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Without a doubt, I'd say the 3 national Dominican dishes are:
(1) The "flag" (la bandera): rice, red beans, meat or chicken and salad. *The* dish #1, eaten by rich and poor. Usually with concon (the rice that gets stuck on the pot, that you get by using a silver spoon.)
(2) "Mangú": mashed plantain (the green ones), similar in preparation as mashed potatoes. With butter or with oil, and with fried eggs or salami, avocado slices and onion rings (without the bread crumbs) on the side.
(3) "Sancocho": it's a stew with meat and vegetables (being plantain, cassava, and corn the ones most used) in it. Specially good after having some cold beers.
Other things we consider "ours" (even tho they might exist in other cultures) are fried cassava (first boiled, then fried) and fried plantain slices (both the green and the ripe ones).
Updated Nov 28, 2007
If you are a tourist, they think you have the money. They mark up prices and expect you to bargain on the prices.
I paid 1/4 of price on artwork and souvenirs.
Never paid more than half on hand-made works.
If you find a peddler or shop off the tourist normal spot you will get best deals. But these stores may also pressure you harder to buy.
Many peddlers will tell me "get your credit card" or "you have more in there" if they see a satchel.
Do not make eye contact and say no if they approach you and you do not want anything.
If they get aggressive, make an aggresive but polite firm "no" and keep walking.
Some peddlers will try to stick their product or a flower in tourists hands. Do not touch it if you don't want it.
If you are swimming at ocean and peddlers in spot you need to pass, go in water (even small waves) to pass them, they often won't get shoes wet to get to you.
They take US dollars or RD pesos.I will say these people do not have much money and often they do not sell things for long time.
So I say if you are going to start bargaining. Please make sure you want, it is unkind to break someones' spirit that is so excited to get a sell.
Just a Note about this picture: Boy on right hangs out many hours selling to tourists a peanut like candy. He is 10 years old and wants to be a professional baseball player-a common dream of many Dominican children. When I asked the kids in the DR if I could take their picture, they loved it! He had hard time sitting still for pic!
Updated Oct 29, 2004
Dominicans love a good cold beer. We have 2 sort of icon national brands that we brew: Presidente (read my tip about it on my Santo Domingo page) and Bohemia. The newest additions are a dark lager beer called Ámbar and the most recent one called The One. Two non-alcoholic beers with a sweet flavor that's been around for years are Malta India and Malta Morena.
You can also find a lot of international beer brands there but those cost more than the local ones. The ones I remember seeing are Corona, San Miguel, Beck's, Heineken (brewed in the country under license) Guinness and Miller.
The picture of the Bohemia beer is taken from their website (found on the link below) and the Maltas are googled.
Updated Oct 5, 2007
Edit: The prices changed (Dec 2008).
On entering the DR you pay 10US$ - which you do when you buy your tourist card. On leaving, you pay 20US$.
It's easier for them and quicker for you if you pay with the exact money (as in 10US for 1 person, 20US for 2 and so on) but if you have big bills they do give you your change. You can buy the tourist card from your nearest DR embassy also. And always double check with your airline/travel agency because some include the leaving tax on their flight ticket price.
Nowadays the tourist card is good for up to 29 days (as opposed to 90 like it was before), so if you overstay there's a small fee you pay on leaving. Please observe that the fee is paid in Dominican pesos. The fees are (American dollar cost based on 1 US = 33 pesos):
30 Days - 3 Months: $800 Pesos (24.24 US)
3 Months - 9 Months: $1000 Pesos (30.30 US)
9 Months - 1 Year: $2500 Pesos (75.75 US)
1 Year - 1.5 Years: $4000 Pesos (121.21 US)
1.5 Years - 2 Years: $5000 Pesos (151.51 US)
2 Years - 2.5 Years: $6500 Pesos (196.96 US)
2.5 Years - 3 Years: $9000 Pesos (272.72 US)
3-5 Years: $14000 Pesos (424.24 US)
5 Years+: $17000 Pesos (515.15 US)
A lot of people overstay and pay this without having too much trouble or they don't get charged (like Mr. Sweden who overstayed his card 3 days). And don't pay more than what you have to pay - there are signs at the airport with this information.
Updated Apr 4, 2011
Tips are always included in the bills. It's called 10% legal, so you don't have to feel obligated to (double) tip if you don't want to. However, if you do want to tip, you can always round up the bill or tip 10%-15% of the bill if the service was good. Don't leave coins unless they're Dominican currency because they can't be exchanged for Dominican money.
You can give maids, bell boys, etc. up to 5US$ if you want to tip them.
Updated Sep 20, 2007
After beers, Dominicans love a good rum. The 3 most popular brands (I don't recall seeing more brands than these) are the 3 B's: Brugal, Barceló and Bermúdez. All of them are distilled and produced there. I particularly don't like rum but if I had to choose one to drink I'd go for Bermúdez. Brugal is usually the one that people like the most.
Updated Dec 28, 2008
When I was a kid, we kids used to get our Christmas presents on Jan 6 or the Three Wise Men day. No matter what day of the week it fell, we always had the whole week off school so that we could enjoy our toys because we wouldn't see much of them until the Summer holidays or the next Three Wise Men day.
The Three Wise Men are Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar and are the same men who followed the Star of Bethlehem to were Baby Jesus was born and brought him gifts (gold, incense and myrrh) when he was born. In DR they come with their camels carrying gifts to distribute among the kids of the country.
The tradition says that on the night of Jan 5, we're to leave these Men some candy ("mentas" as we call the candy we left for them), water and some grass for the camels. They would come in the wee of night, eat the candy, drink the water, feed the camels and leave toys to the kids who have behaved well in the previous year. The next day it was awesome to see every child playing with "what the Men brought" them for hours, making the necessary pauses to eat (who had an appetite then? hehe). This was a happy day for kids all around the country, poor or rich (of course, the richer you were the "better" presents you got and so on). I usually tried waiting until I could see them coming to my bed and leaving my presents, and even said "I'd sleep with one eye closed and one open" but nope, never happened hehe.
If by any chance the Three Wise Men didn't leave kids anything (or as the parents said "if they misbehaved"), then "La Vieja Belén" (Old Belén) would bring them something. Her day was Jan 8 (not a red day).
With the influence of the American culture, however, this tradition is losing its importance and children are given their presents on Christmas Eve, with the argument of "then they enjoy the toys more since schools don't give them the week off like before". I can see that the argument is valid but it's a shame that our old traditions are on the way of disappearing.
Updated Nov 6, 2007
Colmados – small general stores- provide people from the street or neighbourhood with the essential shopping. Supermarket culture is not that wide spread yet as there are a lot of poor people who can never afford to fill up their carts with all they need. So every day that they have a little money, they go to the colmado to buy the essentials: some rice and beans (not always a full pound), a few plantains, some cheese, a few cigarettes (if there’s no money for a full pack). That’s what is keeping these independent shops alive. The colmados are also the place to get the neighbourhood news, to chat, or get a cheap ‘meal’. Every day you can see people getting their lunch at the colmado: some cheese and cheap salami cut into pieces and served on a plastic plate or a piece of paper, some crackers, and a few toothpicks to serve as forks. We’ve had many lunches like that, standing at the counter, often accompanied by local workers having their lunch and chatting. A simple and cheap meal, but I enjoyed it better than eating at some touristy place.
Colmados usually don’t have scales so everything is measured by the owner’s eye and I’m sure they are experts the same way an experienced bartender can serve you the exact amount of drink straight from the bottle without measuring it.
Updated Aug 29, 2006
When you go out of the sheltered resorts you can notice some big differences between Dominican houses. Near the big towns or beach resorts you can see some mansions, complete with swimming pools, large gardens and many servants. And then in the villages, by the road,and in the less developed south, you can see many shacks, where often there's no water, and electricity is often stolen by illegal connections to the main power lines (sometimes at the price of a life). The houses have no window-panes, just shutters. Driving past such houses, I often saw a big family gathered in the living room, the grandparents sitting in rocking chairs, the kids playing around in ragged clothes, sometimes they waved and smiled at us. Makes you wonder whether such a simple life, without too many possessions isn't kind of happier...
Updated Apr 23, 2006
The traditional Christmas dinner is one of the (if not the) biggest events of the year. We cook a lot of food that we eat not only on Christmas Eve, but on the following days hehe. Some of the dishes we eat are telera (like a baguette), roasted pork, moro de guandules (pigeon peas mixed with rice), pastelitos (savoury pasties), pasteles en hoja (ground-root pockets), and "Russian" potato salad. On the fruit department we make sure to have apples, grapes, mixed nuts and raisins on the table.
The 3 most traditional Christmas drinks in my country are (in no order):
(1) Vino Moscatel Caballo Blanco: this is a very sweet red wine that to me tastes somewhat similar to the Swedish glögg, so when I had glögg for the first time I couldn't help but be taken back to my hometown and mi gente.
(2) Anís Confite or Anís del Mono: this is an star anise liquor. It doesn't taste like alcohol right away, but sweet and like, well, anise ...but they say that this gives you a hell of a hangover if not drunk with moderation.
(3) Ponche Crema de Oro: I hated it! it's like a rum eggnog...ugh. It tasted bitter the few times my parents let me have an alcoholic drink when I was a child, but Dominicans love it.
Updated Nov 5, 2007
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