Kristine M. Kierzek
When Ignacio Frias cooks, his Dominican roots are a part of every recipe. When he was growing up in the rural area of Miches, about two hours from Punta Cana, his father taught him to cook with wood fires. Everything begins with sazón, the seasoning staple that is the backbone of cooking in Latin American and Caribbean regions.
Showcasing that flavor foundation, Frias and his wife, Jessica Gonzalez, opened their food truck in 2019 and named it El Sazón Dominicano.
The couple have slowly grown the family business, and you’ll often find their four daughters — ages 17 to 12 — working alongside them. Expanding from their base on the south side, they’re now regularly in West Allis, Menomonee Falls and West Bend. This month, they were also part of Milwaukee 414 Day at American Family Field. Look for location and scheduling updates on Facebook and Instagram.
Food truck is their full-time
Jessica: We began the food truck in November 2019, but only for a couple days because it was winter. We were both still employed. Then in 2020, that’s when in April we started heading out and doing events. It is now our full-time employment.
Ignacio: It is scary and stressful,
Jessica: Yet somehow we are still here.
Fans fuel food dreams
Ignacio: We started on the south side, and we started like everyone who cooks from home and then sells.
Jessica: His job cut down his hours, and we needed to replace that. He had the idea. I turned it down at first, of course …
ignacio: Then people who had tasted our food would tell us to keep cooking.
Jessica: They would tell us to keep moving forward. Now we have customers all over, and we bring the food truck to West Allis, Menomonee Falls and West Bend this year.
What defines Dominican cooking
Ignacio: The sazon, the seasoning and flavor. Then the mango, rice and habichuelas (beans). We’re known for “la bandera” with the rice, carne guisada (beef) and beans.
Finding his flavors
Ignacio: I can find everything here. It is not the same as going outside and picking it fresh, but it is all available here. I do make my own sofrito. It has cilantro, red and green peppers, garlic, salt and onion.
Fusing their foods
Ignacio: The Dominican nachos, that’s a creation we invented together. They’re popular.
Jessica: It is a fusion of Mexican and Dominican, like us. It just seemed appropriate to try a fusion. I don’t think it exists anywhere else. You either have the tortilla or the plantain, but you don’t have them mixed together. We’re going to try to do a couple more fusion plates in the future.
A perfect pairing
Jessica: My parents are both from Mexico City. I was born in Chicago. My cooking is more from Mexico City, the quesadillas, tortas, tacos.
Ignacio: The chimichangas!
Jessica: His cooking is extraordinary. My parents are so into their (Mexican) culture, but when they tasted his food it was different. They just loved his food. All of my family does.
Ignacio: My father taught me to cook. He used to cook over wood fires (in the Dominican Republic). I still love that.
Jessica: The food truck, it was all him.
Ignacio: I like to cook, and this is for my family. Maybe we can teach others about some of the foods from the Caribbean as well. I lived in Puerto Rico for a few years, too, in San Juan. It’s all good.
Ignacio: Here in Milwaukee, people are willing to taste something different.
jessica: There are also people familiar with the Dominican food, because a lot of people travel to places like Punta Cana. I think the response we’ve gotten has been great.
ignacio: We started with the small trailer, because that’s what we could afford.
Jessica: Milwaukee Rag was one of the people who helped paint the trailer.
Most popular menu item
Ignacio: Arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), Dominican nachos, empanadas …
Jessica: He’s listing the whole menu!
The Dominican difference
Ignacio: Dominican empanadas highlight the meat.
Jessica: The Dominican style is a little different than what you see other places, it is just the seasoned meat or chicken with nothing else in there. I loved empanadas before we’d make our own. I’d go try them everywhere. Now I have people coming up and asking, what is in your empanadas? So it is not only me that notices the difference.
Ignacio: I’ve had to adjust the season a little here. In the Dominican Republic the ingredients are always freshly picked. I could just go outside and pick the cilantro and cook with it right away. Here it is different. I can’t always do that. Though we do grow some things at home.
Favorite food from home
Ignacio: Sancocho (a meat stew). But it is not on the menu. It is a lot of work, several days.
don’t skip dessert
Jessica: My sister helps us with the desserts. We have cookies, cheesecakes and other treats depending on the event. We can do things by order.
Ignacio: My mom always brings the coconut candies from the Dominican Republic when she comes here. I like those.
Ignacio: To help people taste different foods, and to possibly educate people about what kind of food is Dominican food versus Jamaican food, Puerto Rican, Honduran, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran … they are all from the same roots, Caribbean and Latin, but all slightly different.
Jessica: A couple weeks ago we went to a small Colombian food truck. I tried an arepa, which I’d never tried. It looked very different than the ones I’d had at Anytime Arepa.
Ignacio: They are Venezuelan (at Anytime Arepa), and there are just little differences …
Jessica: It is learning about these things through food.
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