In our week in the Dominican Republic, we ate all of our meals at the farm, and consequently, we became quite familiar with the traditional Dominican diet. Staples included rice, green bananas (guineo), a delicious starchy root called cassava, and beans. Breakfast usually consisted of fresh fruit (pineapple and papaya), and scrambled eggs liberally loaded with salt. Dominican people consider lunch the largest meal of the day, so it always consisted of a hearty combination of beans, rice, and vegetables. The governing rule was most definitely simplicity, and who knew it could be so very delicious? The salad we ate daily was just a basic combination of iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes, but with such fresh ingredients, the difference in taste was definitely noticeable. Instead of eating canned beans, the dishes we ate were made with beans painstakingly soaked overnight, and I have to say, it was worth the inconvenience. Dinners were much smaller than what we were used to, often composed of just a little meat accompanied by some starchy vegetables, usually a pairing of fried sausage and either cassava or steamed unripened green bananas. Getting used to the Dominican way of eating took some time (snacking’s unheard of!), but we learned to supplement our diet with delicious dulce de leche.
Dulce de leche… a delectable combination of condensed milk and sugar in cake-like form, epitomizing the Dominican people’s love affair with sugar. In our one trip to the supermarket in the neighboring town, Jarabacoa, we purchased perhaps our body weight in this dessert. My personal flavor of the week? Dulce de leche accessorized with generous shards of coconut! Despite the ubiquity of this saccharine dessert, all other baked goods were surprisingly mild, marking a divergence from the characteristic sweetness overload. Instead of decadent chocolate and heavily iced cupcakes, there were corn muffins, crispy churritos (hold the granulated sugar please), and simple coconut cookies called coconetes. We found these to be understated when eaten alone, but exponentially more tasty when paired with coffee. Surprisingly, the two major Dominican crops, tropical fruit and coffee, have yet to make an appearance in the dessert aisle in a big way.
Dominicans by nature are coffee drinkers, and drink cafecitos throughout the day. The sizes are diminutive, perhaps half the size of your Starbucks’ tall latte, but pack a strong punch with their intensely rich and robust flavor. We quickly grew accustomed to having coffee with nearly every meal, as the perfect finish to our rustic meals. With their sweeter than sweet taste (think 3 tbsp brown sugar), perhaps dessert wasn’t even necessary. Hot chocolate, Dominican style, was another popular favorite, and we all swore that it had never tasted quite so amazing before. The secret ingredients? Generous amounts of spicy cloves and cinnamon. Deanna’s host mother, Isa, who prepared our meals all week, was astonished by the amount of hot chocolate and coffee that the ‘Americanos’ could put away, as we requested one carafe after another, and fought over the last few drops of coffee.
Even the most rural of towns, like Los Marranitos, have a colmado or two, bodegas which peddle single servings of anything you might possibly need (half a bar of soap? individual cough drops?), and without fail, dulce de leche and an assortment of snacks and drinks. In the evening, these transform into quasi bars and outdoor dance halls, and the drink of choice, coffee, is replaced by local rum and beer. On our last night, we explored Manabao, a slightly larger town bordering Los Marranitos, and we pretty much cleaned the colmado out of its edible goods. Who knew pear juice and homemade dulce de leche were a match made in gastronomic heaven?
ps. thanks to brooke/prim for photos!