Monday, March 21, 2016

10 must have foods in the Dominican Republic

Food is the quickest way to get to know a country, its people and its culture. Dominican Republic , though thousands of miles away from India, still has a cuisine that is both unique and yet comfortingly similar to Indian food.

The first thing that stuck me as I got of the plane was how unbelievably tropical Santiago, DR was. I mean they had mangoes growing in the beginning of March, even we in India, where mangoes originated from (I guess they did originate from here, after all they are called Mangifera Indica) get Mangoes only in the peak summer months of May June. Here are my top 10 must haves while in Dominican Republic.

1.       Rice and beans and meat: This is a no brainer. A full Dominican meal of “arroz, habichuelas y carne” (Rice, Beans, and meat) are typically called “La Bandera” (The flag) and is the staple in every home. A complete meal, it is both comforting and satisfying. The meat is mostly beef here, and I loved the minced variety which was almost like mutton kheema back home. Just think of this meal as a ‘Rajma, kheema and chawal’ version of the carribeans and you can feel your mouth water.
rice and beans with meat

another take on the rice beans and meat; garbanzo beans chicken.

2.       Empanadas: I can not get enough of these fried flour puffs. The mildly sweetened flour used for the outer covering is a perfect foil to the spicy or savoury filling of either vegetables or meats. They are like the Indian gujiya/karanji/neyurio , the exception is that while in India we stuff our gujiyas with even more sweeter stuffing, here they have a savoury stuffing. So if a gujiya and a samosa were to have children they would be called ‘empanadas’ , like literally, I am not kidding here.

3.       Fried plantains: Now this was the most surprising of all the foods. I always considered plaintains to be like bananas on steroids. So fried plantains was essentially like the super addictive kerala banana chips back home. Nada. These were not crisp to begin with, a lot more starchy and chewy. Infact if I had to compare them to anything it would be home style fried potato wedges.

4.       Pollo: This is like the normal rotisserie chicken back home, and yet it is not. It is amazing how roast chicken transcends all boundaries of creed, colour and country; there is a beloved roast chicken recipe in every country, be it the north indian Tandoori version, the English Sunday roast, or the carribean pollo.

roast chicken , pollo

5.       Cassava bread or casaba: These cracker like baked yucca breads is nothing like I have had before. It is an ingenious way to utilise local produce, provide for employment for the local farmers, as well as keeping the Dominican tradition alive. Previously  a dying art because of its labour intensive production, it has got a renewed importance due to mass production of late. It tastes great with tuna spread by the way.
casaba with tuna

steamed casava with pickled onion

6.       Crema de maize/harina de maiz: This warm breakfast porridge custard made of maize and called crema de maizena, or made from flour and called crema de farina is a delightful way to begin the day. it is a cornstarch pudding, but what I loved is the use of subtle spices in the dish. There was vanilla pods, cinnamon sticks, and I think even a bay leaf in the porridge. Topped with raisins and cinnamon powder this was delicious enough to try and attempt back home. Something like the ‘dalia’ back in India.

7.       Mofonguitos: these are boiled, mashed plaintains which are moulded into shapes and fried. The mashed plantains are mixed with chicken or veggies and spices before frying. The ones we hhad were served elegantly at the KGB restaurant in Santiago. They taste a little like the Bengali ‘dhoka’, just a little though.

8.       Tropical fruity cocktails: As mentioned earlier Domincan Republic is a tropical paradise, and also has a thriving night nife. Both of these combine to give a heady concoction of dreamy cocktails made with freshly picked fruits. Think Passion fruit mojito, and tender coconut mojitos. If cocktails are not your thing , ask for the local beer ‘presidente’ and see the look of mutual admiration and brotherhood light up the eyes of the bartender.

9.       Fruits: Am I repeating myself here?That's because I was bowled over. The tropical fruits like papaya, pineapples, bananas and mangoes are farmed right around here. After the heavy starchy meals of plantains , yams, sweet potatoes, rice and tukata, and the rich meaty sides, what I craved for were the fresh cut fruits so abundantly available.
mangoes growing on trees! in early March

four types of fruits for breakfast, tropical paradise

10.   Tres leches: This milk soaked cake made of three forms of milk; condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy cream had many fancy variations, and even one which prided itself in being Quatro leches with a caramelised butter cream fourth leches. Tres leches are moist and light and have the mildest of flavours. I could say they tasted like a bread butter pudding or the indian Shahi tukda, but honestly, this is one dish which needs to be tasted and experienced. It is nothing like anything, and the best way to end a Dominican meal, and this blog post.

they called it quatro leches; a take on the original tres leches

Buon Provecho!

to read more about my experience in Santiago , Dominican Republic read HERE