Dominican Food: Its History & 25 Dishes You’ll Absolutely Love

The Dominican Republic is a nation with a long and varied history.

It was under Spanish colonial rule for hundreds of years and has been part of France, Haiti, and even American control until its independence in 1924.

The multiple intersections of cultures and influences make Domincan cuisine unlike any other. 

Dominican food reflects the variety of cultures that were forced or made their way to Hispaniola. Dominican food reflects indigenous Taino, African, Spanish, and Middle Eastern influences. Each of these different influences has been embraced into the heterogenous Dominican cuisine.

Are you curious about some of the Dominican Republic’s unique and varied dishes and how history has shaped their culture and cuisine?

If so, we we’ll answer some of your questions and provide 25 traditional Dominican dishes to discover.

Spanish Influences on Dominican Cuisine

Dominican Sancocho Stew
Dominican Sancocho Meat Stew

The Dominican Republic was a Spanish occupied colony from 1492-1821 (with a brief interval of French rule in 1795-1809), and jointly with Haiti until 1844. The Dominican Independence was only briefly interrupted by the Spanish again from 1861 to 1865, and America from 1916-1924. The long years under Spanish rule have had a powerful impact on the Dominican Republic’s cuisine.

The Spanish introduced new animal species, fruits, vegetables, and grains to Hispaniola. Along with Mediterranean dishes, they also brought middle eastern influences from the 700-year Moorish domination of Iberia. 

The widespread domestication of Spanish livestock such as pigs and goats became a staple in the Dominican diet. The Spanish revere lunch as the main meal of the day, and this is reflected in the Dominican love of hearty lunch dishes. 

Some Spanish influenced Dominican dishes are: 

  • La Bandera or ‘the flag’ is made up of rice, red beans, and meat with a side of salad.
  • Sancocho is a Spanish meat stew and a very popular Dominican dish.
  • A much loved Dominican dessert is the Arroz con Leche or rice pudding made of rice, milk, sugar, and raisins.
  • Crème caramel is another Spanish inspired Dominican sweet treat made from egg yolks, vanilla evaporated milk, and condensed milk.
  • Quesillo is a coconut flan that is a traditional Dominican dish.

Middle Eastern Influences on Dominican Cuisine

Dominican Food Quipes with Lime Wedges
Dominican Food Quipes

The Spanish brought the strong influence of Middle Eastern cuisine from their history of the 700-year Moorish invasion.

Along with the Moorish influence, many Arabs also migrated to the Dominican Republic. They found work as agricultural laborers and merchants in the 1900s

The Arabic influences on Dominican cuisine include:

  • Arroz con almendras y pasas is a Lebanese based dish of savory rice flavored with almonds and raisins. The Dominicans often eat this dish around Christmas time.
  • Arroz con Fideos which is a middle eastern dish of rice and toasted noodles.
  • Kipes or Quipes are the Dominican version of Lebanese ‘kibbeh,’ a deep-fried bulgur roll dish usually with a meat filling. The Dominican version substitutes the less popular lamb meat with beef and does not use the mint and spices in the traditional middle eastern equivalent.

Taino Influences on Dominican Cuisine

Dominican Cassava Bread, Casabe
Dominican Cassava Bread, Casabe

The Taino are the indigenous peoples of the modern-day Dominican Republic.

Before Columbus discovered Hispaniola (La Isla Española), the peaceful Tainos named their land ‘Ayiti’ (‘land of high mountains’), which later evolved in Haiti.

In 1492 Columbus found a fertile land with friendly inhabitants who bore no arms. 

It would be a fateful meeting for the indigenous Taino, with greed for gold and a disregard for the indigenous culture.

Enslavement and maltreatment decimated the Taino population, followed by a smallpox epidemic in 1518-1519, which is said to have killed almost 90% of the Taino population.

Although the Spanish declared the native Taino extinct, some escaped to form communities inland with other escaped slaves or intermarried with the Spanish population (historical census records show that 40% of the Spanish men in Santo Domingo were married to Taino wives.) 

Many studies have shown that the Taino genetics lives on in the Caribbean, and their diaspora (Puerto Ricans have been found to have 10-20% indigenous Taino DNA).

Modern-day Dominicans also show Taino ancestry in their DNA.

Taino culture is evident in modern western society today with the word barbeque taken from the Arawak barabicu as well as hammock, tobacco, and hurricane.

Taíno foods were not rich in meat because there were few indigenous mammals pre-colonization. 

Pre-contact food was mainly seafood, small animals, waterfowl, mollusks and iguanas, and vegetable staples such as cassava, batata, corn, beans, guanabana, jagua, guayaba, and mamey. 

Taino inspired Dominican dishes include:

  • Casabe is thin unleavened cassava or yuca flatbread that has been part of the Dominican diet for over 500 years and still eaten in the Dominican Republic to this day. 
  • Guanimes are similar to tamales and are made from cornmeal or cornflour made into masa and wrapped into a banana leaf or corn husk.

African Influences

Although the European and Taíno influences are often cited regarding Dominican culture and cuisine, African influences are often overlooked.

When the Spanish had all but eliminated the local Taíno population, they looked towards Africa to replenish their large plantations’ labor force. 

African influence is an integral part of the colorful Dominican heterogeneity, and remains an essential part of the nation’s culture and is reflected strongly in their cuisine.

The first record of sanction for African slaves brought to the Dominican Republic was issued in 1501, and by 1503, slaves were set to work on the plantations and mining gold.

They were also involved in constructing the many beautiful colonial buildings still found in the Dominican republic as heritage sites.

In a DNA study tracing African roots in the diaspora, the Dominican Republic showed a diverse variety of African genetic links:

  • Senegal 20%
  • Benin/Togo 18%
  • Nigeria 17%
  • Mali 17%
  • Ivory Coast/Ghana 11%
  • Central Congo 10%
  • South East Bantu 8%

Slaves were not the only African component of the Dominican Republic’s history as over 6000 free African heritage slaves left Baltimore, New York, Boston, and Philadelphia seeking a new life in Haiti.

Their mark on Dominican culture is most strongly seen in the Samaná region.

Another wave of African descendants immigrated to the area in the mid to late 1860s.

African Influences on Dominican Cuisine

The African roots in Dominican culture are still alive in their language, syntax, music, and food.

One of the most famous Dominican dishes is ‘mangú,’ which has its origins in Ghanian ‘fufu.’

Historians have also traced Dominican love for ‘concon’ from the Nigerian word ‘konkon’ for oily. 

The most famous African influenced Dominican dishes are:

  • Hoja is similar to the West African ‘kenkey.’
  • Chenchen and ñame, which is a type of yam that gets its name from ‘nyami’ which means ‘eat’ in the Fula language.
  • ‘Los Tres Golpes’ is a traditional breakfast dish consisting of mangú, which is said to hail from West Africa.  
  • Mangú is a paste made from boiled and mashed green plantain and is linked to the West African word mangusi, which means mash. Dominicans top the mash with a delicious combination of avo, eggs, cheese, and salami.
  • The use of cinnamon, sweet clove, and allspice is also said to stem from West African influence.

Chinese Influence on Dominican Cuisine

Early Chinese immigrants arrived in the Caribbean after the slave trade had been abolished in the mid 18th century.

Plantation owners looked to China for alternative labor, and many Chinese were brought over as indentured laborers.

Following the laborers, the Dominican Republic’s American occupation brought an influx of Chinese entrepreneurs to take advantage of the economic expansion.

The Chinese brought their food traditions and cooking techniques with them, some of which are part of the Dominican culture. Such a dish is:

  • Chofan (Dominican Chow fan) is a Dominican conversion of Chinese fried rice, commonly using pork and peas as additions to the fried rice.

25 Most Famous Traditional Dominican Dishes

Here are the 25 most popular traditional Dominican dishes:

1. Mangú (Mashed Plantains)

bowl of Dominican mangu breakfast dish
Dominican Mangú

Plantains, are central to Dominican cooking even though they were only introduced to the ‘new world’ by the Portuguese in 1516.

It is thought that African slaves, already familiar with the fruit, played a significant role in making the plantain a Dominican staple.

Plantains are more fibrous and have a higher starch content than bananas, and are cooked or fried before eating.

Mangú is a traditional Dominican dish served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Ripe or green plantains are boiled and mashed with butter, oil, or margarine. 

This dish can be traced back to Africa in the Congo region, where mashed vegetables were referred to as mangusi.

These mashed plantains are not eaten on their own but make a base to many dishes, the most famous being Los Tres Golpes a rich Dominican breakfast dish.

2. Los Tres Golpes (The Three Hits)

Dominican Dish Los Tres Golpes
Dominican Breakfast, Dish Los Tres Golpes

The three hits are a much-loved breakfast in the Dominican Republic and add to the Mangú recipe (with sauteed red onions cooked in vinegar) and delicious add ons.

These include a combination of fries, white cheese, eggs and avocado, and Dominican Salami. 

The traditional cheese used in the tres golpes is queso de freír or queso Blanco and is a salty Dominican cheese similar to halloumi, which is always eaten fried.

Dominican salami is more like potted meat than its European salami counterparts and is not eaten uncooked. Dominican salami is often made of pork and seasoned with white pepper.

3. La Bandera Dominicana (The Dominican Flag)

Dominican National Dish La Bandera
Dominican National Dish La Bandera

La Bandera Dominicana is considered something close to a National lunchtime dish.

The three bands of color represent the Dominican flag, the beans representing the red, the rice the white, and the meat section, the blue.

This dish is often served with avocado and a simple side salad but can be accompanied by tostones or Concón rice.

4. Arroz Blanco (White Rice)

White rice seems a strange dish to include on the traditional menu because white rice seems ubiquitous worldwide.

This assumption is not true in the Dominican Republic, where many cook’s reputations are based on their Arroz Blanco quality, which is the base of the most famous Dominican dishes.

Not only have the Dominicans perfected the firm yet soft texture of good white rice, but they have incorporated their own style of Concón.

Concón is the crust of crispy rice formed on the bottom of the pot when you cook rice that is crispy, flavorful, and unburned Dominican-style.

5. Chenchén (Cracked Corn Pilaf)

Chenchén Dominican Food
Chenchén

This cracked corn dish is an excellent substitute for rice and is very popular in the Southwest regions of the Dominican republic.

Chenchén is said to have a risotto or pilaf like texture depending on the particular cooking style.

It is often made with coconut milk and pairs beautifully with meat dishes, particularly goat.

6. Tostones (Twice-Fried Plantains)

Dominican Tostones and Tostonera
Dominican Tostones and Tostonera

Tostones are a plantain dish popular throughout Latin America and nowhere more so than the Dominican Republic.

They are as popular in homes as they are as street food and can be used to complement a meal or on their own with a dip.

The recipe calls for unripe plantains that are cut to roughly 1 in (2.5 cm) deep-fried and flattened to ¼” [0.5 cm] and then refried.

Traditionally Dominicans would use a tostonera, which is a paddle-like flattener specifically for tostones.

7. Yaniqueques (Crispy Dominican Fritters)

Dominican Street Food Fritters, Yaniqueques
Yaniqueques, Dominican Street Food Fritters

Yaniqueques or yanikeke are the ultimate Dominican street food and often sold on the beaches in summer.

It is a general theory that yaniqueques are a corruption of the name ‘Johnny cakes’ brought to the Dominican Republic by Cocolo immigrants from the British ruled West Indies. 

Unlike the Johnny cakes made of cornflour, the Dominican Yaniqueques are deep-fried dough discs that are eaten as delicious snacks popular on Boca chica, a famous Dominican beach. 

8. Empanaditas de Yuca or Catibias (Tapioca Flour Empanadas)

Empanaditas de Yuca
Empanaditas de Yuca

One of the most popular Dominican street foods, the crunchy and delicious tapioca pockets, is usually filled with meat or cheese or shellfish and is offered by frituras or street vendors.

The process of making food from cassava stems from the native Tainos of Hispaniola.

9. Mofongo (Flavored Mashed Plantains)

Dominican Mofongo with sauce
Dominican Mofongo

With its origins in the African diaspora that became part of the modern Dominican Republic tribe, mofongo is an iconic Dominican dish.

The dish is made from fried plantains that are mashed with pork crackling (chicharrón).

It is shaped into a round and classically served with pork, but chicken may also be used.

Mofongo is a popular lunch and dinner and is a traditional late-night bite for those out on the town.

10. Pasteles en Hoja (Plantain and Beef Pockets)

Similar to tamales, Pasteles en hoja are a much cherished Dominican dish and are a traditional dish at Christmas and New Year’s festivities.

Instead of corn, Dominicans use plantains and various root vegetables to form a paste, and wrapped around a beef or chicken filling and boiled in a banana leaf.

The pasteles’ recipe in the Dominican Cooking site included taro, pumpkin, and yam and plantains.

11. Sancocho (7-Meat Stew)

Dominican Sanchco Seven Meat Stew
Sancocho, Dominican Seven Meat Stew

Although variations of Sancocho exist in several Latin American countries, the Dominican Republic has made their Sancocho entirely their own. 

This rich, meaty stew comes in varieties with the most opulent being Sancocho de Siete Carnes, which incorporates seven different types of meat and plantains and root vegetables.

The seven kinds of meat are generally beef, goat, pork belly, ribs, and sausage, chicken, and smoked ham bones.

The Dominican Sancocho can vary from family to family according to taste, but some rules generally apply. Potatoes, noodles, and tomato sauce are no-nos, and sancocho is usually made of inexpensive beef cuts such as flank or chicken.

Typically, the ‘de siete carnes’ version is used on special occasions as the cooking time is long, and the ingredients are expensive. 

If you would like the traditional recipe with video, you may find it on Dominican Cooking.

12. Pollo Guisado (Braised Dominican Chicken)

Dominican Chicken Pollo Guisado
Pollo Guisado Dominicano

Chicken is easy to find and relatively cheap, and it is one of the favorite meats of the Dominican republic.

Pollo Guisado forms the main component of La Bandera and a common dish on the Dominicans lunch menu. 

There may be regional variances on the dish, but the braised chicken is flavorful and rich and relatively easy to prepare.

The dish includes cilantro, garlic, peppers, potatoes, and green olives, and sometimes sugar and a dash of vinegar for sweetness.

13. Pescado con Coco (Fish in Coconut Sauce)

Pescado con Coco Dominican Fish and coconut dish
Pescado con Coco Dominican Fish and Coconut Dish

A dish that originated from the Samaná region of the Dominican Republic is a delicious and creamy blend of fresh fish and coconut milk.

Because of the dish’s simplicity and the flavors’ delicate nature, the fish’s freshness is paramount.

Red snapper or grouper are commonly used, but most tropical fish will do if they are fresh.

There is an excellent recipe for making Dominican Pesado con Coco if you would care to make it yourself.

14. Chivo Guisado Picante (Spicy Goat Meat Stew)

Chivo Guisado Dominican Goat Stew
Chivo Guisado Dominican Goat Stew

Although goat meat has never really seemed to gain popularity in western culture, goat meat is popular in the Dominican Republic, especially in the northwest of the Dominican Republic and around Azua. 

There are many local variations on this delicious goat curry, but all the great recipes rest on good quality goat meat, wild oregano, and scotch bonnet peppers (or habanero) if you can’t get them.

The recipe calls for a delicious blend of limes, chilies, orange origanum garlic, and onion.

A splash of rum is entirely optional. Dominican Cooking has a great recipe if you would like to make it yourself.

15. Niños Envueltos (Rice and Beef Wrapped in Cabbage)

Niños envueltos is a much loved Dominican dish of minced beef wrapped in cabbage and cooked in a tomato-based sauce. The dish often contains garlic, basil, onions, and peppers.

The dish is slowly simmered until the cabbage is soft and the meat is cooked inside.

Some believe that this Dominican dish is an adaptation of a Middle Eastern dish brought by Arab immigrants in the 19th century.

16. Chicharrón de Cerdo (Dominican Pork Crackling)

Chicharron de Cerdo Dominican Pork Cracklings
Chicharron de Cerdo

Pork rinds are a much sought after street food and restaurant staple in the Dominican republic.

Some of the best chicharrón can be found in Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata and is so loved that it is often sold by the pound.

The pork crackling is often flavored with lime and oregano.

This Spanish influenced dish is directly related to the Spaniard’s introduction of pork as livestock to the Dominican Republic.

17. Pescado Frito (Fried Fish a la Dominicana)

Dominican Fried Frish a la Dominicana, Pescado Frito
Pescado Frito

Pescado Frito is best eaten in coastal towns and is a famous beach or street food in the Dominican Republic.

This simple fried fish dish is all about showcasing a recently caught fish’s delicious freshness, and most commonly, Dominicans use sea bass snapper or grouper. The fish is flavored with lime and garlic and oregano and is synonymous with sunny days on a beach.

18. Pastelón de Plátano Maduro (Ripe Plantain Casserole)

Pastelon de Platano Maduro Dominican Ripe Plantain Casserole
Pastelon de Platano Maduro

This ripe plantain based Pastelón de Plátano Maduro is filled with meat and cheese and is the Dominican version of a delicious plantain lasagna.

By far, one of the most loved Dominican dishes, this comfort food is quite unlike anything you might have tasted before in the West. 

The mashed plantain is layered with cheese and a flavorful mince filling often made with peppers, garlic, and cilantro. This dish is Dominican comfort food at its best.

19. Habichuelas con Dulce (Sweet Cream of Beans)

Habichuelas con Dulce, Dominican Sweet Cream of Beans
Habichuelas con Dulce

If a bean desert makes you feel a bit skeptical, don’t feel alone. Habichuelas con Dulce is a much loved bean-based desert in the Dominican Republic and is traditionally served in the lent season.

Sweet cream of beans is made of soft red kidney beans, sweet potato, coconut milk, sugar, raisins, cloves, and cinnamon and is commonly enjoyed with small milk biscuits.

20. Dominican Arepa (Cornmeal and Coconut Cake)

Unlike the Colombian and Venezuelan savory arepas, the Dominican Republic has its very own version called the Dominican Arepa.

This delicious cornmeal and coconut cake is traditionally prepared over hot coals.

It is a dense, moist cake and is flavored with coconut milk, cinnamon, brown sugar, and butter and is a very popular sweet.

21. Flan (Crème Caramel)

Dominican Flan Dessert Cake
Dominican Flan

Although the word flan originated with the french, the creme caramel is a Spanish dish that has become a firm favorite in Dominican cuisine.

Dominican flan is a sweet baked custard dessert with a caramel sauce made from caramelized sugar and water covering it when it is inverted from its pan. 

22. Bizcocho Dominicano (Dominican Cake)

With a sinfully high ratio of butter and an incredibly airy texture, there is no doubt why this Dominican cake is so loved by the Dominican people.

The buttery goodness and the exceptional lightness make this cake melt in your mouth. 

The icing is a kind of meringue that the Dominicans call a suspiro and the filling brings in the sweet acid flavors of pineapple to round out the subtle flavors of this cake.

No special occasion or celebration is considered complete without someone making this recipe with love.

The Dominican cake is no walk in the park to make because there are multiple steps to follow to create the perfect filling, cake, and icing in this time-consuming affair.

Dominican cooking site has provided a detailed recipe for you to create your own Dominican cake so you can see for yourself why it is so well-loved.

23. Pudin de Pan (Spiced Bread Pudding)

Pudin de Pan Dominicano
Pudin de Plan

There are many versions of bread pudding around the world, but the Dominican Republic has a recipe all of its own.

The spices make the pudding rich and flavorful and the texture is moist and dense.

The pudding is flavored with cinnamon, star anise, ginger, and cloves, which are said to have arisen in Dominican cuisine from West African influences.

Pudin dePan is evocative of western Christmas cake but is not as hard as our Christmas cake and is a soft and chewy comfort food. 

24. Tres Leches Cake (Dominican Three Milk Cake)

Dominican Tres Leches Cake
Dominican Tres Leches Cake

The Tres Leches cake must be one of the most famous cakes in Latin America (and the rest of the world.)

What is not to love about the soft sponge soaked in sweet milk and topped with whipped cream?

Usually served chilled, the “three milk’ cake will is a sweet, decadent delight. 

There are some variations on this recipe. For instance, some bakers prefer to top the cake with meringue.

However, this recipe with whipped cream is the more popular version in the Dominican republic.

25. Cocadas (Flourless Coconut Cupcakes)

Dominican Dessert Cocadas
Dominican Cocadas

This is a traditional Dominican sweet that has gained popularity with the world turning away from gluten and turning to banting diets.

These homely coconut cupcakes are easy to make and forgiving for those prone to baking errors.

The cocadas recipe has few ingredients, so the flavors of the freshly grated coconut really shine.

It is a light and rather macaroon-like in taste and texture.

Conclusion

The Dominican Republic people are known not only for their food but for their passion for music and dance.

The intersection of so many cultures under so many years of tyranny has created a uniquely heterogeneous culture that is distinctly Dominican. 

You should consider tasting these dishes in person, considering the Dominican Republic is only two hours from Miami and less then four from New York.

Sources

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