Dominican Republic

The second largest nation in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola in the Greater Antilles, with Haiti occupying the western portion. To the west are Jamaica and Cuba; Puerto Rico is east beyond the 112-kilometer Mona Passage; and the southern tip of Florida is about 1,000 kilometers away.

Situated in the heart of the region between North and South America, the country is bathed by the Caribbean Sea on the south coast and the Atlantic Ocean to the north. With a land area of 48,442 square kilometers, it is larger than the Bahamas, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, all the Virgin Islands and the entire French West Indies put together. The Dominican Republic is slightly larger than the Netherlands, and approximately the size of the US state of Maryland.

The Dominican Republic is a land of contrasts with towering mountains and rocky cliffs, rain forests, fertile valleys, cacti-studded deserts, 1,600 kilometers of coastline and about 300 kilometers of prime soft sand beaches. The country is crossed by four rugged mountain ranges bisecting northwest to southeast. The largest is the Cordillera Central with Pico Duarte, the tallest point in the Caribbean, rising over 3,175 meters. Three large fertile valleys rest between the ranges, one of which holds Lake Enriquillo in the southwest, the lowest point in the Caribbean falling 40 meters below sea level. It’s the only salt water lake in the world inhabited by crocodiles.
Though many of the nation’s numerous rivers are too shallow for navigation, they are an important source of water and hydroelectric power.
The Dominican Republic has two rainy seasons, one in the late spring and one in the fall, with the heavies precipitation in the northern and eastern parts of the country.
The fertile Dominican soil is appropriate for cultivating any grain. According to the W. Koppen Climate Classification System the predominant climate is that of humid tropical savanna, with five variations or microclimates, classified as: humid, dry steppe, tropical jungle, forest, and savanna. The average annual temperature fluctuates between 18 C/65 and 27 C/ 81 F. For Dominicans there is only one season: Summer.
In the Dominican Republic, freedom of worship is established in the Constitution. At present, it is difficult to obtain the exact percentage of religious affiliation because the question was eliminated from the 1970 census questionnaire. According to the latest census results, the predominant religion group is Roman Catholic with 95% of the population.
Spanish is the official language of the country and street signs and restaurant menus are written in the mother tongue. Even though the people linked to the tourist trade generally speak English, knowing some Spanish is a great advantage.
It is important to point out that “Dominicanese” (the local way of speaking Spanish, interspersed with Dominican elements) is the everyday life experience of the peasant’s soul and wisdom, expressed with a rustic accent and with inland flavor. As in all countries, each region has its charm and accentuates its expressions in a peculiar way, identifying the speaker from the first words uttered in his conversation.
Dominicans have a great liking for dance. A French observer, Father Labat, who arrived in 1795 when Spain ceded the island to France by the Treaty of Basle, commented in this respect: “Dance is in Santo Domingo, the favorite passion, and I don’t believe that there is a anywhere in the world a people more attracted to dance”.
Here, to this day, it is customary to rock and sing lullabies to children before they fall asleep. The child grows up amidst singing games, and the practice of singing before starting school work continues. The adolescent peasant sings tunes, plenas, and cantos de hacha (axe songs) in the conuco (plot of land for cultivation). He sings while praying and when he falls in love; hence the custom of singing serenades to profess his love to his beloved. And when in the countryside a child dies, they sing the baquiní.
Of all the rhythms that enrich our folklore, the merengue is the people’s expression; and, as a popular expression, it varies from generation to generation in the same measure our lifestyle changes.
We are happy people that vibrate to the rhythm of its vernacular music; and that, as the ditty from a carnival song says: “…dance in the street by day, dance in the street by night”. Everyone who hears a merengue vibrates with us to the contagious rhythm of the güira, the tambora (small drum), and the accordion.
The güira is a typical Dominican instrument that consists of a grater made of latten brass in the shape of a hollow cylinder that when rubbed with a scraper, emits a buzzing rhythmic sound. Our Indian population used it in the areíto, (Indian ceremonial song and dance). They made it from the attractive fruit of the gourd, from which they extracted the pulb and then scraped it to later rhythmically rasp it with a forked stick. There are still pericos ripiaos that use this type of güira.
The perico ripiao, minimal music expression , is composed of a three man group that interprets vernacular music. The Dominican tambora owes its peculiar sound to having on one side, the skin of an old male goat, tempered with native rum, and on the other, the skin of a young female goat that has not given birth.
The typical Dominican cuisine is very rich and varied. The most common meal known as “la bandera” (the flag) consists of white rice, beans, meat, vegetables and fritos verdes (green plantains fritters). The Dominican Sancocho is a gastronomic derivative of the Spanish cocido (stew), and each region of the country has its peculiar way of preparing it. Don’t leave without tasting a sancocho prieto, made of seven different local meats.
If time permits, we suggest you try other foods of the regional kitchen that for specific circumstances, can only be found here. For example, Samana’s pescado con coco (fish with coconut sauce); chivo de Azua (goat dish from Azua); and chivo liniero (goat dish from the north western region) which has an exquisite, peculiar taste because the goat eats wild oregano daily and consequently, its meat is seasoned while the animal is alive.
Johnny Cakes and mangú, gastronomic inheritance of the cocolos, immigrants of the Windward and Leeward islands, are part of our daily diet. You can ask the fritureras (women who sell fried food) in the beaches for the former as “yaniqueques”; and the mangú (a puree made of boiled platains) is already in the native breakfast menu of most hotels.
The casabe (flat round cassava bread) and catibias (cassava flour fritters stuffed with meat) are the only Taino foods we maintain in the typical Dominican diet. Those who enjoy natural food should know that cassava bread has a high content of vegetable fiber and less than 0.35% fat per portion. You can buy casabe in almost all the colmados (small grocery stores) and supermarkets in the country. Hotels and restaurants offering native food, serve it seasoned in substitution of bread.
Dominican Locrio
This native preparation of rice is the missing link of Valencian Paella (Spanish rice with seafood and meat). Apparently, the Spanish ladies who arrived here at the time of the Conquest, not having at their disposal the necessary ingredients to make the paella, adapted the recipe to the ingredients found on the island. For example, they substituted annatto for saffron, and giving free rein to their imagination, created a basic formula which originated the Dominican locrio.
In our country, locrio is made with the most varied ingredients. For this reason, it is considered the most versatile dish of the native kitchen, allowing us to create, with a little rice and whatever else is in at hand, an exquisite meal specially designed for our guests.