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    Dominicana On Line - El Portal de la República Dominicana

    Influences on Dominican cuisine

    What is new?
    The New Cuisine of the Dominican Republic
    Inés Páez Nin (Chef Tita)

    Despite the fact that Dominicans have a rich and multifaceted culinary culture, derived from a past of fusion and influences of different ethnic groups, few efforts have been made to highlight this culture and enjoy it in all of its splendor. It is a delicious way to learn the history of the Dominican people and support their traditional values, following the maxim that reads, “Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are."

    We have a cuisine that has been fashioned by our nutritional history, today resulting in the wide variety of food, sweets and drinks that make up the daily diet and the combinations of special dishes used to celebrate Christmas and Holy Week.

    Influences of Dominican cuisine

    Current Dominican cuisine is influenced by the native roots of our culture, by the trends brought from the mother country, by African influences and by other inclinations that have arrived to our kitchen.

    Native American cooking

    A quick historical overview explains the diet of the native peoples that encountered the Spaniards upon their landing in Hispaniola. One of the most produced foods, cazabe, made of yucca, would become, because of its excellent preservation period, the “bread of the Conquista." It could be found in the supplies of the expedition companies that set out from the island to the continent. Another basic element for the Tainos, corn, spread its influence in Europe in the same way as the South American potato, liberating the old continent of the frequent famines that destroyed its population cycle after cycle.

    A few days before his first contact with the New World, Columbus discovered in Cuba “a species of grain" that the Indians called corn. This cereal, brought from America to Europe, was called the “stubborn grain" in Italy, and would be, according to Germán Arciniegas, the salvation of Venice.

    Columbus and the chroniclers of the Indies, like Fernández de Oviedo, left us with their impressions of the fruits of the island. The sweet potatoes, the Admiral tells us approvingly in his diary, are “del grosor de la pierna", the meat on the bone of Hispaniola. Fernández de Oviedo, speaking of the loquat, exclaimed that this fruit, upon “putting it in the mouth, as soon as it is bitten, a bold flavor enters the palate, and at that moment an aroma rises to the nose and head that is unequaled."

    Pineapple, papaya, star apple, guanabana, mamon, jobo, jagua, sapote, which made up the native menu, dazzled the gastronomic greed of the conquistador, along with yautia, mapuey, chilies, leren, palm hearts, achiote and peanuts.

    The technology of barbecue, today popular and considered exotic in our country, originated from the barbacoa (from which it takes its name), the method the Tainos used to roast their food. Hutias, iguanas, birds, fish and seafood were roasted on this primitive grill. The diet of the colony

    With the development of cattle-raising as the main productive activity of the Colony, the high consumption of meat began, especially of mountain cattle, which filled the plate of Spaniards, slaves and those from the New World. This diet was completed by cazabe, various tubers and the banana, brought from Africa as food for slaves, which eventually extended its blessings to the rest of the population.

    In 1783, Moreau de St. Mery observed that a bread was sometimes made from bananas, corn and cazabe. This bread was, by 1860, named the arepa.

    Sugar cane, originally from the Canary Islands, supplied one of the most universal and high calorie foodstuffs. It is closely associated with the history of the country, as it gave birth to the arrival of African slaves and techniques from the Canary Islands, and later, in the time of the Republic, to business immigration and cocolo, or black Antillean, and Haitian workers. One of the byproducts of sugar production is rum, whose popularity obliged the British navy to supply a daily ration to their ships’ crews.

    Ginger production also had special significance as a staple of exportation and as a local stimulant beverage.

    Dishes of the Republic

    With the strengthening of the Republic and the expansion of foreign trade, imported food burst on the scene: salted meats, like Montevideo dried cured beef and American bacon; dried fish, like cod, herring, and macarela; American pork lard and flour, Danish butter and Dutch cheese. Alongside these staples, the country’s dishes, chicken from the countryside, the cup of typical Dominican chocolate and coffee formed part of the country’s fare, along with the unforgettable rum, whose consumption served multiple uses, as is told in the stories of travelers that journeyed throughout the country in the past few decades of the last century.

    An unforgettable chapter of this history should be dedicated to fish with coconut, from the freed American blacks of Samaná, to the yaniqueque, a fried cake with a flour base, of the cocolos, the quipe and stuffed vegetables of Arabs, the chicken cracklings and rices of the Chinese, as well as Spanish plates (cocido, bacalao con papas, tortilla de huevo) and the U.S. influence on nutrition habits of today.

    Dominican cuisine has left its delicious print on many texts of foreign travelers and in the stories of local writers, offering us a means of recording information on nutritional habits and cooking methods.

    At the end of the last century, recognized figures such as the Cuban José Marti or the North American Leslie Cazneau lent us their impressions in black and white.

    Life in the Tropics, published in 1863 and attributed as much to Colonel Joseph Fabens as to William Leslie Cazneau, (North American adventurer and fortune hunter during the Baéz period), narrates experiences of development on a small farm near Palenque.

    The tropical fruit delighted the demanding palate of the New York writer. The star apples were “pulpy as peaches"; the “rosy pomegranate with its sweet tart flavor", the “creamy" guanabanas, made up their daily diet along with oranges, guayabas, coconuts, anons and guineos (a type of plantain), “that seem to melt in the mouth". On the name of the guineo manzano (apple guineo), he refers to the fact that its flavor is like that of the apple, to the extent that when it is used in cooking or is baked in casserole or pudding, it is almost impossible to distinguish between the two.

    The rustic location of his rural hut matches the simplicity of a dinner of two eggs and a bit of cooked pigeon, accompanied by a “foamy cup of chocolate" and a cazabe cake. Toasted crackers, spread with butter from Condado Orange, a respectable tortilla, delicious stew and an excellent coffee are the ingredients to start the day.

    Country fare

    One of the most eloquent illustrations in his narrative is the description of cuisine, dominated by the idea of quantity. “At the party, I do not know where an enormous roasted fish came from and a large platter of stewed goat, things that are almost frightening upon seeing their size, but they had a delicious aroma. These and the sancocho, made of pork, fowl and plantains, were the main courses of this simple banquet."

    As an accompaniment, an old woman kept “an unlimited supply of corn arepas."

    On this last delight, Cazneau explains that the housekeepers of Santo Domingo prefer full ears of corn with shining grains, completely ripe, to make the “delectable arepas".

    The plantain, the black bread that, in the end, came to feed all, is positively showcased in his writings. “A full plantain, well sautéed or roasted, advantageously can be substituted for bread on the daily table of the majority of country families." Yucca, ñame, sweet potato and yautia are equally emphasized, to the point that Cazneau’s American friends could not recognize the latter indigenous root “in the delicious and flavorful puree that was served to them with roasted chicken".

    Given the proximity of the Bahía de Palenque, the table of this colonizer was well supplied with fish, served in an American-style soup or cooked in the Dominican style; with oysters; with apple “wine" and ginger liquor, the latter prepared by Charles, the Yankee, a local store owner. Other preferred drinks were sodas of guanabana and lemon, lime juice and ginger with honey.

    With Martí, drinking and eating

    In some notes of a trip to Santo Domingo in 1895, José Martí, the apostle of Cuban independence, relates, with the force of his direct and beautiful literary strokes, the incidents in his journey down the Northeast line, arriving in Santiago and La Vega in order to then travel to Montecristi. With a keen observer’s eye, he describes the landscape, profiles the people, picks up phrases like “qué buena está esa pailita de freír para mis chicharrones", heard on the road, elicited by the beauty of a waitress, and details all that is eaten and drunk.

    In the house of Nené, the “matriarch" of the town of Peña, 10 kilometers from Guayubín, they dine on white rice and fried eggs complemented with rum and coffee. In Laguna Salada, on the farm of Máximo Gómez, they eat a lunch of white rice, chicken with lerén, sweet potato and auyama. He stated that he “prefer[s] cazabe to bread and café pilado uses honey for sweetener." Near Esperanza, at the house of the tobacco farmer Jesús Domínguez, they dine on chicken and beans, rice and other victuals, cheese from the North and chocolate. In the store La Delicia of General Candelario Lozano, where beer is not often sold, they drink rum. Upon arriving in Santiago, he is received with coffee with ground anise and nutmeg. In the home of the Cuban artisan Manuel Boitel, the matron honors him with typical Dominican meringue sweets, while in a small cantina they stop to have coffee and an amargo (a drink of rum, sugar and herbs).

    Martí praises the culinary abilities of David, from the Turkish Islands, the expedition’s cook. “He cooks a mix of bacon and rice, or chicken and a few other victuals, or white fish, the tasty mutton-fish, with a sauce of butter and bitter orange."

    In the house of Ceferina Chávez of Guayubín, a hard-working matron of fine taste, where he was received with delicate hospitality, the Cuban wrote “in the living room, porcelain, and in the morning, to the fields."

    By José del Castillo, of the Revista Rumbo

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