It has sometimes struck me that for a country with a very hot and humid climate, there is very little about Dominican food that is light and refreshing.
There are a couple of light salad dishes on the daily Dominican menu, but for most people the preferred salad is the more stodgy Ensalada Rusa, which especially if you go by its name (‘Russian Salad’), evokes more icy climes. Light Mediterranean-style dips are not part of the traditional cuisine, and iced soups like Gazpacho Andaluz are unknown outside Spanish restaurants, despite the strong influence of Spanish cooking on Dominican gastronomic evolution.
In contrast, consider the DR’s favourite dishes:
- Sancocho is the ultimate Dominican treat, and is a heavy meaty stew guaranteed to bring a bead of sweat or two to your brow. Other stew-type favourites include asopao, cocido and locrio.
- The daily bandera of rice, beans and meat is not a light dish by any stretch of the imagination, and the same goes for anything rice-based.
- Mangú – purée of mashed plantains or yuca – for breakfast can go down like liquid cement if you are not used to it first thing, more so if it is accompanied by fried egg, fried cheese or fried salami.
- Salty frituras, the ubiquitous fried street snacks, will only make you more parched with thirst on a hot day on the city streets.
I am not suggesting there should necessarily be a logical explanation for this beyond the simple fact that this is what people here have done for generations and that is clearly the way they love their food. But perhaps one should also look at other hot countries like India or Mexico where spicy as well as heavy foods are consumed: at first glance you would not think that these will cool you down, but by making you perspire, they succeed in achieving exactly that.
Remember too that even here in the Caribbean there are cooler months in the year (December to March) and fresher parts of the country, especially at higher altitudes where sometimes the comforting effect of a good hot meal or a mug of hot chocolate is needed.
There are also many other aspects of Dominican food culture that are more obviously in tune with the tropical climate. The fact that many people snack on fresh fruit and the popularity of fresh fruit batidos to name a couple. These are undoubtedly the best heat-busters. The fact that people – given the choice – will take a nap after lunch which is almost always the heaviest meal of the day. The evening meal is usually quite light, no more than a cool fruity batido.
And how could I forget to mention the best antidote to the stifling heat – an ice-frosted fría?
- 1 qt [1 lt] of vegetable broth
- 1 qt [1 lt] of water
- 1 tablespoon of fruit vinegar
- 1 cup of potatoes cut into small cubes
- 2 sprigs of thyme (optional)
- 7 allspice berries (optional)
- 1 cup of yuca (cassava), diced (optional)
- 1 celery stalk, sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 1 cup of auyama (West Indies pumpkin) cut into small cubes
- 1 cup angel hair noodles
- 1 sprig of cilantro, chopped
- ¼ teaspoon of pepper
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- Mix in a pot vegetable broth, 1 qt of water, vinegar, potatoes, thyme, allspice berries, yuca, celery, garlic, and auyama.
- Bring to a boil over medium heat until it breaks a boil.
- Add the noodles and stir.
- Cook covered over medium heat until all the ingredients are cooked throughout. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking.
- Add the cilantro and season with pepper and salt to taste.
- Serve hot alongside toasted rustic bread.