Dominica and the Dominican Republic are confused for each other all the time, sometimes to comedic effect. So what do these nations' cuisines have in common?
The Dominican Republic sometimes gets confused with our tiny neighbor to the southeast, our almost-namesake Dominica. Spare also a thought for Guinea, with three countries in Africa and one in Oceania with Guinea in their name, or other almost-namesakes like Austria and Australia, Switzerland and Sweden (especially in Spanish) or Ireland and Iceland.
If the difference between the country names wasn’t confusing enough, the English word used to describe the inhabitants – Dominican - is written in exactly the same way, although the pronunciation is different. This might explain why we occasionally get visitors to the blog, whose url is “Dominican Cooking” asking if our recipes were Dominican, or… Dominican! I was interested to learn that dominiqués/dominiquesa is the correct word in Spanish for someone from Dominica, as opposed to dominicano/dominicana for people from the DR.
Not long before my first visit to the Dominican Republic, I bought a world cookbook, a compilation of recipes from all over the world. The dish chosen to represent the Dominican Republic was a cream of watercress and coconut soup, spiced with nutmeg. When I asked about it during my first visit to the Dominican Republic, I got mostly blank looks. Not because Crema de berros is unknown in the DR, it is, but it is by no means a traditional or standard dish, certainly not one that would be chosen to represent the country’s cuisine. And yet, the book’s authors billed it as a recipe from the Dominican Republic. On my return to England I went back to the recipe book: although the title said “Dominican Republic,” the introduction to the recipe went on to describe Dominica, where nutmeg is an important crop along with mace and cardamom.
Let me introduce you to Charlene, a long time reader of our blog who is originally from Dominica. She was married to a man from the Dominican Republic and lives in London with their two lovely half-Dominican-half-Dominican girls. She told me about the confusion that this sometimes causes:
“When asked where I’m from the follow-up questions are usually, “Is that in Jamaica then?” or if they have heard of Dominica, “So you speak Spanish, right?” The most common question is “Is that the French or the Spanish one?” Either way, I will always have to explain. Marrying a Dominican (DR) just made it fun for me as I get to enjoy the look of confusion on people’s faces when I explain the children’s heritage.”
So what are the differences and similarities in cuisine?
“My first culinary experience in the DR felt like home, it was our first holiday there and the first time off the resort and my sister and I were so happy to eat something familiar. There was an option of goat or chicken with rice and salad; meat, rice and salad, this is pretty much how we eat. Things I noticed after a few more visits, the food from Dominica is similar but ingredients and preparation differ slightly, for example, we don’t use fresh coriander/cilantro as much, if at all. Also, I’ve never seen my mum use oregano as seasoning (I hardly cook without it now) and we tend to use more heat/spice more commonly. My observation is that the people in the English speaking Caribbean tend to use ripe plantains more. One thing we have in common with the DR is cassava bread/casabe.”
I also found out from Charlene that even our dishes have almost-namesakes!
“When my mum visited the DR and heard about Sancocho, she was excited to know that there was something the two countries had in common and then confused when she realized what it was because Sancoche in Dominica is actually a spicy coconut fish stew.”
If like Charlene your circle of friends includes both Dominicans and Dominicans, you’ll know by now that clear enunciation is crucial. Especially if you’re planning to invite them round for a sancocho… or is it sancoche?