If you really want to get to know the Dominican Republic, start with its food. Dominicans are very proud of their cuisine – and for good reason. The variety of local dishes available is not just impressive but also a representation of our unique history and cross-cultural influences of African, Spanish, and Taino traditions. These fusions have resulted in what we today refer to as “Comida Criolla” aka traditional Dominican food – a delectable adventure for the senses.
We’ve prepared this guide with 27 typical Dominican foods and dishes from different regions for those of you who wish to culturally immerse and treat yourselves with tasty and authentic food.
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Traditional Dominican Foods & Drinks to Try
1. Catibia or Cativia (Empanadas de Yuca)
A personal favorite of @dominicanabroad‘s, catibias are like wheat empanadas, but tastier! They’re made with grated yuca flour and filled with chicken, cheese, or any other creative filling. These are a delicacy that take a lot of time to make by hand (“guayando la yuca“) but are well worth the hard work.
Guayando la yuca literally translates to “grating yuca” but is also a way to express that you’ve been working very hard. Both yuca and guayo (pictured above) are Taino words, as the Tainos used to guayar (grate) their sacred yuca.
You can find them in the Monte Plata province and in traditional restaurants in the Colonial Zone.
2. Salpicon – Top Dominican Seafood
A chilled plate of mixed seafood and vegetables on a tropical island? Yes, please, yes. Especially appetizing on a hot beach day, you can order salpicón as an entrée or a main dish. Its ingredients are chunks of boiled or cooked seafood (could be a mix of octopus, conch, fish, shrimp, and/or any other seafood), chopped vegetables á la vinaigrette. You can eat it as is on the beach, or with a side of tostones, rice, salad, french fries, or fried yams – and you can add some lime or hot sauce to taste.
Find some Salpicón in Azua, Juan Dolio, Boca Chica, and other coastal beach towns.
This rich stew is commonly made up of different meats including beef, pork, goat, chicken; alongside plantain, yams, pumpkins, and other roots. It is usually served with a side of white rice and avocado.
As an African gift to the continent, many Latin American countries have their own version of Sancocho, but be assured that Dominican sancocho, and its thick broth and seasoning, is truly like no other.
You should be able to find great Sancocho anywhere on the island, especially in Puerto Plata and in the chilly mountain towns (such as Jarabacoa). The more authentic versions are made in the local comedores, typical restaurants, or a kind neighbor’s house.
Interesting history: Haiti has its own version of sancocho called soup joumou which today is revered as a symbol of their independence. Before Haiti’s independence from France, this soup was only for French colonial masters to enjoy and forbidden from slaves. Now it is tradition to enjoy a soup joumou every Janaury 1, the anniversary of the Haitian Revolution (1804) – the first successful slave rebellion in recorded history.
4. Helado de Batata
Deliciously simple ice cream comprised of three simple ingredients: (1) sweet potato, (2) milk, and (3) sugar. And sometimes with coconut too!
This dessert is commonly found in the freezers of elderly women in the countryside, where they are made and sold with love. If you can’t find one of these sweet vendors, try some from the local ice cream stores in Jarabacoa.
5. Pastel en Hoja
Roots crops (viveres) and meat or ‘pasteles en hoja’ are boiled root crops, grated, mashed, filled with meat and wrapped inside a banana leaf. The principal viveres used for the pasteles are usually yuca or plantains.
Order a pastel en hoja during the winter holidays from local vendors; If you seek them, you shall find them. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, it’s worth remembering this phrase: “Donde venden pasteles en hoja?” – Where are pasteles en hoja sold?
These fried plantains are a popular staple on the island. Tostones are usually eaten as a side to many dishes, or on their own. Frying them is just one of the many ways you can cook plantains and they can be served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Plantains were originally brought to the island from Africa (by way of Southeast Asia) during the colonization period and have been an essential part of Dominican cuisine ever since.
The most iconic way to eat them? With some fried Dominican salami and a chilled beer.
You can find a plate of tostones practically anywhere on the island from your local comedor (local deli/diner) to an upscale restaurant.
Because we promised you iconic, chicharron or fried pork skin, had to be on the list. These deep-fried savory pork chunks usually come with a side of tostones, yuca, and/or boiled plantains and a citrusy sauce. Get your chicharron from the place that makes it best: Villa Mella, in the northern part of Santo Domingo.
Eating pork is a custom brought to the Dominican Republic by the Spanish colonizers. Today, pork is one of the most popular meat dishes in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.
Mabí or Maví is a Mauby tree bark-based Caribbean drink. Created with medicinal roots used by the indigenous population, the mabí was later adapted to taste by Africans, Europeans, and Caribbean islanders.
Although you can find different versions of this drink in different countries, Dominican mabí is similar to root beer in sweetness and effervescence. Some people say it has medicinal properties, while others claim that it can be an aphrodisiac.
To get a hold of this Dominican champaign, head to El Seibo.
9. Yuca (Cassava)
Yuca is the root of the cassava plant and even though it’s relatively underrated in Western cultures, it is actually a popular staple for millions of people around the world from Nigeria to the Dominican Republic. You can’t visit DR and miss out on trying this crop which was deemed sacred enough to have its own deity for the indigenous Taino.
With a particular, nutty flavor, the yuca is a versatile and healthy ingredient that will satisfy your appetite and your taste buds during breakfast or dinner. You can find the root crop at any supermarket and pretty much any hotel buffet, restaurant, or comedor. Eat it with salami, eggs, cheese, or with a dip.
Types of ways to eat yuca:
- Casabe: The native Tainos of the island used to grate yuca and turn it into a hardened flatbread called casabe.
- Boiled with caramelized onions on top.
- Fried (like tostones below).
- Mashed like potatoes.
- As a base flour ingredient for various dishes (like wheat flour).
It’s not just a drink, Mamajuana is a National Treasure. The native Tainos enjoyed this concoction as an herbal tea; It wasn’t until later that the Spaniards on the island added alcohol to the mix. Mamajuana is made of honey, red wine, rum, tree bark, and herbs. Rumor has it this drink has extensive healing properties and is sometimes consumed to aid digestion, improve blood circulation, and increase sex potency.
The good news is that you can enjoy this National Treasure in almost any bar in the country; but even better news is that you can prepare your own mix. You have the option to buy a bottle that is already prepared with all the ingredients, or the bottle that contains tree barks and herbs that is ready to be prepared with the rum, wine, and honey of your preference. If you choose the latter, make sure you search online for a guide on how to make Mamajuana, so you don’t end up drinking your first batch, which is only used to wash the tree barks.
Find the Mamajuana bottles in traditional markets like ‘Mercado Modelo’ in Santiago and the Colonial Zone.
11. Freshly-Caught Fried Fish on the Beach
Disclaimer: This is not only food for your plate, but it’s an experience for your soul. For this one, I’ll ask you to picture yourself at a beach with water of different shades of blue, the sound of those waves crashing on nearby rocks, and the sun warming your skin. You sit on a table under a parasol and below you: A plate of fried fish (usually seabass, snapper or grouper) with tostones, rice, and salad. Usually paired with a Presidente beer or a freshly cut coconut.
Although you will find pescado frito (fried fish) with tostones in almost any coastal town. Some of the TOP beaches to enjoy this beautiful experience are:
- Playa Los Patos in Barahona
- Buen Hombre in Monte Cristi
- Playa Caleton in Rio San Juan
- Bahia de las Aguilas in Pedernales
- Wilson’s Restaurant in Cabarete
Keep Reading: The Best Places to Visit in the Dominican Republic
12. Chenchen with Goat or Beef
This cracked corn pilaf is eaten in place of rice in San Juan, or the southwest region of the country. Pair it with beef, goat, or as a substitute for rice in La Bandera dish.
Corn is native to the Americas, but as for who to thank for this invention of chen chen, raise your glass for Haiti and the African nations.
13. Chivo Guisado
Stewed goat is a go-to, mouth-watering experience during family celebrations. It consists of goat meat in a rich sauce of sour orange, garlic, onions, and tomatoes. What gives this meal its special kick is that these goats are usually fed with wild oregano.
Go to Azua, Monte Cristi, San Pedro, or San Cristobal to have amazing chivo guisado.
There’s no deep secret to Yaniqueque: fried dough with salt. And yet, it’s one of the most coveted beach snacks around the island. However, different beach vendors around the island have their own subtle adjustments to make the yaniqueque a delicious salty treat.
The surest places to find some is at the Dominican beaches. Like Playa Caleton, Los Patos, and Boca Chica Beach where vendors have their own unique way of making it, giving beachgoers a complete experience with every bite: Yaniqueque, fish, a cold drink, and the ocean. If they offer you “catchoo” (ketchup) say yes. It sounds gross, but with this type of “ketchup”, it’s actually really good!
Rumor has it, Yaniqueques originally appeared on the island in the late 1800s when an American named Johnny began selling them in his bakery as ‘Johnny’s Cakes,’ in the San Pedro de Macoris province. Since then, people have been calling his pancake-like invention: Yani (Johny) – queque (cake).
Longaniza is a type of crunchy and flavorful pork sausage similar to fried Spanish chorizo. It is commonly sold as street food in many neighborhoods in Santo Domingo, and in local restaurants in the countryside. For many young Dominicans, it’s a great way to end a night out in the town. Pair it with a side of tostones!
16. Pastelitos & Empanadas
Two savory and inexpensive snack options to offer at a party, or to eat for a quick breakfast at the empanada vendors in the corner of pretty much any street anywhere in the country.
The difference between the two is that empanadas are the shape of the moon, and pastelitos (pictured above) are round. It is also more common to find baked pastelitos and fried empanadas. Different restaurants, bakeries, and vendors get creative with the filling; you can find some with different kinds of meat, cheese, eggs, or vegetables.
Check Out: Our guide to the Top 27 Unique & Incredible Things to Do in the Dominican Republic
17. Mangú (with Los Tres Golpes)
Another must-have plantain-focused dish, Mangú is mashed plantain typically topped with caramelized onions. According to the Museum of el Hombre Dominicano, mangu is an African-influenced way of cooking our plantains similar to fufu in Nigeria.
The tres golpes (or the three punches) are the salami, eggs, and fried cheese that oftentimes is served alongside mangú. Salami is a type of sausage comprised of pork and beef with interesting Jewish influence.
Since there are approximately 12 varieties of plantains, you might find that one mangú is different from the other. Our advice? Try as many different kinds as you can. Depending on the plantain used, the mangú can be sweeter or saltier, and delicious in either form.
You can find great mangú for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner in almost any restaurant, household, or comedor across the country.
18. Mofongo with Pork Rinds or Shrimp
Garlic lovers, this one’s especially for you. Mofongo is made of plantains mashed with garlic and crunchy pork scratchings, together made into a ball, and topped with pork rinds or shrimp, and traditionally served inside a pilón. That’s not all, it comes with a garlic broth that you can use to moisten the plantains as you eat it.
Mofongo is just another plantain-based dish, it is a culinary treasure inherited from Africa (similar to fufu). You can find great Mofongo with shrimp in Samaná and La Vega.
Fun fact: Mofongo is also iconic in Puerto Rico where it’s more commonly topped with a tomato-based meat stew.
19. La Bandera
Knock on the door of a Dominican family around lunchtime at any given day and the odds are that they’re having La Bandera.
This meal is made up of rice, beans, meat, salad with avocado, and sometimes a side of tostones or fried sweet plantains. Sounds like a lot? Well, it’s supposed to be a filling meal for the hardworking Dominican people.
La Bandera means ‘the flag’, which shows how popular this meal is in Dominican households. Moreover, the ingredients are a fusion of our Dominican cross-cultural criollo influences. Hence, why this plate is often referred to as “comida criolla“.
You can easily find La Bandera in your Dominican neighbor’s house, a comedor (local deli diner), or any restaurant that sells typical Dominican food.
20. Traditional Onion Tea
This traditional Dominican Onion tea is renowned for its medicinal purposes. If someone is sick with a cold and needs a boost, a Dominican mom or grandmother will usually boil onions, apples, orange peel, ginger, tea leaves, cloves, and cinnamon. The result is an aromatic, reddish tea that smells like Christmas. Ask any Dominican you know about this onion tea, and they will sing its medicinal praises.
21. Habichuelas Con Dulce Dessert
A popular dessert of red beans, sugar, milk, cookies (similar to Graham crackers), yam, cinnamon, cloves, and raisins (as an optional ingredient).
You can smell the sweetness of the mix and spices from local households on Easter (Semana Santa), when it is customary for each household to make their own batch and offer a bowl to their neighbors.
22. Morir Soñando
The name says it all: ‘to Die Dreaming.’ This tropical, sweet and chilled beverage is made of evaporated milk, sugar, vanilla, orange juice, and ice. Make sure you don’t have one before driving, because the drink is so filling that it will put you to bed.
Where morir soñando came from is unknown, but it has been part of the Dominican cuisine for a long time. You can easily find some refreshing morir soñando in Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone.
23. Moro de Guandules Con Coco
Moro de guandules: rice cooked with pigeon peas and coconut milk. Like most things with coconut milk, it should come with a warning: you can’t have just one plate! Make sure you try it if you stop by the Samaná province in which the recipe was invented.
24. Asopa’o (Asapado)
With the consistency of porridge or risotto, this thick rice-based soup is perfect for rainy days or after a night out. Asopao is a tomato-based stew made of rice, cooked with chicken (or shrimp), peas, carrots, and other vegetables.
To find some asopao stop by a local restaurant, especially in the countryside. You can easily find asapao in the chilly Dominican Alps.
25. Puerco Asa’o (Asado)
Last, and certainly not least, the roasted pig is a beloved staple during the most festive celebrations, especially for dinner on December 24th and 31st.
Since the very beginning, indigenous Tainos had enjoyed barbecuing their meat, including pork which was brought over by the Spanish colonizers. This cross-cultural tradition was passed down from generation to generation and is kept very much alive today. You will find the traditional roasted pig or ‘puerco asao’ in almost every Dominican table during the Christmas season.
This is not an all-encompassing list, of course. There are countless other culinary treasures of Dominican dishes, from the streets to specialty recipes that you would have to custom order from local vendors. But now that you have this list of both the iconic and hidden treasures, treat yourself with a few of these 23 Dominican foods/dishes and drinks that will captivate your senses! You shouldn’t miss out on Dominican fruits, too!
This article was written by Marianne Florentino and curated/edited by DominicanAbroad. Marianne lives in the Dominican Republic. She is the co-owner Una Vaina Bien Spanish and a yoga and meditation instructor. She loves books, people, and nature. Follow us on Instagram @MarianneFlorentino and @DominicanAbroad.