Food & Drink
Vegan Guide to the Dominican Republic
Vegan smoothie bowl, Vagamundo Coffee & Waffles, Cabarete
Photo: Mikkel Ulriksen
The Dominican Republic might not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of vegan-friendly travel destinations. After all, traditional Caribbean cuisines tend to be heavily centered around meat. But right now, veganism is spreading like wildfire all across the globe and the Dominican Republic has its own flourishing vegan scene.
Fruits and vegetables market, Jarabacoa
Photo: Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock.com
In the capital of Santo Domingo, a vegan scene has started to sprout and a growing number of restaurants are adding vegan options. A few 100% vegan restaurants have opened and you can even pick up a copy of Theresa Boehl’s ‘Vegan in Santo Domingo: A Guide to Meat-Free, Dairy-Free Dining in the Caribbean's Largest City’ available on Amazon. Yes, the classic local fare here in the DR is mainly about the meat but that doesn’t mean traditional foods can’t be given a vegan twist.
Before you start your vegan journey through the Dominican Republic it’s worth learning some useful phrases to help you avoid eating or drinking anything you don’t want during your stay.
All vegans know how difficult it can be to order food in another country. The Dominican Republic is no different but thankfully the main language here is Spanish with mild variations due to the regional dialect. You shouldn’t have too many issues using these traditional Spanish phrases:
|I am vegan
|Yo soy vegano/a
|Plant foods only, please!
|¡Sólo alimentos de origen vegetal por favor!
|No mammal, bird, fish, seafood, insect, sauce, broth
|Sin mamíferos, aves, pescados, mariscos, insectos, salsa, caldo
|No milk, cheese, yogurt, whey, casein, lactose
|Sin leche, queso, yogur, suero de leche, caseína, lactosa
|No animal products
|Sin productos de origen animal
|No honey, gelatin, lard, oil, blood, bone, fat.
|Sin miel, gelatina, manteca, aceite, sangre, hueso, grasa
Dominican tostones (fried green plantains)
Photo: Engels Ozuna / Shutterstock.com
Dominican Foods That Are Already Vegan
If you are staying in hotels or B&Bs, you’ll often be provided with a breakfast that includes fresh local fruit and salads, plus corn, rice and other grains grown right here on Hispaniola. With luck, these will be vegan right off the bat.
As for traditional meals, you’d be very lucky to be served any that are 100% vegan unless specified. It’s worth noting that many dishes here are flavored with ‘caldito’. This is a concentrated chicken broth used in the vast majority of dishes in the Dominican Republic. You’ll have to be quite specific if you want to order a traditional dish “sin caldito”, because it’s such a staple that many locals wouldn’t even consider ‘caldito’ an animal product.
Another tip: the word for meat - ‘carne’ - is used on the island to specifically talk about red meat. Therefore, it’s important to use the basic phrases above to tell locals you don’t eat poultry or fish either.
Remember, it’s YOU that needs staff to go the extra mile to cater to your diet, so always be polite and smile during your conversations. The Dominican people are generally very friendly and willing to help, so if you’re patient and understanding, you’ll get there eventually.
Dominican Mangú (Mashed plantains)
Photo: Clara Gonzalez / Shutterstock.com
Foods You’d Expect to Be Vegan that Aren’t
Above we mentioned the concentrated chicken broth, ‘caldito’. It is found in pretty much everything and therefore, anything you think is probably vegan, most likely is not. To stay away from accidentally consuming animal products you might just want to stick to the local vegetables and fruits from markets.
If you go to any big supermarket in the major cities and towns you will find a number of vegan products including plant milks, meat-alternatives, plus plenty of vegan snacks and sweets.
Raices Vegetarian Restaurant, Santo Domingo
Photo: Raices Vegetarian Restaurant
‘Veganizing’ Traditional Foods
The ‘veganizing’ of traditional Dominican foods has become a popular thing to do in major US cities like New York City and Los Angeles. Now, this trend has started to appear on the island itself - which is great news for visiting vegans!
Vegan restaurants based in Santo Domingo are now offering a number of traditional dishes with a vegan twist. Most notably is restaurant Raices which serves up a vegan version of Bandera Dominicana, a classic dish of rice, beans, and soy or gluten-based meat. Sancocho, the traditional Dominican stew, has also been given a vegan makeover at Raices. Expect a big bowl of delicious, unusual ingredients including taro and green plantain.
Finally, check out the awesome Asian restaurant Bambú, which serves up a vegan version of the salad Plato de Meli - minus the cheese and with some tasty mushroom-based meat.
Quinoa salad at Fresh Fresh Cafe, Sosúa
Photo: Fresh Fresh Cafe
The Best Vegan Restaurants in the Dominican Republic
C-Orgánico Juguería, Santo Domingo
The only truly 100% vegan restaurant in town is C-Orgánico Juguería. This is a lunch spot serving delicious vegan food all day long, in a beautiful tropical setting outside under an avenue of palm trees.
There is a strong emphasis on natural surroundings and ingredients. Expect to find a number of tasty raw salads, juicy veggie burgers, falafels, soups, rustic bean stews, fresh detox juices, and delicious smoothies. You will find each day there is a Plato del Dia - a daily special - which could be anything from a yam and ginger soup to quinoa tabbouleh, plantain casserole or mushroom ceviche.
C-Orgánico Juguería is a wholesome, fresh, healthy and exciting vegan restaurant just 500m away from the famous Colonial Zone.
Ama Luna Vegan Restaurant & Lab, Punta Cana
Sometimes you visit a restaurant that is so good you can physically feel the love and passion that has gone into it. Ama Luna Vegan Restaurant & Lab is one of those places, and not to be missed by any vegan heading to the seaside town of Punta Cana.
Here you will find simply magical vegan dishes that include Ama Luna’s own artisan tofu, pasta, cheese, and “wheat’s muscle” (seitan prepared according to an Italian recipe). The restaurant has a touch of Italian Mediterranean cuisine that is guaranteed to impress any visiting vegans - and your non-vegans friends.
The menu consists of traditional ‘veganized’ Italian dishes such as lasagne, cannelloni, and pizza plus international dishes such as veggie burgers, Buddha bowls, and some delicious tapas-style food boards. The food here has been thoughtfully put together and the result is simply delicious.
Fresh Fresh Cafe, Sosúa
Not a strictly vegan restaurant but Fresh Fresh Cafe in Sosúa has enough on its menu to keep any vegan satisfied. This cafe is all about quality nutrition, providing customers with foods and drinks that promote good health.
The menu is made up of wraps, bowls, sandwiches, salads, smoothies, natural juices, and baked goods. Of particular note for vegans are the breakfast bowls made using granola, local fruits, and nuts. The falafel burger is also really good and 100% vegan - just remember to ask for it with no tzatziki sauce.
Vegan ramen at TIME Vegetarian Kitchen, Colonial Zone, Santo Domingo
Photo: TIME Vegetarian Kitchen
Special Vegan Treats in Santo Domingo
Of all the major cities and towns, Santo Domingo has the best vegan scene and if you know where to look, you can find some very special vegan treats.
Head to TIME Vegetarian Kitchen on Parque Billini in the Colonial Zone for a bowl of delicious vegan ramen. At Roma’s Cafe, you’ll find a lush selection of vegan gelato flavors including pineapple, strawberry and passionfruit.
For tasty traditional Dominican sweets that are made using only fruit and sugar, head to Esquisiteces Postres near Ciudad Nueva.
Tourist-Friendly Vegan Buffets
Buffet Vegetariano in Santo Domingo serves up a scrumptious daily vegan buffet. Load up your plate with local twists on tofu, mock meats, stews, soups, deep-fried goods, beans, noodles, rice, corn, bread and more. More than enough to satisfy any traveling vegan.
If you are struggling as a vegan in Santo Domingo, this might be the best place to retreat to for lunchtime. The buffet is highly rated by tourists and local regulars alike.
Want to meet up with other vegans and take the sample the best of vegan Dominican cuisine? For $60 you can hop on the Vegan Food Tour - Colonial Zone and be guided through the historic streets of the Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo, picking up vegan goodies along the way from various food vendors and vegan restaurants. Along the way, you’ll be treated to a history of the area and see some of the historic buildings.
This is a fantastic way to get a taste of the vegan scene in Santo Domingo and learn about some of the local history.
Villa Serena Hotel, Las Galeras, Samaná
Photo: Villa Serena Hotel
There is only one vegan retreat on the island, the Raw Vegan Retreat at Villa Serena in Las Galeras, Samaná. The area of Samaná is simply sublime, with white sand beaches and crystal-clear turquoise waters, fringed with palm trees. Soak up paradise and be spoilt with incredible food that’s as good for you as it is delicious.
The tranquil retreat is designed with yoga, meditation and clean eating in mind. All the vegan food here is local and organic, served raw to help your body feel its absolute best.
The food is created by two raw vegan chefs. Expect gourmet vegan food, big portions, healthy ingredients, and unbeatable service.
This experience is simply heaven for any vegans traveling to the Dominican Republic who are looking to escape the modern world, switch off and focus on their mind, body, and spirit.
Written by Andrew Miles.
Published January 2021.
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