Dining on exotic, new-to-you dishes or authentic versions of your favorite international foods is one of the most enjoyable aspects of a cruise vacation, where fantastic flavors and happy memories go hand in hand. If you’re getting ready for a Carnival cruise that calls at La Romana, a delightful port in the Dominican Republic, you probably don’t know quite what to expect from the local cuisine. Well, prepare for an exciting and appetizing adventure in culinary discovery!
Dominican dishes are a flavorful showcase of local ingredients with diverse influences from Spain, Africa, and the Middle East. The cuisine has much in common with its Latin American and Caribbean neighbors, but also boasts many unique dishes of its own. If you’re wondering what to eat in La Romana, look for some of the following top 10 foods and drinks:
Sancocho, a slow-simmered stew of meats and vegetables, is considered the Dominican Republic’s national dish. It varies from region to region, but usually features several different kinds of meats and starchy root vegetables. Simpler sancochos might include just beef and chicken, but many have up to seven types of meat, such as smoked pork, goat, and longaniza, a Dominican sausage. The vegetables often include yucca, squash, potatoes, green bananas and corn on the cob, and it’s all seasoned with citrus, garlic and aromatic herbs. After hours of simmering, it all comes together as a rich and complex one-pot meal, although rice and salad are often served on the side. If a single dish sums up La Romana cuisine, sancocho is it.
2. Los Tres Golpes
Los Tres Golpes (“the three hits”) is a popular breakfast dish in the Dominican Republic, although it’s eaten any time of the day. The spread always includes mangú, a thick mash of boiled green plantains topped with vinegar-spiked red onions. On the side of this is fried Dominican salami and queso frito, a fried slice of firm cheese. It’s a hearty meal that’s probably unlike anything you’ve tasted before.
3. Dominican Coffee
Gain a little pep in your step during a busy day of sightseeing or shopping in La Romana by sampling a cup of steaming hot Dominican coffee. It’s served very strong and black, and locals usually add a lot of sugar. Coffee is grown on the island so it’s as fresh and flavorful as can be, and you can pick up a bag or two of Dominican beans to take home.
4. Dulce de Coco
A sweet, creamy, coconut-ty dessert, dulce de coco is made by slowly simmering shredded coconut with whole milk, condensed milk, cinnamon, and vanilla until it’s thickened and fudgy. The versions you’ll find in La Romana are made with young, mild-tasting coconuts that grow locally. Dulce de coco is served cold and is a delightful treat on a sunny Caribbean day.
5. Pica Pollo
There are lots of great things to do in La Romana, so you might not have time for a sit-down meal. Instead, look for a fritura (fried food street vendor) and grab a to-go order of pica pollo, Dominican fried chicken. Just like fried chicken served all over the globe, pica pollo is hot and juicy with a crispy, golden crust, but with the distinct flavors of Dominican oregano, which is noticeably different than regular oregano, along with lemon and garlic.
6. Habichuelas con Dulce
An unusual dessert unique to the island and traditionally served during Lent, habichuelas con dulce translates as “sweet cream of beans,” and although recipes vary considerably, beans are always the main ingredient. They might be white beans, kidney beans, butter or pinto beans, simmered in a mixture of coconut milk, evaporated milk, or regular milk, sweetened with sugar and enhanced by vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves, and pureed until smooth. Some recipes include raisins and sweet potatoes, and it might be served with a few little cookies on top.
Tostones, salty, twice-fried plantains, are a fixture of the La Romana food scene, just as they are throughout the Dominican Republic. Firm, green plantains are cut into thick slices, which are fried until they’re soft, then smashed flat and fried again. The smashing gives the plantain chips a craggy shape and greater surface area, resulting in extra crispy edges all around. Tostones are served as a snack or side dish, much like French fries are back home. Look on menus for fritos verdes (green fries).
8. La Bandera Dominicana
La Bandera Dominicana means “the Dominican flag,” but when you see this traditional dish on a menu it’s a combination of four elements: white rice, stewed red beans, slow-braised meat, (either beef, chicken, pork or fish), and a green salad. The salad component usually includes shredded lettuce or cabbage, tomatoes, onions, cucumber, and sometimes bell peppers, radishes and beets. It’s a hearty, full meal and an authentic taste of the Dominican Republic.
9. Mama Juana
Mama Juana (or mamajuana) is a unique local drink served in bars, restaurants and by the bottle in grocery stores. It combines the familiar elements of red wine, local rum, cinnamon, and honey with an esoteric blend of fermented tree bark, roots, and medicinal herbs and spices grown on the island. Its profile is sweet, spicy and warm.
Chimichurri shares its name with an Argentinian sauce, but in the Dominican Republic it’s a burger, very similar to a classic American one. The chimichurri’s distinct elements are a topping of shredded cabbage, a sauce made by blending ketchup and mayonnaise, and an irregular-shaped patty hand-formed to fit a toasted pan de agua bun. Enjoy this Dominican comfort food with a frosty beer, cola or milkshake.
You might not have time, or a big enough appetite, to sample all 10 of the best things to eat and drink in La Romana, but be sure to try at least a few local specialties while you’re in port. The flavors and aromas of the Dominican Republic will instantly become a gloriously unforgettable part of your visit.