic Caribbean experience.
You can get rum in practically every restaurant and bar in Dominican Republic, the brands worth trying (also available in supermarkets to buy home) are Barcello, Brugal and Bermudez. They are easy to remember since they all start with a letter B. Another popular alcoholic drink in Dominican Republic is Mamajuana which is a spiced beverage made by infusing a mixture of rum, red wine, and honey with tree bark and herbs. It has a good reputation as an effective aphrodisiac 😉 Try it in different restaurants and some bottles from the shops–Mamajuana can taste very differently depending on the proportions of ingredients.
- Dominican cigars
Perfect companion to your rum will be Dominican cigars–less famous than the Cuban ones- but equally good.
I don’t smoke on daily basis, but enjoyed the Dominican cigars a lot. In Santo Domingo there is plenty of cigar factories, you can visit them and see how the cigars are made, and of course purchase them.
I personally liked my experience in Saoba cigar shop in Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo–huge variety of products and competent staff to advise and assist, I needed their help since I’m not a regular smoker.