You can find Chicharrón de Pollo (Deep-Fried Chicken) sold in every other block in the country, but there is more to the story of fast food in the Dominican Republic than meets the eye.
Santo Domingo has it all, some would say. Drive around the newer parts of the city, and they are all there, those familiar blots on the landscape of every modern city in the world. When I first arrived in the country over eight years ago, there were very few international fast food chains in evidence, now I would challenge you to name one that hasn’t taken root in the shopping malls, avenues and thoroughfares of the Dominican capital and beyond.
For some, this may be seen as progress and a sign that the country is affluent enough for the multinational big names to consider granting franchises. For those suspicious of globalization, fast food is the worst offender, representing a threat to local culinary culture, wooing impressionable young people away from traditional home-cooked food.
Personally, I dislike the way that many of the chains make no concessions to the fact they are in a Spanish-speaking country, keeping all the names of the dishes on their displays in English. In one establishment I was even corrected by the person at the till when I asked for ‘el __ de ajo‘ – she put me right saying ‘si, el garlic __. Fine for those that know English and I suppose that if the clientele is at the upper end of the market many of them will understand, but it is bordering on the arrogant to assume that all of them will. Having said that, I am almost sure that it is not a mere lapse in manners, but a deliberate marketing strategy playing on the fact that the more foreign it seems the more desirable it is.
On the plus side these restaurants do create employment and I would guess that relative to the local economy the wages they pay are not as miserable as those in wealthier countries, where fast food restaurants are notorious for paying very low wages.
My impression is that in the DR, pizza and Chinese fast food chains do the best business, followed by the burger joints. Dominican fast food businesses do a roaring trade, due to their combination of more accessible prices and genuine local flavours. For example, the difference in price between the international ice-cream chains operating in the country compared with the Dominican ones is staggering, and the excellent quality and varied selection of the domestic produce on offer has no reason to envy its imported counterparts. Pizza is another case in point: compare the prices and quality of the international franchises and the nationally-owned pizza chains here: most would agree that the home-grown variety comes up tops.
Recently there have been rumours that certain chains are closing down their operations in the Dominican Republic, and there have been some actual closures, the most celebrated being ‘Church’s Chicken’ which flew the coop a couple of months ago. The official reason is always given as the state of the economy but I suspect that some of these businesses never quite managed to find their niche in the Dominican market, because the consumer tends to prefer the local version of these foods, like Chicharrón de Pollo.
The truth is that Dominicans have not taken to US-style fast food in such a big way. Certainly many of the chains seem to do a reasonable amount of business, but they cater for a minority of the population because the prices they charge exclude most Dominicans from entering through their doors, or underneath their arches, as the case may be. Dominicans of all classes and all ages continue to remain firmly loyal to the traditional cuisine, possibly more so than in many other countries where young people especially often do not even know what their traditional cuisine is.
- 2 lb [0.91 kg] of chicken thighs
- ½ cup of all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoon of salt
- ¼ teaspoon of pepper
- A pinch of oregano
- 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
- 2 cups of vegetable oil for frying (canola, soy or corn)
- 2 limes cut into wedges
- Remove meat from bones. Cut chicken into small pieces (about 2"). Leave skin on the chicken.
- Mix flour, salt, pepper, oregano and garlic powder.
- Coat the chicken strips with this mixture. Shake excess off.
- Heat oil in a deep pan over medium heat.
- Deep fry the chicken until it turns golden brown.
- Put on a paper towel to drain excess oil.
- Garnish with lime wedges and serve with tostones.