The Colmado in the Dominican Republic

[pullquote align=”left”]Colmado in Spanish literally means full to the brim and is the word used here in the Dominican Republic for the equivalent of a corner shop or a 7-Eleven.[/pullquote] They are everywhere, and on my street alone, there are seven or eight. Some are tiny, no more than a little shack, and some are a little larger. Sometimes, they are simply the front room of a house.  They are all stuffed full of merchandise and are open from early in the morning, between 7 and 8 a.m., to between 8 p.m. and midnight. In some places they close for lunch for a couple of hours.

Colmados are not self service and are usually staffed by the owner or members of his or her family. You ask for what you want; well, you demand it, by screaming “dame,” which means “give me.” It doesn’t matter if anyone else is being served or if anyone else is in front of you, you just shout anyway. He or she who shouts loudest is served next.

[frame align=”left”][/frame]In the colmado, you can buy almost anything you need. Many things are sold loose, such as rice, flour, beans, sugar, salt, washing powder, and things you might not expect like cornflakes, oil, vinegar, and soya sauce. You take your own container in, and the staff fills it up for you. There are always vegetables available, such as plantains, yellow bananas, yucca, green peppers, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, and celery. Chicken with feet and neck intact is usually kept in a washing bowl.  Of course, you can just buy a part of the chicken, like just its feet, as they are cheaper than the rest of the chicken.  You can also buy smoked pork chops, which for some reason come in a sort of muslin sock, and, of course, salami. Most colmados will also stock salted cod called bacalao which, due to the heavy salt, does not have to be refrigerated and is stored in a wooden box. There are several tinned goods such as carnation milk, peas, sweet corn, and, naturally, beer and rum.  Many items are also sold in tiny little packets which cost between one and ten pesos.  The packets contain coffee, olives, bleach, vinegar, shampoo, shoe polish, ketchup, and tomato paste.

A large percentage of people buy on credit and carry around a little piece of cardboard, torn from a packet, with what they owe on it. Then when they get paid on the 15th or the 30th, or the 25th for government jobs, they take their piece of cardboard to the colmado to pay it all and then are given another scrap of cardboard for the next two weeks or month.

[frame align=”right”][/frame]As well as being the main place for food, the colmado doubles as a bar at night  and all day Sunday.  The colmadois also the main social centre of the neighbourhood. There is usually a television in one corner, and the colmado fills up for baseball games and the daily soap opera programmes. Even though the television is on, it does not stop the constant blare of merengue and bachata ringing out from the 4 foot tall speakers, positioned at the entrance of the shop. At night, everyone gathers and sits on the ubiquitous plastic chairs to drink beer and rum.  If there are not enough chairs, then upturned plastic beer crates substitute.  There will often be at least one noisy game of dominoes in progress, and the customers are often accompanied by their dog or fighting cockerel who sit quietly under the table amongst all the revelry.

Whilst they are not the favourite haunt of many expats, probably due to the necessity to speak Spanish and lack of first world hygiene standards, the prices are often cheaper than supermarkets and the fruit and vegetables often fresher, as the colmado owner will buy from the local farmers on a daily basis.

Colmados are a great Dominican institution, and this expat loves them. 

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  • Fabulously accurate description of the typical colmado and really enhanced by the excellent photos which show so much of the variety of what is available.  Great to be able to buy exactly the amount of stuff you need….

    Nicely written and hope to see much more from you in the near future Lindsay.

  • Anonymous

    Wonderfully enlightening article. Wish we had something similar here, great concept.

    Thanks for this excellent piece and hope to read more soon.