“Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are” – Jean Anthelem Brillant- Savarin
Food is much more than just sustenance, it is the reflection of a land and tells the story of a culture and its people. When you’re traveling and exploring a new place, one of the most important and fun things to do is try the local food. Dominican cuisine is reflective of the colorful and vibrant culture and past of the island and the Caribbean region.
Dominican food is similar to Cuban and Puerto Rican food, because like its brethren it has had many continental influences. From the island’s first inhabitants the Taino Indians who used the islands natural resources, the Spanish who brought the Mediterranean style mixed with Arab, to the African slaves who were brought to the island.
The Dominican Republic has a rich culinary tradition, and recipes have been passed down from generation to generation. The way that food is prepared, what to eat at what time, and how food is consumed is all steeped in tradition. Sharing food is important in Dominican culture, after all, the way to the heart is through the stomach. And one of the worst names to be called here is a “come solo” or someone who eats alone or is stingy.
In the Dominican Republic if you are eating something and someone is around, it is traditionally polite to say, a buen tiempo. Which literally means you arrived at a good time, and is a casual way of offering someone your food, and avoid becoming a come solo. So with that in mind llegaste a buen tiempo to learn about the national lunch of the Dominican Republic: La Bandera.
La Bandera literally means the flag in Spanish, but it has a whole other delicious meaning in the Dominican Republic. You see, lunch is the most important and the largest meal of the day in the Dominican Republic, and that’s where La Bandera also known by its street name, El plato del dia (dish of the day) comes in. It is a plate of rice, beans, meat, and a salad, that is eaten every day, that’s right, errrr day. Let me break it down a bit further for you.
So there the rice, and let’s get real here, in the Dominican Republic rice is no side dish, it basically occupies the main portion of the plate. I have heard many Dominicans tell me that if they have not eaten rice that day, they basically haven’t eaten. It’s usually white rice cooked in a cauldron, but it can also be rice with corn, rice with beans, which earns it the new fancy name Moro, there is also rice with the meat cooked right in it, this is called Locrillo.
Then there’s the meat, which is traditionally pollo guisado, which is stewed chicken, but it can be beef, pork, fish, usually cod, or spaghetti, known as the meat of the poor. The meat part is usually best (in my opinion), when guisado or stewed, that way there is plenty of tasty sauce to be poured all over your rice.
But wait, there’s more! You can’t forget the habichuelas, the beans and they are usually guisado too. You poor those bad boys and their sauce all over you rice, and it makes for a complete protein. The habichuelas are traditionally red beans, but you can have black beans, pigeon peas, known as guandules, or my absolute favorite guandules con coco, or pigeon peas with coconut. Oh coconut, coconut can be used in any of the plato components, you usually see this in the peninsula region of the country, and the addition makes anything amazing.
Lastly, there is the salad. This can be a green salad which is usually Iceberg lettuce with shredded cabbage, and a vinegar dressing, or boiled vegetables. There are also the fancier versions of ensalada Rusia, potato salad sometimes with beets. Or there is the codito salad, of elbow macaroni with vegetables and tuna.
The cherry on top is called concon, which is the well-done rice that soaked up the remaining oil and is stuck to the bottom of the pot. This super crunchy goodness is the best when made soft with the juices of the meat and the beans. Because the concon is scarce, it is traditionally given to the father figure of the household or to a guest.
I bet you were thinking that it sounded incredibly boring to eat the same thing every day, until you read this. As you can imagine there are tons of different permutations of the Bandera, and let me tell you from experience they’re all tasty. The Bandera is a hearty combination of all food groups and I am a huge Bandera fan. But don’t take my word for it, you’ll have to come out to the Dominican Republic and have one for yourself.