20 dishes and foods you must try in the Dominican Republic (and 4 you can skip)
The Dominican Republic offers a much bigger variety of flavors, dishes and products than most people expect. And I have to admit: while it took me a long time to appreciate the Dominican food, I am now craving for plenty of dishes, especially for some regional specialties which are only available in certain areas (and which you only get to know when you travel through the country). That’s also what I love about food in the Dominican Republic: while you can get the famous dishes like Sancocho, Mangu and Bacalao everywhere, there are a lot of hidden gems to discover which are not as commonly known – but even more delicious.Check out this post to learn about the 20 dishes you must try in the Dominican Republic and 4 you can skip! Click To Tweet
National dishes and snacks of the Dominican Republic
Sancocho is one of the few food options in the country you definitely can consider as a national dish of the Dominican Republic. It’s a hearty soup with different meats and all kinds of local vegetables, such as plantains, yucca, carrots and many more. It gets served with a plate of rice and some pieces of lime. While you can get Sancocho in many restaurants or local eateries, it might be only available on certain days of the week. Dominicans cook Sancocho only for special occasions such as New Year’s Eve or after baseball and cricket matches.
When to find the best Sancocho: If you want to eat it at a local eatery, ask on a Monday if they have Sancocho.
Moro de Guandules (de Coco)
Cooking a Moro is like a science in itself which I believe only Dominicans can master successfully as it involves cooking rice in a very particular way and adding many different spices. The three main types of Moro are “Moro de Habichuelas” (rice with red/kidney beans), “Moro de Habichuelas Negras” (rice with black beans) and “Moro de Guandules” (rice with pigeon peas).
When eating a Moro, you have to be lucky to find a delicious one as some are quite dry, don’t have enough beans or don’t carry sufficient seasoning. Don’t give up if you don’t like the first Moro you order. On the other hand, once you find a very good Moro, you likely want to eat it without any sides
In case you find a “Moro de Coco” while traveling in the Dominican Republic, there is no way not to try it as this is like the VIP version of Moro – the rice is cooked in coconut milk and therefore tastes extra smooth.
How to find the best Moro de Guandules: The best Moros are those prepared on the open wood fire – if you see one, seize your chance immediately!
Bacalao is the Dominican way of preparing codfish and it’s usually done by adding potatoes, bell pepper, onions and tomato and mixing it with some oil. It’s either served in the morning as a side dish to Mangu (see next point) or for lunch together with rice and beans (or a Moro). While the sauce might be greasy (that’s why I usually leave it in the bowl), the fish with the additional ingredients is very savory and hearty.
How to find the best Bacalao: you can find Bacalao in the entire Dominican Republic. I recommend those with the least oil and the most vegetables.
Talking about breakfast, there is no way to not mention Mangu – effectively, it’s my favorite breakfast dish here in Punta Cana and the entire Dominican Republic. Mangu is nothing more than mashed plantains, just occasionally refined with some butter, milk or garlic. It is usually served with eggs, salami or fried cheese on the side, but can also be eaten with Bacalao. Similar to Moro, you can find pretty dry and tasteless Mangus if you are unlucky, so keep on trying until you eat a delicious, creamy and fresh Mangu which will let you melt away.
How to find the best Mangu: have a look if it’s creamy and hot – those are the best Mangus
Plantains are not only used for Mangu, they are one of the basic provisions in every Dominican kitchen. Statistics are reporting that the entire Dominican Republic consumes 10 million (!) plantains each day. Besides Mangu, another famous way to prepare plantains is to deep-fry them. The result is called Tostones which is a common side dish on many different plates. Tostones are only delicious if they are hot and fried within the last 10 minutes, so avoid ordering some in many of the local eateries when they are already showcased for various hours.
How to eat Tostones the Dominican way: drink an ice-cold Presidente beer while enjoying your “Fritos” (the nickname of Tostones)
Empanadas are famous in all Latin American countries and so they are in the Dominican Republic. It is a deep-fried turnover (unfortunately it is hard to find baked empanadas in the Dominican Republic) stuffed with all kinds of different fillings. It is a typical roadside snack and available particularly in cities from local vendors. While the standard fillings include chicken, beef, cheese and eggs, you might be lucky to find more creative fillings with different kinds of vegetables or sauces in selected places.
Where to find the best empanadas: head to Sicily’s in Santo Domingo for the most creative empanadas in the Dominican Republic.
Quipes were introduced into the Dominican cuisine by Lebanese immigrants and consist of fried bulgur filled with beef, chicken or vegetables. While I am not a big supporter of all the deep-fried stuff, Quipes just get a quick dip into the hot oil and therefore taste super delicious with a crunchy crust and a soft inside.
Where to get the best Quipes: there is a famous highway stop on the way from La Romana to Punta Cana called Shish Kabab with popular Quipes. Alternatively, get them from street vendors in the big cities.
Typical food products of the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic also has some amazing natural goods – one of them is cacao. The most popular product made out of cacao is (obviously) chocolate. While there are of course tons of different chocolate bars back home in your local supermarket, none of them is comparable to a hand-made Dominican chocolate bar without any artificial flavors. This is usually called “bean to bar” and I highly recommend to buy some local chocolate when traveling to Punta Cana or other areas of the Dominican Republic.
Where to find local chocolate: you can buy hand-made bars in local supermarkets, but for an authentic experience, head to where the cacao grows. Chocolate Jungle and El Sendero del Cacao are places in the center of the Dominican Republic where you can learn more about cacao and chocolate.
Another important natural good in the Dominican Republic is the sugar cane. And while you can drink sugar cane juice, the most famous product out of sugar cane is rum. The principle is the same as for chocolate: you can buy rum in most places of the world, but once you have tasted a good Dominican rum, you don’t want to switch back to what you get at home. Rum for Dominicans is as important as kerosene for planes and is part of the daily life in the country.
Where to buy a good rum: if you want to take some good rum home, head to a local supermarket. For 10 USD per bottle, you get a good quality rum and for 20 USD, you can buy a top-notch option.
Coffee is the next product the Dominican Republic is famous for. And indeed, it is super delicious and not comparable to your every-day coffee. When I bring home some coffee from the Caribbean, everyone is raving about it and once finished, they don’t want to switch back to the regular coffee.
Where to see coffee plantains: coffee is also mainly grown in the center of the Dominican Republic. You can find coffee plantations around Moca, Santiago and Jarabacoa.
This is probably one of my favorite parts of living in the Dominican Republic: the abundance of tropical fruits. Bananas, mangos, papayas, pineapples, avocados and passion fruits are the famous ones, while you can also try some less-known kinds like soursop, sapote, guava or starfruits. They are cheap, sweet and super healthy, so make sure you get your daily dose of tropical fruits every day.
Where to get the ripest fruits: stop along the road at any fruit vendor or roadside stall
Local specialties in certain areas of the Dominican Republic
Pescado con Coco
Pescado con Coco – fish in coconut sauce – is the regional dish of the Samaná peninsula. If you look at the geography, it is no wonder why. More than 80% of its landmass is surrounded by the ocean hence it features an abundance of different fishes. Furthermore, this province is home to thousands and millions of coconut trees so it’s hard to say which product is more available: fish or coconut. Why not combine both and get one of the most delicious dishes you can find in the Dominican Republic?
Where to find Pescado con Coco: there are several places in Samaná where you can find this dish. Pick one at the beach to have the best view, for example Playa Rincón.
Camarones de Sanchez
Thanks to its neighboring and deeply indented bay, Samaná is also home to one of the biggest shrimp populations in the Caribbean. Therefore, if you are traveling in Samaná or the neighboring regions, you can enjoy some of the freshest and most delicious shrimps – either grilled, with Creole sauce or marinated with garlic.
Where to eat Camarones de Sanchez: obviously, the best place to eat them is in Sanchez, but you can find them all around the peninsula of Samaná.
All good things come in threes, so there is another Samaná specialty you shouldn’t miss: Arepas. While Arepas are available in the entire Dominican Republic, the way how are they are prepared is completely different. Only in Samaná Arepas are baked in the oven and contain coconut, leading to a soft and irresistible combination of fresh flavors.
Where to get your Arepa: Travel to one of the pristine beaches in Samaná and stop at one of the several roadside stalls. Ask if the Arepa is baked freshly.
Cassava is a synonym for yucca, a native root in the Dominican Republic, serving as a ground provision. However, Cassava is also the name of a local specialty which is prepared by baking grounded yucca. It is very dry and crunchy, but is a perfect snack, especially when accompanied by avocado.
Where to get the best Cassava: the snack is home to the area of Monción where you even can visit Cassava factories.
Sweet Potato, called “Batata” in the Dominican Republic, is another ground provision that is used widely. While you can get it in every supermarket, there is an area between Santo Domingo and Bonao where roadside vendors are offering hot and grilled Batatas – a super delicious snack while exploring the various parts of the Dominican Republic.
Where to get your grilled batata: just stop along the highway shortly after the toll station when driving from Santo Domingo towards Bonao
Pasteles en Hoja
My last regional specialty is Pasteles en Hoja, which are consisting of a dough made of plantains, filled with beef, chicken, cheese and/or vegetables. The whole “Pastel” is wrapped with banana leaves and later boiled until done. It is a smooth taste thanks to the slow-cooking method. Pasteles en Hoja are home to San Pedro de Macorís, a city half-way between Santo Domingo and Punta Cana.
Where to get the best Pasteles en Hoja: the most famous place to eat Pasteles en Hoja in the entire Dominican Republic is the fast-food restaurant “Amable” in the city center of San Pedro de Macorís.
Dominican favorites for adventurous foodies
There are some dishes in the Dominican Republic which are not for everyone’s taste. One of them is Mondongo, a soup with a tripe of cow and pork. I think, that says it all. Buen provecho! You either love it or hate it.
Where to get the best Mondongo: I have only eaten it once, so I can’t help, but you can try any Dominican restaurant to see if they have it.
Chicharrón is a local’s favorite as well and is nothing else than fried pork belly. Usually, it is freshly roasted on the roadside and results in a delicious smell all over the area, but the greasy meat is not everyone’s taste. However, Dominicans love it and if you stop to get a fresh piece, you will immediately submerge into the local culture as well.
When to get the best Chicharrón: when being on a road-trip, get your Chicharrón on Sundays, when at least every village has one person roasting it.
Compared to the first two entries in this category, Concon is something easy digestible – but still a bit weird. It is simply the bottom of the rice, which usually sticks to the pot and gets a little bit burned, thanks to the special way the Dominicans prepare their rice. While for me Concon tastes like rice which is just not cooked yet, it is holy for Dominicans, especially when you mix it with beans.
Where to get the best Concon: when eating in a local Comedor, simply ask if they have a “Servicio de Concon” beside your main dish.
Habichuelas con Dulce
I can’t write an article about food in the Dominican Republic without mentioning some sweet stuff. The problem is that all desserts or pastries in the country are extremely sweet – that’s why I list it here in this section. Habichuelas con Dulce doesn’t decrease the chances of a sugar rush either, but it has at least some cultural significance, as it is a famous dessert around the Easter holidays. It consists of beans, evaporated milk and – of course – tons of sugar.
When to get the best Habichuelas con Dulce: the weeks around and before Easter is the prime time for this Dominican favorite.
Food you can skip while in the Dominican Republic
There are a few specialties here in the Dominican Republic where I don’t understand why they are so famous or always mentioned in the “Food you have to try”-lists out there. One example is La Bandera, which is even supposed to be the national dish of the Dominican Republic. However, I have never heard a Dominican ordering “La Bandera”. It consists of rice, meat and beans and should represent the colors of the Dominican flag. While it is sometimes served in the form of a flag – especially in upscale restaurants – you need a lot of imagination that the colors of those ingredients represent the red, blue and white from the Dominican flag.
Could you feel in your mouth how yummy this Pescado con Coco described above would taste? Or the flavor of another fresh fish straight from the ocean steamed or grilled, even without coconut sauce (in case you are visiting other parts of the Dominican Republic than Samaná, such as Punta Cana or Puerto Plata)? The fish here is usually very delicious but I never understand why you have to deep-fry it. You lose all distinct flavors and textures and if it just gets deep-fried a few minutes too long, it has the same taste like biting into an old shoe. So why eating a deep-fried Pescado Frito if there are so many other (and healthier) ways of preparing a delicious fish?
Talking about deep-fried stuff you shall avoid, Yaniqueque is another entry on this category. It is particularly popular on the local beaches (Boca Chica is probably the Yaniqueque capital in the Dominican Republic) and is nothing more than deep-fried dough without any filling. While a Yaniqueque can have a giant size, 90% of it is air, flour and greasy oil. Not a mouth-watering combination for me …
My last entry on this list of Dominican foods might be a bit controversial because natural juices (“Jugos Naturales”) are super delicious and healthy. The problem of the Dominican way of preparing them is that they just add too much sugar in ALL of these. Who needs sugar in a mango juice which already comes with so much fructose? Most juices you can buy on the road are overloaded with sugar, that’s why I would always recommend drinking natural juices only in restaurants where they are made-to-order – and you can ask for a juice without or with less sugar.
About the guest author, Chris
If you’d like to know more about Chris and his second home country, the Dominican Republic, check out his website Punta Cana Travel Blog. After traveling through all parts of the world, he is living in this beautiful and underrated country since 2015 – mostly in Santo Domingo and Punta Cana. Chris knows all the pristine beaches and secluded waterfalls you can explore in Punta Cana and the entire country and loves it if visitors leave their all-inclusive resort to discover the beauty, diversity, Caribbean smiles and Latin vibes the Dominican Republic has to offer. On his blog, you can find all the useful information and personal recommendations for a unique holiday in Punta Cana & beyond. Chris also offers travel coaching and can set up a personalized itinerary for your vacation in the Dominican Republic.