Getting to the Root of It – A Guide to Dominican Tubers
It’s no exaggeration to describe tubers, root vegetables (tubérculos, raíces or víveres in Spanish) as iconic Dominican foods. If they were more photogenic they could easily claim a spot on the Dominican flag (not the edible variety) alongside the other national symbols featured there, if a vacancy were to arise.
In standard Spanish, the common name used for tubers in the DR, víveres, actually means the basic foodstuffs that are needed for survival. This gives us some idea of the importance of tubers for Dominicans. It also reminds me of the way the word for bread in Egyptian Arabic, aish, means life.
Auyama (West Indian pumpkin) and plantains — neither of which are tubers in the botanical sense but are in the same gastronomical family as víveres — and tubers are firmly intertwined with the Dominican national cultural identity.
Víveres in their own right as well as the dishes they are used in, like mangú, are among the country’s best-loved and most representative foods. A remarkable thing about tubers is that despite being a traditional poor people’s food, Dominicans of all socioeconomic classes love them, with no stigma attached whatsoever.
Setting plantains and auyama aside for the moment, let’s concentrate on tubers and what they are called in Spanish and English. We’ve touched on this before in articles about the challenges of writing about Dominican food for an English-speaking audience.