Dominican cooking starts with the advantage of great natural ingredients; a tropical climate and rich volcanic soil enable just about anything (and everything) to grow here. And chefs and restaurateurs certainly make use of that abundance. Case in point: Leonard “Steve” Lewis. For his two restaurants in the capital Roseau’s French Quarter—the Great Old House and Old Stone Bar and Grill—Lewis sources locally caught fish along with island herbs and spices that make it into his crab cakes, smoked jerk pork, and fresh juices.
A mash-up of Creole, Caribbean, and European influences, Dominican cuisine tends to be light and bright with an optional dose of heat; a popular preparation for seafood is a curry sauce with Scotch bonnet peppers, which can be off-the-charts hot. Dominica’s cuisine also tends to be colorful and veggie-forward. Callaloo, the country’s national dish, is a vibrant green soup that gets its color from hearty dasheen leaves from the taro plant. They’re blended with herbs and coconut milk and served with assorted “provisions,” the Dominican catchall phrase for root vegetables like yucca, taro, and sweet potatoes.
While callaloo is typically a vegetarian soup, it has also inspired creative twists. Guiyave Restaurant & Patisserie, a favorite in downtown Roseau, offers a crab callaloo for special occasions, such Dominica’s Carnival season every February. Its Carnival menu also features island specialties like souse (a cold soup made of pig’s feet or trotters), black pudding, crab backs, and chicken roti. The island’s chefs and restaurateurs also pull out all the stops for the Nature Island Food & Drink Festival, held every April, and the Jazz ‘n Creole Festival, held annually in late May or early June.
Whatever the time of year, you’ll find that Dominica takes breakfast quite seriously. One classic approach that epitomizes the island’s rustic, homey cuisine is green figs and saltfish. And by green figs, they mean green bananas that have been boiled or stewed served with salted cod that’s been shredded and sauteed with vegetables, including hot peppers. Another, for breakfast on the go, is the island’s cocoa tea (akin to hot chocolate and made with local cocoa, cinnamon, and sweetened condensed milk) paired with a few bakes—banana fritters or fritters stuffed with the likes of cheese or fish.
If you’re craving a more leisurely, indulgent Saturday brunch, The Champs hotel restaurant in Portsmouth obliges with egg dishes accompanied by a potato croquette and seafood specialties such as a crispy conch salad with peanut-curry vinaigrette or a pan-fried red snapper over black beans, corn, and pumpkin chowder. At The Champs and Palisades Restaurant, keep an eye out for lionfish on the menu. Since this invasive species turned up in Dominica’s waters, Simon Walsh, principle dive master and professional underwater photographer, has made it his mission to connect restaurants with fishermen who hunt what Walsh describes as this “highly destructive (but delicious) fish.”
There’s no shortage of notable places to sample Dominica’s culinary scene. But nothing beats learning by doing, right? For a more hands-on understanding of Dominica’s flavors, sign up for an immersive afternoon with Daria Eugene of Cooking Caribbean. It takes place at her family home and traditional open-air kitchen in the rain forest of Gommier, Giraudel, with panoramic views of the mountains and Caribbean Sea. She guides the preparation of a buffet meal of signature dishes along with fruit and rum punches. You’ll also get a taste of warm island hospitality and local life by getting to know Daria. It’s just one example of how Dominica puts the soul in soul food.