SOSUA, Dominican Republic- “Where do the Dominican people get their food from here?” my wife rhetorically asked in a huff, “They are in the same stores we are but I can’t believe they are spending this much money!”
“If we had the answer to that question we would have our food strategy,” I replied while inspecting the sliced ham and cheese I had just purchased. Both parties looked a little slimy smeared up against their plastic shrink wrap.
Searching for our food strategy in the Dominican Republic
A traveler sometimes needs to turn anthropologist when figuring out how to get the cheapest and best quality food in a location where all the readily available outlets seem incredibly expensive.
Where do the people in this part of the Dominican Republic eat? What do they eat? How do they prepare it?
Different countries demand different food strategies. In some countries I only cook for myself, in some countries it is just as cheap to eat prepared street food or in restaurants as it is to cook, and some countries just appear to be plain expensive to eat in anywhere in any way.
The north coast of the Dominican Republic initially appeared to be one of the latter countries.
Sign in front of a restaurant advertising meals at $15 and $18 as though this is a good price
If I did not alter my food strategy to fit my ever changing circumstances then I would either go broke or eat like an absolute pauper. In the Dominican Republic I must proclaim that I have been skirting both of the above extremes. The hallmark of a good food strategy is that it balances good food and a good price. A good price for bad food is nearly as bad as an expensive price for good food.
Much of the food that I consumed during my first week in the Dominican Republic was both expensive and of poor quality.
“Bad food, bad carrots, it all tastes like shit,” my wife carried on.
“We are on an island,” I acknowledged.
“Well do Dominican people only eat ham!?!” she quickly retorted.
I do not believe that this is true, but this was what we subsisted off of for the first few days of our stay: sliced ham and cheese sandwiches on poor quality buns.
I needed to start voyeuring into the shopping carts and baskets of the Dominican people in the supermarket. I had to begin my investigation. I ask a long term Canadian expat about what food people eat here, I proclaimed that we were having difficulty finding food within our projected budged. He thinks I am nuts. He begins comparing the prices of the Dominican Republic to that of Canada.
The reason why I don’t often travel in Canada is because the food is too expensive — amongst other necessities. It is folly to compare prices of food when traveling to some overly expensive country on the planet.Canada is one of the most expensive countries on planet earth. To say that the price of food in a country is cheaper than Canada is to say that the water is wet: nearly every country in the world sells food cheaper than Canada.
It is about relative international cost logic. The cost of food in a country should be in proportion to the average wage of its common work force.
Average wages in the Dominican Republic for a common worker are between 3,000 and 6,000 pesos a month: $70 to $150. When viewing the cost of food through this lens, four dollars for a few pieces of fried chicken is costly, five dollars for a thing of yogurt is outrageous, and $8 for a meal in a run down looking restaurant outside of the city center is unbelievable. We have even seen a loaf of processed bread selling at $4, and my friend Andy saw a box of cereal for $10.
We needed a good food strategy.
Food strategy for the Dominican Republic
The key to our food strategy for the Dominican Republic is to only eat local foods. Anything imported to this country — an island — is going to be expensive. We are looking for locally procured, perishable foods, and staying away from anything processed, canned, boxed, or packaged.
This is what we eat
- Eggs for breakfast
- Ham and cheese, peanut butter, or tuna fish for lunch (we splurged on a $2 jar of mayonnaise to improve the taste value)
- Soup or spaghetti or vegetables and rice for dinner
- And sometimes, for any meal, the staple of the traveler: beans and rice
The evening soup was our great solution. The idea struck my wife like the flicking on of a light bulb: soups! We could make soups
A traveler can eat sandwiches vehemently, but, it is my impression, that one good meal a day is always necessary. A day without a good meal makes tomorrow a drudgery. Good food is needed to keep my feet a walking. To our aid we purchased a nice big soup pot for ten dollars in the early days of our stay. We did not intend to buy a soup pot, but it was the cheapest stainless steel pot we could find. We did not know then that it would become our saving grace:
We now make large soups at night that provide two dinners worth of food.
Cost of our food strategy in the Dominican Republic
- Eggs are moderately priced. At $1.75 a dozen, they are a little more expensive than many countries, but this is an acceptable amount to pay for the good taste and protein they provide.
- A cheap loaf of bread sells for $1. They are usually very long, and are in the shape of French bread. Though it can boast the taste qualities of its doppelganger.
- Sliced ham and cheese are well priced, at a little over $3 a pound.
- Peanut butter is an extravagance in many countries, we paid $3 for a standard sized jar.
- We picked up some tuna fish at a little over 50 cents a can.
- Rice and beans sell for the international standard: $1 for a bag of dry beans, $1 for a bag of rice.
- Vegetables are cheap.
- Fruit is acceptably priced as well.
- Good quality chicken breast go for $1.50 a pound. For a slice of one breast, the cost is around $2.
- Soup stock, oil, salt are all moderately priced.
- Spaghetti is around $1 for a portion that would last two meals for two people.
This food strategy is working well. If we combine a starch with vegetables, with meat in the soup pot we can make a meal for $4 that will last two adults for two meals. That is $1 per person per meal. Our morning and afternoon meals round out to about the same price.
Where we shop for food
We typically purchase our fruit and vegetables at a small produce shop outside of central Sosua. The fruits and vegetables here are locally grown and are sold at local prices.
This is the produce market where we purchase our produce. This place is a key part of our food strategy, as their prices are far under that of the grocery stores and supermarkets.
For all other food we go to the supermarkets. It takes clever strategy to come out of these places without loosing arms or legs. We sometimes go a nearby city, Puerto Plata, to a huge supermarket that has slightly better prices, but we mostly just go to La Playera in Sosua.
We purchase our bread and meat at a supermarket
In total, Chaya and I are eating decently in the Dominican Republic on $6 to $8 a day. This total cost for both of us to eat for an entire day is about the same price that a single person would pay for a single meal in just about any restaurant in Sosua.
Petra’s food strategy
Petra mainly subsists off of breast milk, but she eats rice cereal once a day. Her bag of cereal that we brought from the USA was quickly feasted on by the ants in our room, so we had to purchase her some porridge in the Dominican Republic. The cost of a 10 oz container is around $4, but we are having difficulty finding a cereal that does not upset her stomach. But soon Petra will be eating fruits as well. So we will continue searching for Petra’s Dominican Republic food strategy.
A good food strategy is necessary for travel. Even in countries were food sells cheap, the astute traveler knows that cheap can always be cheaper. It often takes around a week to test the parameters of the culinary offerings of a country and come up with a food strategy that is both nutritious, good tasting, and cost effective.
I cannot say that we have yet matched the Dominican eating habits in this country — our palate is still very much the creation of our home country — but we have come up with a food strategy that works, and this is all we need.
I know that there is an open air market somewhere nearby where most of the Dominicans more than likely purchase the bulk of their food. We just need to find it.
The Dominican Republic food strategy continues.
Cheap Eating — Dominican Republic Travelogue Entries
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