The years I spent growing up in the Dominican Republic served not only to expose me to a different language and norms, but also to different customs and traditions I embrace even today. Every time I return to the island, I embrace the opportunity to share these nuances with others.
Often times, when I visit with family or friends, I notice that some of the customs I learned as a child have become a bit watered down or ignored. It seems that locals believe that most visitors to the island would find these traditions too foreign to enjoy, or that visitors just wouldn’t consider them. However, I believe that in order to truly enjoy a destination and understand and connect with its people, you have to take in the customs like locals do with each other. Here are a few of my favorite Dominican Republic traditions worth sharing.
Drink coconut water from the fruit, not a glass
Some resorts don’t offer fresh coconut water, and if they do, they do so in a glass with ice. I am convinced that the flavor of the coconut water dies the minute it is served in a glass. Drinking coconut water this way might look more civilized, it might even be a bit more comfortable (as the coconut itself can be quite heavy), but it isn’t the most delicious. The best way to drink coconut water, the way I always drank it growing up, is straight out of the fruit. Most vendors sell coconuts along the side of the road or on the beach. For a few pesos, they will chop one open with a machete and even give you a straw, which really is as fancy as I like to get. If you can’t find a vendor, you always can pay a local to climb up a tree, knock one down for you, and crack it open. However you get one, just remember, if you are drinking it out of a glass, you are doing it wrong.
Viewfinder tip: Try mangú, a traditional dish made with mashed green plantains. It’s ugly, but delicious!
Ask for the concón when ordering rice
The concón is the crunchy rice that sticks to the bottom of the pot when you cook it. Most people think it is burnt rice, but really it’s the layer that collects most of the oil and salt during the cooking process. That means it’s the most delicious part. Most outdoor excursions in the Dominican Republic offer an authentic Dominican lunch made by a local cook, but the cooks don’t offer concón to the tourists. Personally, I see this as a huge disservice. My cousins and I often would race each other to the kitchen anytime we heard the scraping of the pot that indicated it was concón time. We enjoyed the crunchy bits of fried rice with beans or sauce from stewed chicken or beef. If you happen to find yourself in a local eatery, ask the server if there is any concón and give it a try.
A serving of concón
Learn local greetings, in Spanish
One of the things I have noticed when traveling to the island with foreigners is that they take for granted how important the basic greetings really are. Even when you’re in a resort, you should greet locals with a “Buenos Dias” (Good morning) or a “Buenas Tardes” (Good afternoon). I know that for many people the intimidation of a foreign language inhibits these types of hellos, but for Dominicans, this type of effort goes a long way. Dominicans recognize that hospitality and service are major economic drivers for the country and they take pride in offering the best service they can. Greeting them in their native language is a thoughtful way to appreciate their hospitality. (I believe this is a practice we should embrace everywhere we may travel, too.)
If you make a local friend, go dancing
In the Dominican Republic, a game of dominoes is not just a time to play. It’s also a time to talk about sports, politics, and about anything else that might come up. Not everyone gets welcomed to join in this ritual, so if you are invited, accept. The same is true for dancing. People in some countries like to hang out at cafés, others like to hangout at pubs. Dominicans like to dance. If you make a good enough friend during your visit and this person invites you to dance, consider it a compliment, regardless of your ability to merengue or bachata. Just do like Dominicans do, and enjoy life to the fullest. This is what the Dominican Republic is all about.