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    Dominicana On Line - El Portal de la República Dominicana

    Colonial Foods

    The first Spaniards that established themselves on the island of Santo Domingo made great efforts to transplant intact their habits and customs to these lands.

    In the first thirty years of the 16th century, the Spaniards that came to the New World by way of Santo Domingo brought with them not only their clothing, books and domestic goods, but also their cooking utensils and recipes.

    The European diet of that period was based on a basic menu composed, for the most part, or bread, wine, meat, cheese and milk, cabbage, beet and other vegetables, olive oil, almonds, chick peas and other grains, and some fish.

    At the beginning of the colonial era, the Spanish population tried to continue consuming these foods, but the tropical conditions and the distance from the supply centers of some of these products obliged them to alter their diet.

    For example, the consumption of bread, crackers and cookies proved to be expensive for the Spaniards and had to be reduced until it finally disappeared from the colonial Dominican diet due to the impossibility of producing wheat on the island or importing flour.

    So cazabe was substituted for bread, named “bread of the Indies” by the conquistadors from very early in their stay on the island.

    The same occurred with olive oil, which, at the beginning of the colonization, constituted one of the largest volumes of the shipments in the Spanish vessels.  Upon the impoverishment of the colony and the less and less frequent arrival of ships to the island, this foodstuff was replaced by pork lard.

    Wine also disappeared from the daily diet and, after awhile, its place was occupied by sugar cane aguardiente that began to be produced in the early years of the sugar cane industry.

    Sugar, an almost unknown product in Europe at the time that Columbus arrived in America, quickly occupied the place of honey as a sweetener.  Sugar gained such popularity that it became the main ingredient in the caloric diet of the colonial world.

    The colonial Dominican society began to experiment early on, cooking of their dishes with tropical fruits unknown in Europe.  From those experiments, coupled with sugar, emerged true culinary innovations.

    Examples of these innovations are sweets of coconut, pineapple and peanut, and stewed yellow plantains emerging from the very heart of the sugar plantations.

    The pineapple and peanut are native plants cultivated by the Tainos.  The coconut was brought from the Pacific Ocean several decades after the discovery, while the plantain, of African origin, was imported to Santo Domingo from the Canary Islands in 1543 by a friar named Tomás de Berlanga, to supplement the diet of African slaves.

    In colonial documents of the 16th century, some Taino elements in the diet of the slaves are described, for example, a sandwich made of cazabe and peanuts, two indigenous products.

    With the arrival of the plantain, the colonial diet acquired new dimensions, as this fruit did not arrive alone.  In the same years, other foods arrived from Africa such as ñame and yautia, and some gastronomical curiosities like the monicongo and the funde.

    The abundance of cattle in the colonial period made beef a daily foodstuff within reach to everyone: owners and slaves, Spaniards and Africans.

    With time, the inhabitants of the island were able to develop a typical soup composed of several types of meat, plantains, yucca, ñame, yautia and corn, seasoned with chilies and local herbs.

    This plate has a name: sancocho.  A Jesuit priest that visited Santo Domingo in 1650 records it in a picturesque description.

    In the middle of the 17th century, the colonial Dominican society had learned to consume other products unbeknownst to Europeans before the Discovery.  One of them was chocolate, a derivative of a plant cultivated by the Aztecs in Mexico.

    The popularity of chocolate became so wide-spread that in 1650, there were numerous families cultivating it in the basins of several rivers in the south of the island.

    A century later, chocolate became an essential element in the Dominican diet.  Coffee still had not been incorporated into Dominican cuisine, as the plant was brought to the Caribbean and planted for the first time in Martinique in 1723.

    By Frank Moya Pons, of the Revista Rumbo

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