Despite the Dominican Republic being the second-largest Caribbean country, its traditional food isn’t as well known as other area cuisines. However, you’re missing out if you haven’t had a chance to give it a try.
You’ve probably heard of empanadas and tostones since they’re common in other Central and South American countries.
However, other popular foods in the Dominican Republic, such as chivo guisado picante and pica pollo, are dishes you won’t find elsewhere.
The flavors of Dominican dishes often rely on lime, cilantro, garlic, and oregano. Rice and beans are common staples of the cuisine. And while yuca and plantains may be somewhat familiar, you will also encounter lesser-known vegetables like ñame (yam), yautia (malanga), and auyama.
Popular Dominican Foods
To send you on your flavor journey, I want to introduce you to the 12 most popular Dominican foods so that you know where to start.
Habichuelas con Dulce
I’ll start the list with a sweet bean dessert popular in the Dominican Republic around Easter.
Don’t let the idea of sweetened beans drive you away. I promise you’re going to love it. The fact that this is a dish people eat to break a Lenten fast tells you just how good it is.
Habichuelas con dulce is a soupy dessert made with red beans, coconut milk, evaporated milk, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, and salt.
Serve it with mini milk cookies or casabes (yuca-flour flatbreads) floating on top. A cross usually decorates the milk cookies or casabes.
Chimichurri burgers are traditional late-night Dominican street food. The story goes that an Argentinian immigrant created this sandwich using their native chimichurri sauce as a flavoring.
Every vendor has their own unique way of making this burger, so the seasonings and toppings vary.
The ground beef patty contains cooked-in seasonings like garlic, onion, bell pepper, cilantro, oregano, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce.
Typical toppings include mayonnaise ketchup, garlic powder, tomato, and apple-cider-vinegar-soaked onion and cabbage.
The traditional bread is Pan de Aqua, but you can use Italian bread or burger buns instead.
I’ve never met an empanada I didn’t like. You will find empanadas in many cuisines around the world.
However, the ingredients vary slightly from country to country and even kitchen to kitchen. Empanadas are savory fried pies that you can eat with your hands.
To make empanadas, you place filling inside a hand-sized dough circle, crimp the edges to enclose, and fry.
The most common Dominican empanada filling includes ground beef, oregano, tomato paste, and salt.
Some cooks add extra ingredients like bell pepper, garlic, onions, and even random ingredients like olives, raisins, or boiled eggs.
Chivo Guisado Picante
Chivo guisado picante is a spicy goat meat stew. This dish is supposedly best in the northwest area of the Dominican Republic, where their goats feed on wild oregano, infusing their meat with oregano.
However, you can infuse this dish with oregano no matter where you live.
The core ingredients for chivo guisado picante stew are goat meat, tomatoes, lime or bitter orange juice, garlic, cilantro, oregano, and salt.
Some cooks add peppers, red wine, parsley, bay leaves, sugar, and even Worchestershire sauce.
I always add in extra fresh oregano at the end to give it more of an oregano kick.
La Bandera Dominicana
La Bandera Dominicana or “the Dominican flag” is a traditional Dominican lunch that features the colors of the Dominican flag. The flag’s main colors are red, white, and blue with green accents.
I like to use this dish to introduce friends to typical Dominican flavors. Plus, it’s patriotic.
This lunch consists of Dominican-style beans (the red), rice (the white), and Dominican-style meat (not really blue, but it will do).
A Dominican salad (lettuce and tomatoes) brings in the flag’s green accents. The lunch may also include tostones (fried green plantains), fritos maduros (fried ripe plantains), and avocados.
Mangú is the Dominican Republic’s traditional breakfast. Have you even really had breakfast if you haven’t had mangú?
Mangú itself is boiled and mashed green plantains. You typically top the mangú with vinegar-soaked sauteed in oil.
However, this breakfast is more complex than just boiled plantain. You usually find mangú alongside los tres golpes (the three hits): fried Dominican salami, fried cheese, and fried eggs.
My only regret is that it’s difficult to reproduce this breakfast outside of the country because the salamis and cheeses are never quite the same.
Pica pollo is a fast food item you can find in any Dominican town, and everyone makes it just a little differently.
I think it’s a brilliant fried chicken method because you actually boil the chicken before frying to cook it through and infuse it with flavors.
This method means that the frying portion of the recipe is only for creating a nice crust, so it’s far easier than most fried chicken.
Start by boiling the chicken in water with red onions, lime juice, parsley, salt, oregano, and garlic.
When the chicken is done through, you dredge it in a mixture of flour, pepper, garlic, and onion powder before frying in oil to brown the outside.
Sancocho is a type of meat and vegetable stew that you’ll find in several countries in Central and South America.
It’s a favorite Dominican dish that usually comes out on special occasions.
To make a typical Dominican sancocho, you’ll use beef, goat, stew pork, chicken, pork ribs, ham, and sausage.
Veggies include corn on the cob, carrots, yuca, green plantain, name (yam), yautia (malanga), and auyama. Season with lime juice, garlic, cilantro, oregano, and salt.
Yes, some of the veggies may be difficult to find outside the DR, but don’t substitute with potatoes. Instead, I use more of the veggies that I can find.
The Dominican Republic’s tripe stew is known as mondongo. If you’re not familiar with tripe, it’s the honeycomb-shaped edible stomach lining from some animals.
Dominican mondongo is comfort food, but not everyone likes it.
I’m not a fan of the taste of tripe, but there are millions of people who love it, so don’t let my distaste for it stop you from trying a food you may potentially adore.
Combine and simmer together thoroughly-cleaned tripe with red onion, garlic, celery, bell pepper, potatoes, carrot, lime juice, and tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper, oregano, and hot sauce.
White rice, tostones, and avocado are typical accompaniments.
Yaroa is a street food that varies across the country. It got its start in Santiago in the late 1990s and become popular enough to be featured on fast food menus.
The dish starts with french fries or mashed root veggies like plantains or yuca. The next layer is meat (beef, pork, chicken, or a combo), followed by a layer of cheese.
It’s topped off with a squiggle of common condiments, like mayonnaise, mustard, or ketchup.
The concept is similar to chili cheese fries or poutine. I enjoy how each vendor gives their own flourish with their own personal meat flavors or the combo of condiments they use.
Tostones are twice-fried green plantains that are common across Central and South America and the Caribbean.
While plantains look similar to bananas, they’re not sweet like bananas, so don’t come in expecting a sweet flavor.
To make tostones, you slice green plantains, fry them, smash them, and fry them again.
Tostones are easiest to smash with a tostonera, but I’ve smashed them with the bottom of a glass, too. Sprinkle with a little salt, and then they’re ready to serve. They taste best when you eat them right after cooking.
Tostones are a common side dish for nearly anything Dominican, and you’ll see them for every meal of the day.
Bolitas de Yuca y Queso
Bolitas de yuca y queso is one of my favorite Dominican appetizers. They’re deceptively easy to make.
Start out making a small ball of grated yuca, butter, egg, salt, and sugar. I like to use my food processor to grate the yuca and mix everything together.
If it’s not sticking together well, I add a little flour. Then, flatten the ball in your palm and stuff it with cheese. After you fry the balls in hot oil for 2-3 minutes per side, it’s time to eat.
I especially like bolitas de yuca with a cilantro dipping sauce made from cilantro, mayo, garlic, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, and salt.
Popular Dominican Foods
- Habichuelas con Dulce
- Chimichurri Burger
- Chivo Guisado Picante
- La bandera Dominicana
- Pica pollo
- Bolitas de Yuca y Queso
We’ve covered some of the most well-known and best traditional Dominican foods. Some dishes like yaroa are easy enough to try without seeking out special ingredients.
Meanwhile, ingredients for dishes like sancocho may be a little more difficult to track down. However, I promise that the time and effort you put into it will be rewarding.
Now that you have an idea of what types of foods you can find in the Dominican Republic, you can get started on trying some of their popular dishes.
Did I leave out any of your favorite Dominican foods? If I did, please let me know below. If you’re trying Dominican foods, you’ll also want to pair it with one of the nine best Dominican rums.
And, if you’re trying to figure out which type of bean to use for your Bandera Dominicana, check out the different flavor profiles of various beans.
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