Naples; From Leaf-eaters to Pasta-eaters (Emily Mader)

First carried to Sicily by Arab merchants around the 12th century, pasta finally made its way to Naples about 300 years ago. For centuries, pasta was only consumed on special occasions by the wealthy and as a rare indulgence by the proletariat. The people of Napoli ate a diet primarily of meats and lots of vegetables, so much so that they were labeled as the mangiafoglia, the leaf-eaters. All that changed in the seventeenth century when macaroni-eating took to the streets of Naples after Spanish misrule caused an increase of poverty and hunger. Through small technological innovations such as the muller and the invention of the mechanical press, the Neapolitans were to produce pasta at greater speeds and lower costs. Pasta became the food of the people, and the Neapolitans went from mangiafoglia, leaf eaters, to mangiamaccheroni, macaroni eaters. Soon after, the whole of Italy was known as the mangiamaccheroni.

Up until the 1700s, the Neapolitans were known as the ‘mangiafoglia,’ which directly translates to leaf-eaters. Emilio Sereni writes in his essay “I napoletani da mangiafoglia a mangiamaccheroni” that ‘foglie’ in the Neapolitan dialect of that time, refers primarily to broccoli. The label of broccoli eaters was well merited as the vegetable was grown all year round in Naples to provide the city with a constant supply (Gentilcore, 33). In 1692, one of Naples poets showed appreciation for the broccoli by exclaiming: “Oh leaf so tasty! Oh leaf so sweet! You are our magnet, and our treat” (Dickie, 151). All parts of the broccoli were eaten; the leaves, stems, and flowers, and they were enjoyed by all members of society from the elite to the lazzaroni (peasants) (Gentilcore, 33). 

The Neapolitans also ate a variety of other vegetables as well. There are records that Ospedale dei Pellegrini in Naples, a charitable home called for pilgrims and the homeless, distributed a basic meal of cabbage, squash or turnip soup along with salad and fruit. In the case of religious institutions, they made a virtue of a vegetable-rich diet. Nuns will often be found eating a large quantity and variety of vegetable soups, seasoned with lardo, which is hard bacon fat. In southern Italy, the Poor Clares of Santa Chiara made 461 separate vegetable purchases during the year 1748 – 1749. The nuns of Santa Maria degli Angeli also made similar types of purchases and ate a vegetable soup almost daily—made from cauliflower, chicory, cardoons, escarole, or cabbage—as well as vegetables like squash, eggplant, broccoli rabe, artichokes, and lampaggioli (a small bitter onion) (Gentilcore, 34).

During this period, pasta was perceived as a delicacy commonly eaten by aristocrats and royalty. Ferdinand IV was well known for his passion for pasta that an Irish guest recalled: “He seized it inches fingers, twisting and pulling it about, and cramming it voraciously into his mouth, most magnanimously disdaining the use of either knife, fork, or spoon, or indeed any aid except such as nature had kindly afforded him” (Dickie, 161). Pasta was also so much of a luxury that in 1509 an ordinance was issued to forbade that making of “taralli, susamelli, ceppule, maccarune, trii vermicelli,” and other food products made with dough during times of “war, famine, or a bad season” as to not encroach on production of bread (Capatti, 56 – 57). Even in the ‘birthplace’ of pasta, Sicily, pasta was a costly product. In 1501, due to high prices, pasta was included among the basic foods subject to price control. In the middle of the sixteenth-century, macaroni and lasagne had cost three times as much as bread (Capatti, 57).

Pasta began taking a different role in the Italian diet during the course of the seventeenth century. By the mid 17th century, Naples was experiencing overcrowding due to Spanish misrule and due to corrupt annona officials. The Spaniards had implemented a tax system that further impoverished the already poor rural population, and this drew them into the city of Naples looking for food, housing, and work (Schwartz, 32). Additionally, Naples’ corrupt city magnates and nobles managed an annona, which is a system that is meant to maintain a stable supply of grain, by regulating the supply and demand, through buying and selling grains from farmers in the countryside of the Kingdom of Naples. Unfortunately, the annona officials began to hoard supplies of wheat and speculated on the rapidly rising prices, and the Spanish royal government was too weak to counter their influence (Dickie, 156 – 157). In 1763 as cartloads of grain arrived in the city of Naples, 40,000 peasants from the countryside followed to beg for food on the streets, continuing the overcrowding problem. For months, bread was impossible to find, or it was made from flour so heavily cut with ashes or grit that only the starving could bring themselves to swallow it (Dickie, 157). As hunger became more widespread in the Kingdom of Naples, the city of Naples resembled grotesquely swollen head on top of an emaciated body.

The overpopulation issue caused problems in production and the efficiency of the public market, which then caused the progressive decline of resources that had been the essential ingredients of the popular diet—meat and vegetables (Montanari, 11). In the late 17th century, the price of meat and vegetables increased while the price of wheat fell. This prompted a change in the diet of Neapolitans, with a big shift to carbohydrates. Poor Neapolitans who used to rely on meat and vegetables have now begun to turn to pasta: affordable, filling, and caloric. (Winke, “Mangiamaccheroni: A Surprising Neapolitan Street-Food Tradition”)

Pasta, in particular, grew in popularity due to the fact that, Naples, a rugged city on the Mediterranean coast, like Sicily and the rest of the Campania, was ideal for growing durum wheat due to the climate and soil. The alternating gentle ocean breezes and hot winds from Mount Vesuvius ensured that the pasta would not dry too slowly and risk becoming moldy, or so fast that it would crack or break (Shelke, 23 – 24). Additionally, due to the high demand of crops from the city of Naples, grain turned out to be the most economically rational crop (Dickie, 151). The number of pasta stores in Naples more than quadrupled between 1700 and 1785 as a tribute to the increasing popularity of pasta (Shelke, 24).

Perhaps even more important was the small technological revolution that brought about greater availability of the muller, and technological improvements in manufacture: in the early 1600s, the city witnessed the arrival of the first screw presses for squeezinguni dough through perforated plates to make macaroni, the invention of the mechanical press. This technology has made it possible to produce macaroni and other types of pasta at a considerably lower cost than in the past. For this reason, pasta has become increasingly important in the diet of the city’s poorer classes and encouraged its promotion as a “basic” food (Capatti, 57). If pasta was deemed as one of the many luxury foods up until this stage, it has now, for the first time, become a food of the people, the main meal in the life of the Lazzaroni. From the seventeenth century onwards, the Neapolitans acquired the nickname of “macaroni-eaters,” taking it from the Sicilians, who first embraced the Arab model of dried noodles in the Middle Ages (Montanari, 12). Pasta became cheaper and more abundant, offering a neat solution to Naples’ food shortage.

As pasta became more readily accessible to the city’s poor and became a working-class staple, it began to be served and prepared like most food in Naples: in the open-air and from street market stalls. When Goethe visited the city in 1789, he observed that “macaroni of all kinds … are found everywhere at a low price” (Winner, “Al Dente”). By 1785, Naples had 280 pasta shops, and the city seemed to be laced with pasta hanging over balconies and from frames on the street to dry (Winner, “Al Dente”). Following the drying, the noodles were then boiled in a large cauldron set over an open fire in tiny market stalls. The noodles were flavored with a dab of pork grease, a handful of salt to taste, and hard cheese grated over the top (Winke, “Mangiamaccheroni: A Surprising Neapolitan Street-Food Tradition”). While it may sound picturesque, many aristocrats on the Grand Tour (a coming to age trip of Europe made by young, wealthy, European men), viewed the preparing pasta outdoors to be filthy and unsanitary (Dickie, 145-149).

The Grand Tourists were, on the other hand, very amused by the fact that the urban poor ate their street food, like any proper street food, with their bare hands. Andrea de Jorio, a Neapolitan clergyman and ethnographer, explained in his 1832 ‘La mimica degli antichi investigata nel gestire napoletano’ that to eat macaroni “the Neapolitan way” requires the noodles to be picked up in one fistful, lowered into one’s mouth and “swallowed down in a single, uninterrupted mouthful.” De Jorio further reveals that the macaroni should be eaten “with both hands in such a way that there is no interval between successive mouthfuls, except what is necessary to allow the macaroni to reach the oesophagus.” This method of eating pasta became so famous that watching the lazzaroni eat pasta with their bare hands became a popular Grand Tourist attraction by the 1800s. It also was a spectacle that was largely depicted in paintings, prints, and postcards (Winke, “Mangiamaccheroni: A Surprising Neapolitan Street-Food Tradition”). 

During the Grand Tours, many tourists arranged shows of the lazzaroni’s pasta eating for entertainment. Tossing a coin or two at the lazzaroni, the street beggars, would create a rush to the nearest maccheroni stand to consume the macaroni in their distinctive way. One night while riding through a market, John Lawson Stoddard, an American visitor to Naples, wrote that he had stopped to purchase 20 plates of macaroni in order to watch the Lazzaroni eat them. “The instant that one wretched man received a plate a dozen others jumped for it; [they] grabbed handfuls of the steaming mass, and thrust the almost scalding mixture down their throats,” he wrote. “I had expected to be amused, but this mad eagerness for common food denoted actual hunger.” The spectacle, as Stoddard discovered, was a poignant testimony to the poverty that has impacted Naples’ working-class families for generations (Braun “Eating Spaghetti by the Fistful Was Once a Neapolitan Street Spectacle”).

Despite the displays of poverty throughout Napoli, pasta the food item that helped the Neapolitans survive through periods of famine. According to “Pasta: the Story of a Universal Food,” a report from 1758 reveals that the volume of raw macaroni material consumed in Naples at that time was roughly 1,132 tons, which would yield roughly the same weight of dry pasta. It is estimated that this to amount to no more than about thirty-one pounds per person per year—that is, only a little more than the average per capita consumption in Italy today. When adding the context of the poverty of that time, the figure is remarkably high (Serventi, 123 – 124). Even when famine and plague hit in the late eighteenth century, Neapolitans didn’t die in large numbers as others did elsewhere (Winner, “Al Dente”). Pasta had saved the city.

Soon, with the unification of Italy in 1860, the label of “macaroni-eaters” had acquired a broader meaning, representative not only of Neapolitans but of Italians in general. In the 1930s, in an attempt to make the country more self-sufficient, Mussolini initiated the growing of durum wheat in central and northern Italy. Factories in the north of Italy began making pasta, and electric drying tunnels replaced sea and volcanic breezes. Naples became less essential in the production of pasta, and today the province of Campania is the country’s sixth-largest pasta producer (Kummer, “Pasta”). Now, all across Italy, Italians enjoy a more unified cuisine of pasta. Additionally, outside Italy, the stereotype of the macaroni eater was already perceived as part of the Italian character in the broadest sense. With the emigration of Italians in the nineteenth century, the consumption of pasta was seen as a distinctive element of the Italian “difference” (Montanari, 11).

Many nineteenth-century Italian poets have since gone on to show their appreciation for pasta in many of their musical compositions. Mela’s Don Matteo from Verona sings:

“Oh dearest, dear maccheroni, exquisite victual, beloved food, our bellies are prepared to celebrate you!… Now they are ready and how thick they are! I will surely swell the sweet Reginella!” (Parzen, 81).

In Bologna, Maritini writes,

“How delicious are maccheroni! O you who hear, o you who eat…” (Parzen, 82)

Finally, in an anonymous poem published in Milan:

“One cannot reach any higher nor can one hope for anything greater than the great consolation of eating maccheroni… Neapolitans, Genovese, Sicilians and Milanese and every other nationality. Everyone loves maccheroni” (Parzen, 82).

All these poems and lyrics represent the culture of pasta, where the first traces of a truly national identity begin to arise in the life of Risorgimento Italy.

Through Spanish misrule and through corrupt annona officials, famine and poverty were brought to the city of Naples, where meat and vegetables, the Neapolitan’s predominant diet was no longer readily available. Fortunately, through the innovation of the mechanical press, Naples became a producer of affordable pasta, and its people were able to power through moments of economic turmoil that risk famine and hunger. The people of Naples soon retired its label of the leaf-eaters to now obtain the label of macaroni-eaters with a characteristic way of eating pasta by the fistful. However, soon enough, ‘macaroni-eaters’ becomes an Italian identity. The rest of Italy may not have much in common with the Neapolitans. They differ in language, traditions, wines, and gastronomy, except for on aspect which all Italians culinarily embrace: pasta.

Sopa de Fideo (Emily Mader) – Journal 4

When Mama Rosa made her sopa de fideo,
She would brush oregano onto three meats.
She would cook the meats in oil.
Yuca, potatoes, carrots, and pumpkin are cut and peeled,
Then she would drop the meats and vegetables into water.
When the water bubbles and the vegetables soften,
She drops dried noodles into the water
In short strings
No longer than a finger in length.

With a bowl of soup filled to the brim,
We would gulp it down all at once,
After two bowls in a row,
Mama Rosa would sink into her chair and her mouth would widen into a smile.

What piece did you choose to imitate? Why did you choose this piece?

I chose to imitate “Noodles in Broth” by Hong Junju.

I chose this piece because it depicted the chef Cui’s cooking as peaceful and almost therapeutic, which is contrasted to my own experience of cooking where everything feels chaotic, complicated, and stressful.

The poem is written very simply, each line is very short, and to the point. The simplicity of the poem makes the reader feel as though chef Cui’s cooking is very easy, and the process is smooth. From one line to the next, the cooking process flows with no complications, and within a few sentences, the cooking is done. Additionally, there were specific lines in the poem that stood out to me which evoked a sense of calm; “with a light feather he would brush the flour” and “in long strings, white like autumn silk”. These lines evoke an image of the noodle being created through gentle strokes of care, and the final result brings about something soft and smooth. The peaceful energy didn’t end through the creation of the food, but was also present upon eating the food where “a smile would come to the lips, the body would relax.”

For someone like me, who feels like cooking takes forever, and frequently finds myself making mistakes and getting stressed out, I wanted to dive into the experience of pleasurable cooking by using Hong Junju’s poem as a base and using my grandmother as the chef in the poem.

What did you learn about the culture of the original author through imitating his or her style?

A lot of the poem focusses on the process of making the noodle rather than the taste of the noodle, which seems to illustrate the idea of developing mastery and self-cultivation. This idea can also be seen in Zhuangzi’s story “The Secret of Caring for Life”, where Ding works as a butcher with great pride and pleasure. Ding develops a mastery at chopping meat. His self-cultivation in the field of butchering also allows him to become more skillful at harmonizing with the Dao.

Eating with a community is also something that is implied in the poem with the line “we would gulp them [the soup] down all at once”. As mentioned in Lia Junru’s “Chinese Food” reading, enjoying food with others is characteristic of how the Chinese eat, due to the Chinese cultural values on blood relationships and kinship. These values are inspired by Confucian philosophy where humans are viewed as social beings, therefore human interaction must be a part of life. In Confucian philosophy, filial piety is also very important which strengthens the connection between blood relatives.

Finally, one of my favorite lines in the poem “After two bowls in a row, A smile would come to the lips, the body would relax”, could be interpreted in various ways. If the smile and relaxation are coming from the eaters, the lines could be interpreted to be connected to the Chinese belief of food equalling health. If the smile and relaxation is coming from the chef, then the lines could be interpreted as an example of how food can be a language of love.

What did you learn about the culture of the original author through imitating his or her style?

A lot of the poem focusses on the process of making the noodle rather than the taste of the noodle, which seems to illustrate the idea of developing mastery and self-cultivation. This idea can also be seen in Zhuangzi’s story “The Secret of Caring for Life”, where Ding works as a butcher with great pride and pleasure. Ding develops a mastery at chopping meat. His self-cultivation in the field of butchering also allows him to become more skillful at harmonizing with the Dao.

Eating with a community is also something that is implied in the poem with the line “we would gulp them [the soup] down all at once”. As mentioned in Lia Junru’s “Chinese Food” reading, enjoying food with others is characteristic of how the Chinese eat, due to the Chinese cultural values on blood relationships and kinship. These values are inspired by Confucian philosophy where humans are viewed as social beings, therefore human interaction must be a part of life. In Confucian philosophy, filial piety is also very important which strengthens the connection between blood relatives.

Finally, one of my favorite lines in the poem “After two bowls in a row, A smile would come to the lips, the body would relax”, could be interpreted in various ways. If the smile and relaxation are coming from the eaters, the lines could be interpreted to be connected to the Chinese belief of food equalling medicine, where noodles, in this case, can bring about a sense of relaxation. As Lin Yutang states in “Food and Medicine”, food can nourish us and strengthen the flow of vital energy which can bring about many benefits, one of them could be relaxation. If the smile and relaxation is coming from the chef, then the lines could be interpreted as an example of how food can be a language of love.

What did you learn about your own culture while writing?

While writing my poem, I found it difficult to find a dish that incorporated noodles. The only dish that I could think of was my grandmother’s noodle soup, which in Spanish is called sopa de fideo. One thing that I quickly noticed about this dish was that it was almost identical to a traditional Dominican dish called Sancocho, both using the same key ingredients and the same key steps. The only difference between the two dishes is that the broth is Sanchoco is thicker due to the plantains and yautia (a root vegetable). These two vegetables are not carried in the noodle soup dish. Additionally, the noodle soup carries the obvious additional ingredient, noodles!

In my poem, I also make mention of eating together as a family, with the lines “with a bowl of soup filled to the brim, we would gulp it down all at once”. It is very common in my family and other Dominican families to eat together at the dining table. Everyone waits until all family members have arrived home and are seated before starting their course. Additionally, as lunch in the largest meal of the day, it is very common to find yourself filling your plate and eating a very large quantity of food. All of my family members, with the help of my grandmother pressuring us to eat more, will be completely full after our meal. This is why I included the line “with a bowl of soup filled to the brim”.

I ended my poem with my grandmother feeling happy, relaxed and satisfied with feeding her family the food she has cooked for them. This is something that I feel is characteristic of my grandmother. I can’t imagine her not in the kitchen or worrying about if others have eaten. Food is definitely her language of love and the way she shows that she cares. She enjoys being in the kitchen and cooking for her loved ones. I feel that I can say the same for many of the grandmothers in other Dominican families.

Is there cultural DNA embedded in the piece you read and in your piece? How does this DNA manifest in the texts?

Many cultures share similar values and traditions, such as the value of family or the tradition of eating together, however, there are certain features in Hong Junju’s poem that depict Chinese culture specifically. One of these features being the food item, the noodle soup, which was very popular in the 3rd century when this poem was written. In the 3rd century, noodles were made by kneading wheat flour, which is shown in the poem with the lines “he kneaded the dough to the right consistency” and that the flour was “made of wheat of the fifth month”. The noodle is then cooked in water and added to a soup called mian pian. Additionally, the noodles in this poem are “long strings”, which can represent longevity, as known from the life long noodle story.

Another feature that shows Chinese cultural DNA in the poem, is the imagery of silk that is used to describe noodles. In the poem, noodles are described as “white like autumn silk” and “as fine as the first of the cocoons of the shu”. China is famous for silk, and silk is believed to have been the first to cultivate silk, a luxury item that became widely traded with other nations.

In my piece, I intended to incorporate my cultural DNA through ingredients that are native to, and commonly eaten in the Caribbean, like yuca, a root vegetable. In my poem, I also make mention of short noodles, which in contrast to China’s life long noodles, the length does not hold a symbolic significance. The short length of the noodle is due to convenience: shorter noodles cook faster. Additionally, in my poem I imply being full of food with the line: “with a bowl of soup filled to the brim”. This idea of being full may be a common experience in the Americas. This line is in contrast to Hong Junju’s line of “in a half bowl of soup”, where in China, according to Lin Yutang, being too full is believed to hurt the flow of vital energy and the lungs.

My Grandmother’s Simple Kitchen Table (Emily Mader)

My first name is Emily, and my middle name is Rose. I am named after my grandmother (on my mother’s side) whose first two names are Rosa Emilia. I am currently staying at her house in the Dominican Republic this summer. Despite sharing my name with my grandmother, I do not share her love for cooking. I’ve been greatly discouraged by the fact that no matter how hard I try and no matter how much seasoning I put, the results are always tasteless and bland. My grandmother, on the other hand, always has the magic touch that I seem to lack.

I have chosen to study my grandmother’s kitchen table as a chance to learn from my grandmother’s cooking, and also enable me to spend time with her. What interests me about my grandmother’s kitchen table is that its a piece of furniture that I’ve never paid much attention to. There’s nothing particularly striking about the table at first glance; it’s a small, simple steal table covered by a yellow table cloth and a clear plastic table cover. The table is also located in my grandmother’s closed off kitchen, whose access that is limited by a door from the dining room and a door to the ‘back yard,’ making the kitchen ill frequented by me and most members of the family. Most of the family gatherings and luncheons take place in the dining room with a large wooden table that can host up to six people. Despite the kitchen table being simple in design and not frequently visited compared to the dining table, the kitchen table is where the food gets made.

To study the kitchen table, the anthropological methods used will primarily be participant-observation and a little bit of interview. Participant-observation allows me to observe how the kitchen table is before, after and during meal preparation. I would be involved with preparing ingredients and cleaning up afterward. Being involved in the process will help me better understand how exactly the table is used. Interviewing enables me to gain more information that I otherwise wouldn’t get through just observing/participating in the meal prep process. For example, I can glean more into why certain objects are on the table and other situations in which the table is used that I might’ve not seen on the day I’m studying the table.

After observing my grandmother’s kitchen table a little more closely, I noticed that it was very simply decorated with a single red rose placed in a clear plastic cup and whose stem was cut close to the bulb. I had asked her where it came from and she told me that the family gifts her roses whenever possible, as a token to her name Rosa. This particular rose came from someone’s garden, and that is why it was unusually short and could only fit in a small plastic cup. My grandmother doesn’t mind the rose’s appearance but appreciates the gesture more. Usually, the kitchen table is decorated with more roses in a larger vase. The table also has a bowl with random but useful objects; my grandmother’s glasses, tape, a supermarket card, a small wrench, and a candle. I asked my grandmother why she placed all these objects in the bowl and why the items needed to be kept in the kitchen. She answered that the bowl is meant to be a fruit bowl, but instead became a placement for useful items, allowing for easy access since she is often in the kitchen.

Before and after meal preparation, the kitchen table is barely used and barely given any attention.   No one gathers around the kitchen table to have a conversation, no one does work on the kitchen table nor plays card games. All that activity is reserved for the dining table. The kitchen and the kitchen table only comes alive when my grandmother comes in and starts cooking. My grandmother starts taking out ingredients from the fridge and places them on the kitchen table. My grandmother gets out the knives and begins to cut the ingredients. The kitchen table is where all the slicing and dicing happens. My grandmother also uses the kitchen table to season her dishes, and to mix, mash and layer ingredients. Once the food is ready to be cooked, the food gets transported to the stove and onto the pan. The kitchen table then becomes an occasional resting place for my grandmother to take a break as she waits for the food to cook. She is seated patiently, observing for the moment to continue to stir the ingredients in the pan. During this time, she may also spark conversation with a family member who enters the home from the back door. After the meal is fully prepared, the kitchen table gets used as a placeholder for the dishes as they get transported to the dining table, where everyone gets together to eat.

My conclusion on grandmother’s kitchen table is her little place. An area for her to decorate with roses, in any size, shape or condition. It also serves as a mini toolbox for her to easily grab items that are important to her or that may be needed in the future. Most importantly, the kitchen table’s function is to be a place where my grandmother prepares all her food to serve to the family.

Emily Mader: Journal 1 – ‘La Bandera Dominicana’

    Today I landed in the Dominican Republic just in time for lunch. When I arrived at my grandmother’s house, I was greeted with steaming rice, a stew of pigeon peas, chicken, ripe plantains, and avocado on a large dining table. The combination of rice, beans, and meat, along with other sides, is a dish called ‘La Bandera Dominicana’ which translates to ‘The Dominican Flag.’ The dish is a staple to the Dominican diet and is almost always present at the lunch table. I feasted on the food together with my grandmother, cousins, aunts, and uncles. From an outsiders perspective, it may seem that my extended family reunited today at lunchtime to greet me upon arrival, but the truth is that my extended family comes together daily at my grandmother’s house to enjoy her cooking of ‘La Bandera’ and share news of what is going on in their lives. Even if my aunts and uncles are at work, they will often find time to come to my grandmother’s house to eat as a family. We typically eat and talk at the dining table for about an hour, and after completing the meal, some family members choose to stay longer to continue conversing. Today is the first of many shared family lunches I will have this summer.

Me and my family eating at a restaurant several years ago.

    Although ‘La Bandera’ isn’t the Dominican Republic’s most unique and complex dish, it remains close to my heart because it is present in all of my memories of eating lunch with my Dominican family. It is also a dish that I take with me wherever I go. In Atlanta, I eat ‘La Bandera’ almost every day for lunch, to the point where I’ve gotten questioned from friends if I ever get tired of eating rice and beans (I do not, rice and beans are ingrained in me). Although I can eat rice and beans wherever I am, one thing that I particularly love about eating ‘La Bandera’ in the Dominican Republic is that either the meats such as beef and pork, or the beans, are often stewed. The beans, in particular, are stewed with a creamy consistency. The stewed items are used to wet the rice, which is typically very dry and grainy. Oftentimes, Dominicans let the rice slightly burn on the bottom of the pan, creating a thin coat of dry and crispy rice called Concon. I personally don’t enjoy eating Concon, but everyone else in my family loves it.

Image result for la bandera dominicana food

Image from:

    ‘La Bandera Dominicana’ is said to be called that way because it represents the Dominican flag. The Dominican flag has three colors, red, white, and blue. The rice represents the white of the flag, the beans represent the red, and the meat represents the third color. Rice is not native to the island of Hispaniola but was introduced through Spanish settlers who had gotten it from Asia. Pigeon peas and red kidney beans are both popular choices for La Bandera. Pigeon peas are said to have originated in India and have been brought over to the New World via the slave trade. On the other hand, red kidney beans are believed to be native to the Caribbean. These foods have become widely cultivated, and thus became part of the daily lunch staple dish. In the Dominican Republic, lunch is the most important and largest meal of the day, an eating custom that is primarily influenced by Spanish settlers on the island of Hispaniola. Traditionally in Spain, Spaniards take a two to three-hour break from work or school to fuel themselves with a large meal.


Arroz Blanco (White Rice):


  • 5 tablespoons of vegetable oil (soy, peanut or corn)
  • 1¼ teaspoon of salt
  • 6 cups water
  • 4 cups of rice


  1. Heat up half the oil over medium heat and all the salt in a 1.5 qrt (approx) cast iron or aluminum pot (Amazon affiliate link).
  2. Add the water, being careful with splatters.
  3. Rinse the rice in running water, drain well (optional, I don’t do it).
  4. Bring to a boil and then add the rice, stirring regularly to avoid excessive sticking.
  5. When all the water has evaporated cover with a tight fitting lid and simmer over very low heat.
  6. Wait 15 minutes and remove lid, add the remaining oil, stir and cover again.
  7. In 5 minutes uncover and taste, the rice should be firm but tender inside.
  8. If necessary, cover and simmer for another 5 minutes over very low heat.

Habichuelas Guisadas (Stewed Beans):


  • 2 cups of dry pinto , cranberry, or red kidney beans
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 pinch of oregano
  • 1 bell pepper , chopped
  • 1 small red onion cut into four quarters
  • 2 cloves of garlic , crushed
  • 1 cup of diced auyama (West Indies pumpkin)
  • 1 cup of tomato sauce
  • Leaves from a celery stalk , chopped (optional)
  • 4 sprigs of thyme (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon of chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (or more, to taste)


  1. Soak the beans overnight.
  2. Remove the beans from the soaking water and boil in fresh water until they are very soft (may take up to an hour, or about 20 minutes in a pressure cooker.
  3. Separate the beans from the boiling water. Reserve both.
  4. In a pot heat the oil over medium heat.
  5. Add oregano, bell pepper, onion, garlic, auyama, tomato sauce, celery, thyme and cilantro. Cook and stir for half a minute.
  6. Add the beans and simmer for two minutes.
  7. Add 6 cups of the water in which the beans boiled (complete with fresh water if necessary).
  8. Lightly mashed the beans with a potato masher to break them out of the skin.
  9. Cook until it reaches a creamy consistency.
  10. Season with salt to taste.

Pollo Guisado (Stewed Chicken):


  • 2 lbs of chicken cut into small pieces
  • 2 limes cut into halves
  • A pinch of oregano
  • 1 small red onion chopped into fine strips or eighths
  • ½ cup of chopped celery (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (more may be necessary)
  • ½ teaspoon of mashed garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of oil (corn, canola or peanut)
  • 1 teaspoon of regular white sugar
  • 2 cups of water
  • 4 plum tomatoes cut into quarters
  • 2 green bell or cubanela (cubanelle) peppers
  • ¼ cup of seedless olives cut into halves (optional)
  • 1 cup of tomato sauce
  • A small bunch of fresh coriander leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon of pepper


  1. Cut the chicken into small pieces. Scrub with the lime, getting lime juice into all the crevices.
  2. In a bowl mix the chicken, oregano, onion, celery, salt and garlic. Marinate for 30 minutes.
  3. In a pot heat the oil over medium heat, add sugar and wait until it browns.
  4. Add the chicken (reserve all the other things in the marinade) and sauté until the meat is light brown.
  5. Add 2 tablespoons of water. Cover and simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring and adding water by the tablespoon as it becomes necessary.
  6. Add onion, celery, tomatoes, cubanelle pepper, olives, and garlic, cover and and simmer until the vegetables are cooked through, adding water by the tablespoon and stirring as it becomes necessary.
  7. Add the tomato sauce and half a cup of water, simmer over low heat to produce a light sauce. Add fresh cilantro. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Recipe from: