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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Dominica

Historic Diet

Dominica's historic diet was based on what the island naturally grew, but as a small island the diversity of foods was somewhat limited, although larger than one would think for an island of its size. Most of the island's oldest foods actually arrived with the earliest settlers though; these native and early imports included plantains, pineapples, sweet potatoes, maize (corn), cassava (yucca), bananas, coconuts, beans, and numerous other foods. Again, as a small island though the land life was sparse and few local animals truly provided food for the people, but among these is opossum and frog, which remain traditional foods for the people today. This differed greatly from the surrounding waters though as there is a huge number of seafood in the area, including crab, barracudas, grouper, lobsters, and snapper.

Culinary Influences

The first influence to the diet of Dominica came with the first people to arrive who brought with them new foods and cultivated these foods. This led to the introduction of new ingredients as well as organized agriculture.

The next significant influence to the local diet of Dominica came with the Europeans. As the Europeans arrived they brought with them new spices, animals, fruits, and vegetables. The French were perhaps the most influence of these people in the early days and they introduced numerous changes, including cattle, but also brought new cooking techniques to the island. Today much of the country's diet is still rooted in French cuisine.

The next great influence came with the arrival of the African slaves and the movement of people throughout the Caribbean. This growth in transportation and communication led to Caribbean spices growing in numbers on the island as the slaves encouraged slave owners to use simple and cheap ingredients to feed them; this led to a heavier use of rice. Maize, beans, and potatoes were also important foods for the people of the island from this point forward.

In the past century or so, international ethnic foods have arrived in larger numbers. Today a huge number of ethnic foods can be found in grocery stores and restaurants as American, French, and Chinese foods are found in many places.

Staple Foods

Plantains: often a side dish or an ingredient in the main course
Rice: a common base to meals or simply a side dish

Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes

Manicou: stewed or smoked opossum
Mountain Chicken: frog legs from a large local frog that can only be caught seasonally so is considered a local delicacy

Dining Etiquette

Dining rules in Dominica are relaxed, very relaxed so there's little need to worry about making a wrong move. However, it is still nice to understand how the local people dine and how to behave in a restaurant or the home of a local. The first rule is that dining with friends or family is meant as a social occasion so take your time and get to know your fellow diners; meals can take hours and you should not make plans that force you to leave early.

Dominica is in the Caribbean and that means there is no hurry; arriving a few minutes late is never an issue, but dressing too casually can be. Try to dress in a relaxed, but slightly more formal manner than you otherwise would in Dominica, although a tie or dress is a bit overboard on almost all occasions.

If eating in a local's home you will most likely be shown a seat, but don't sit until invited to do so. Meals may begin with drinks or just the food and as the guest you may be invited to take your food first. Try to eat in the continental style (knife in the right hand, fork in the left) and keep your hands within sight by resting your wrists on the edge of the table. Again, your host will likely not be offended if you eat in the incorrect manner, but do your best to follow their lead.

As you finish eating, place your fork and knife together on your plate to indicate you have finished. If eating in a restaurant, call the server over by making eye contact; don't wave or call his/her name. Most restaurants will include a service charge in the bill, but if not, add up to 10-15% for good service.

Celebrations & Events

The festivals in Dominica are nearly unlimited, but the highlight is Mas Dominik, which is a Carnival celebration that takes place just prior to Lent. Like most Carnival celebrations, this event is filled with music, dancing, partying, and too much alcohol for everyone's safety. Although food is not the highlight of this festival, everyone tends to eat out as local restaurants are packed and any place that served alcohol is even busier; this is a great time to meet locals while trying the local foods and drinks.

Independence Day in Dominica is celebrated on November 3 and is truly a festival to highlight and take pride in the country's creole culture. This day offers unique sights, sounds, and traditional creole foods that can't be missed.

If you can't make it during either of the above celebrations you may still find a local festival as most villages on the island have their own festival and these events are scattered throughout the year. This is truly a cultural event on a small scale as the local village celebrates its uniqueness and opens its doors to everyone as they offer their best foods, drinks, and cultural gems.

Drinks

Dominica has a good selection of non-alcoholic drinks, but surprisingly has a significant tea culture. Unlike many of its neighbors, Dominica grows teas on its mountain slopes and they have become a part of the local culture. Juices are also very common with numerous local drinks available including coconut milk/water and the local specialty, "sorrel," which is made from a local flower. The island also has numerous soft drinks, coffee, milk, and other popular non-alcoholic drinks.

During the evening you prefer an alcoholic drink and Dominica has a good variety. Rum is popular, but beer is nearly as common. The local rums include "Macoucherie" and "Belfast" and the local beer of choice tends to be "Kubuli." Other hard liquors and wines are also available, but not as popular as beer or rum.

The tap water is generally safe to drink in Dominica, however confirm this with your hotel or guesthouse, particularly during hurricane season or after a heavy rain as the water can be contaminated. If you do drink the water, many people may have trouble adjusting to the local tap water, as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to if you are not from the region.

This page was last updated: September, 2012