Thanks to a perfect mix of geography and climate, the farmers’ fields of the Dominican Republic spillover year-round with an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Small fishing boats bob in the surrounding waters, pulling in fresh catch to supply local restaurants. Fresh ingredients rein here, so be adventuresome. Venture out from the standard resort fare and discover a Dominican culinary tradition where Caribbean flavours mingle with distinct Latino influences.

Foodies often get their bearings at the local markets. It’s a wonderful way to discover everything from the spices to the staples that make the local cuisine tick. A market visit uncovers the culinary heartbeat of the Dominican Republic – it’s where farmers proudly display plantains, cassava, pineapple, papayas, mangoes, guavas, bananas, melons and an abundance of sealife. A jar of local hot sauce, a bag of coffee beans or a bottle of pure vanilla essence makes a wonderful gift to bring back home.

The irresistible scents wafting from a streetside stall or a small local eatery speak to the power of food. Stews are popular at mealtime – the chefs often rely on what ingredients are available at the local market on any given day. The national dish is called sancocho, a thick, slowly-simmered stew traditionally made with seven meats, cassava, yams, potatoes and plantains, seasoned with oregano and garlic.

The roots of Spanish cuisine (known as criollo cooking) have brought other “must taste” local dishes onto restaurant menus – most consist of meat (chicken and pork are popular) with side dishes of vegetables and rice and beans. Look for la bandera dominicana, a tasty platter of chicken, rice and beans (a kitchen staple) served with a side of plantains.

Learn to snack like the locals. Plantains are fried into crispy chips and are irresistible with a frosty bottle of beer (the Presidente brew is a source of national pride). Both plantain and its kissin’ cousin, the banana, were brought from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean by Spanish explorers, and they’ve become dietary staples in snacks, cooked side dishes and sweet desserts. Street vendors sell everything from warm, deep-fried Johnnycakes (known locally as yaniqueques) to a refreshing, healthy drink of coconut water. They’ll use a machete to chop off the top of the nut while you wait – it doesn’t get much fresher than that!

Filling your glass with a taste of the island is never a problem. Fresh fruits are sold at most roadside stands – mangoes, passion fruit, pineapple, grapefruit and guava for starters, but make sure to try the local milkshake, batida de lechosa, made with sweet papaya.

The history of the Dominican Republic is intertwined with the rise and fall of the fortune of the sugarcane trade. Whether dark, amber or white, island rum (made from fermented sugarcane) is definitely the beverage of the Caribbean. The three large Dominican distilleries are Brugal, Bermúdez and Barceló – and you’ll be inviting a spirited debate if you ask locals to recommend their favourite. Try a taste of each – you’ll find they’re served in every watering hole, upscale hotel restaurant and resort beachside bar.