Making Kimchi in The Dominican Republic

Cows on the Beach

Let’s talk about all the foods! Trying new flavors and recipes from different areas is one of the best parts of traveling. Experiencing another culture through their food. It’s interesting because you can do all kinds of research before you get to a new town, but until you head into the local grocery store, you really don’t know what you are in for. I read all about how Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic, is an old fishing village and has this cool fish mart, so I figured I would primarily cook with all kinds of fish. Then I got here and realized the area is over-fished and it’s just not sustainable to eat it often.

Chicken it is

I don’t know if you remember this, but I really got into eating soft-corn chicken tacos for breakfast in Belize. You could buy three for like 50 cents from the taco stand down the street and they were so freaking good. Then in Costa Rica, I was like, I can make this… I just need a lot of practice and some achiote paste. I added pineapple (because they were so freakin’ cheap), and I figured out how to make a vinegar slaw. So so good, but the tortillas were only mediocre.

Shredded chicken arepas
Arepas! These corn-flour sandwhiches are filled with delicious shredded chicken. Breakfast!

Then I got to México where I could get a kilogram of freshly made, delicious nixtamalized corn tortillas for like a dollar from the local tortilleria. I had to give up the pineapple because the cost was prohibitive and they just weren’t as good as in Costa Rica. However, the ingredients for the cabbage slaw from the local fruit stand became exponentially more better. Best slaw I’ve ever had! Everything just had this lovely spice to it.

I was pretty confident that I could eat the same breakfast tacos here in Las Terrenas, as the island is located so close to México and is also a Spanish-speaking area. No corn tortillas! None! Not even the ingredients to make my own! ¿Por qué? Tacos are not a thing here. Mexican food, in general, is not a thing here. Interesting. Luckily for me, I had discovered this amazing Venezuelan restaurant while in Playa del Carmen, and, therefore, had discovered arepas. I can make those instead!

But what about the slaw?

There are a lot of things I absolutely love about this apartment. It has this amazing view. The beach right out front is spectacular. It’s in a jungle surrounded by a lagoon, so there are a ton of birds, lizards, turtles, fishes… all kinds of critters. But that just means I’m in the middle of nowhere. It is a three-hour trek into town, to the grocery stores, liquor store, and fruit stands and back again. It’s a lovely walk on the beach, but I have to really plan-ahead for meals. Can’t quickly run back for coconut milk if I forget it!

Making chicken stock
In the process of making chicken bone broth. The bones have simmered for many hours and the veggies have been added for another hour at higher temp. Strain and put in the freezer.

At the same time, the fridge here is small and the veggies aren’t as fresh. It’s not worth all the effort to make slaw. Instead, I switched to making quick pickled onions. It’s still delicious and onions are a lot lighter to carry home from the store (and they fit in the fridge!). Now for the shredded chicken in achiote sauce. I had my suspicions that this area would not have achiote paste (I was correct) so I brought an entire pound of the stuff from México. Smart!

The whole chickens here are hit or miss. They are all different sizes and sometimes the stores are just out entirely. One thing is interesting. To take the feathers out, ranchers put the chicken carcass in hot water. If the water is too hot, the skin becomes brittle, which is pretty common around here. It makes removing the skin a challenge. They also don’t bleed out the chickens much, so they are very bloody. I’ve never seen that anywhere else.


Food prices at the grocery stores are about the same as in México as long as you stick with fresh or non-imported ingredients. Once you start getting into processed foods, the price goes up. Still, everything is cheaper than in Seattle, which is one of the reasons I’m here. However, this is a tourist destination. You are going to pay tourist prices if you want to eat out at a restaurant on the beach, with your toesies in the sand. Sometimes it’s fun for a special treat, but not often.

How gorgeous is this ceviche!?! This is from the restaurant Empanadas y Más.

One thing I have noticed about the restaurants in Las Terrenas is that there are a ton of pizza places. So so many pizza joints! And they all have those fancy brick ovens. I just picture the street doggos getting the discarded pizza crusts and being all happy about it. Pizza is off the menu for me (gluten!) so I stick with curry, ceviche, Dominican stew (noms!), and fried plantains when I eat out. I bring containers with me to take the leftovers home, which saves me some monies.

Not only is Italian popular in the restaurants in Las Terrenas, it’s also popular in the grocery stores. Delicious cured meats and fancy cheeses and stewed tomato products. Plus, they have amazing gluten-free sections with pastas (so good!), flours (I’ve been baking GF soda breads and challah!), cookies, and crackers. Celiac disease is a national disease in Italy, so it makes sense that the stores here would cater to their many Italian customers. Works for me!

Such variety… sometimes

Besides Italian, the grocery stores have a variety of Asian ingredients including Chinese/Japanese eggplants (so much better than globe eggplants for stir-fries!) and Chinese cabbage. I get to make kimchi! So much kimchi! Salt brine the cabbage, add grated carrot, pear, radish, and salted mussels to the gochugaru paste sauce (sourced from Seattle, thanks friends!) and ferment at room temp for three days (burp it occasionally to keep the veggies in the brine). Then into the fridge in jars.

I put kimchi on everything! Of course I make kimchi fried rice with jammy eggs on top! So good. I put it in soups. I make kimchi pancakes. I eat it as a side. Make up some quick kimchi sushi rolls. Noms! Sorry, neighbors who have to smell all the kimchi! The stores only have a couple varieties of rice (sushi and long grain (and rarely Arborio)… I’m a bit of a rice snob!) which is somewhat limiting, but I’m working with them.

One thing I am supper excited about in the grocery stores here is inexpensive beef (and to a lesser extent pork). Red meet was expensive in Costa Rica and México so I mostly stuck with chicken. I have a dislocated jaw which means I have to cook beef until it is pull-apart tender. No point in getting fancy cuts of meat if you are just going to braise it for hours. Stew meat is so cheap here. Plus, my apartment’s countertop toaster oven means the apartment doesn’t get too hot while braising. Then I put the beef in soups, stir-fries, curries, sandwiches, my mouth!

Homemade Kimchi
This kimchi has fermented at roomtemp for three days and is ready to go into the fridge. It’s so good!

What else you got cookin’?

There is a new bean in town! I’ve raved about this before, but here I go again. Dominican Red Beans are amazingly delicious. They look like a red kidney-bean but taste completely different. Soft and buttery and used in both savory and sweet dishes, much like the red adzuki beans used in some Japanese and Thai desserts. They go great in chilis, red-beans and rice (very common here), pasta e fagioli, and even in Paniscia (risotto with cabbage and beans).

We all know it’s cheaper to buy dried beans than to buy canned, but I’m real bad at cooking beans. I do not know what I’m doing wrong. Yes, I use filtered water. Yes, I cook them until they are done. Sometimes they taste good, but for some reason I get these weird stomach pains after eating them. Only when I am the cook. I buy the canned beans (or eat at restaurants) and have no issues. Stick with what I know and let the professionals do the bean cooking!

Egg-flower Soup with Kimchi
This is egg-flower soup made with homemade chicken bone broth and topped with homemade kimchi.

From what I hear, the empanadas are amazing in Las Terrenas. I’m bummed I can’t try them (gluten!) as they are very cheap. They have little empanada stands around town that smell wonderful. I have heard that one food truck in town has gluten-free empanadas, but they don’t open until 5:30pm. I’m not much for walking home from town in the dark. You don’t have to worry about being robbed, but you do have to worry about getting run over! Maybe I’ll get adventurous one day and walk there and back along the beach.

Every apartment is different

One thing about traveling around is that you get an entirely different kitchen at each location. At each new place, I have to figure out how to use the stove, which pots and pans work best for which meals, and whether or not I need to purchase something to make life easier (such as a can-opener!). This particular apartment does not have a microwave. I asked about one and the manager said I could have the toaster-oven or a microwave, but not both. Interesting.

With no regular oven and a desire for baking gluten-free breads, I opted for the toaster-oven. I’ve actually come to really like the toaster-oven! It’s small enough so that it doesn’t heat up the apartment while I braise beef for three hours, but big enough to bake a large braided gluten-free challah loaf. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit the stockpot so chicken stock has to be made on the range. No worries.

Kimchi sushi rolls
I made kimchi sushi rolls with homemade kimchi. One roll is spicy and other is less so.

I was very excited about the gas range in this apartment. Cooking with fire is fast, predictable, and required in an area with frequent power outages (when the gas goes out, I just have the grounds-keeper change out the tank, which is fascinating!). I was not so thrilled with the lack of a venting hood. A have a touch of the asthma so I usually start coughing soon after lighting the range. Plus, I only have aluminum pots here, which are not my favorite. Though they do work better for making arepas than poorly treated non-stick. It’s a trade-off.

Let’s discuss alcohol

I do like the occasional drink and I like to drink what’s local. You really get a feel for an area by trying the domestic beverages. By the time I left Playa del Carmen, I was good and sick of tequila and mezcal. I like a good margarita, but there are only so many I can take. Now that I’m fully in the Caribbean, I’m loving all the delicious rums. Dominican rum is dark, rich, caramelly, inexpensive, and so so good. It’s wonderful straight, over ice, or in mixed drinks like the tropical Monkey Lala, fresh lime Daiquiris, and red (or white) Sangrias.

Bún Chả
I tried my hand at some Vietnamese cooking with this Bún Chả dish! It is ridiculously good!

Mamajuana! Take some Dominican rum, add a secret blend of bark and spices, tell the tourists that drinking it will improve their sex lives, and you have Mamajuana! Rumors abound on whether it is illegal to import into the US, which just adds to the intrigue. I’m not going to lie. I was slightly concerned that it would taste like Malort (from Chicago) so I held off at first. Turns out that it is delicious. It has a spicy anise taste that is just wonderful for sipping. I highly recommend you try it if you come here for a visit.

Seattle has some of the best wine and I’ve been missing all those delicious flavors. I tried out the local wine here in Las Terrenas and it’s really, really not the same. It’s more like a sweet fruit juice than anything else. There are lots of imported wines from Chili, Spain, and France. Unfortunately, they are either expensive or not amazing. Why would they export the good stuff? With wine in mind, I’m really looking forward to my next adventures in Portugal. Oh… and port… because Portugal.

Recommended Posts

1 Comment

  1. It’s fun hearing about food availability by locations, and you making it work, or coming up with a new dishes. The bean cooking thing was interesting.
    Wishing you all the best,

Comments are closed.