Dominican Republic Feature

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Quintessential

If you want to get a sense of Dominican culture and indulge in some of its pleasures, start by familiarizing yourself with the rituals of daily life.

Sample Some Sancocho

If there is a single Dominican specialty that could be called the national dish, it is this protein-rich stew that traditionally includes chicken, pork, pumpkin, yucca, plantain, corn on the cob, and cilantro. The best version is served alongside hearty portions of rice and sliced avocado. After clubbing, capitaleños (Santo Domingoans) pile into late-night restaurants for their sancocho fix—it's thought to absorb alcohol and lessen hangovers. Stop at any popular local restaurant at midday on Sunday, and it's almost a sure bet that you'll find sancocho on the menu. Of course, the best way to experience this soupy stew is to get yourself invited to someone's home and have it family-style, with homemade pepper sauce.

Ride the Guaguas

If you want to feel what it's like to be a real Dominican, then you have to brave the local transportation. Guaguas are local buses, which are often minivans, especially in the smaller towns. In Cabarete, for example, you just stand on the side of the road and wait for what looks like a speeding ambulance—a white van with a red light on top and a man hanging off the running board. Wave violently. The hanging man (often called a tigre) will bang his hand on the side, making the driver stop short. Watch what the other passengers give the hanger-on, and do likewise. It's usually diez pesos (RD$10), on up to about 30. In Santo Domingo, guaguas are buses, often beat-up school buses, though never yellow. As taxi rates increase, there's even more reason to take a guagua. And it's a trip to see what locals bring aboard—produce from the market, kettle drums, a stack of Haitian artwork, full-size baby carriages.

Get Saturday Night Fever at a Colmodon

If you want to have a real peek through a window of Dominican culture, then you have to go dancing. A colmodon is larger than your average corner colmado (a small grocery store) and serves a larger purpose. It's part supermarket, part bar, and part social center. The colmodon will have tables and chairs, a TV always tuned to a baseball game or telenovela, and loud merengue and bachata music playing in the background. On weekends the colmadons come alive, when many add a makeshift kitchen serving authentic Dominican fare, including tostones (fried green plantains), fried chicken, platanos (fried sweet plantains), or arroz con pollo (rice with beans and fried chicken parts). Patrons dance in the street, and shots of local rum—chased by Presidente beer—help you feel the rhythms that you may never knew you had.

Take Yourself Out to a Ball Game

Dominicans are mad about baseball. Taking in a game is definitely doable, and will help you get on down with the locals. For the full whammy, go to one of the top parks—in Santo Domingo, La Romana, or San Pedro de Macorís, the so-called City of Shortstops. The betting is fast and furious, the bookies (who hang out in the area) are remarkably astute. Vendors have their individual style, whether they're peddling souvenirs, local snacks, Presidente beer, or minibottles of rum. The spectacle is like nothing you have ever seen. Mascots go through bizarre, often ribald antics. Merengue is played at ear-splitting levels, and fans dance hedonistically. This is one social event where you can make new friends as long as you pledge allegiance to their team.

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