Haitian food is one of the underrepresented culinary cuisine that we hope to bring to the forefront. Contrary to popular perceptions, Haitian food is not spicy in terms of heat, but it is full of palate friendly flavors that we are sure you’ll enjoy.
Not to say that peppers aren’t included, but there is a trick to extrapolate the flavors from the peppers without extracting the heat (don’t break it).
Haitian Cuisine: Culinary History
What makes Haitian cuisine unique? Well, to better understand it, you must know part of the culinary history. One of the several islands in the Caribbean inhabited by the Taino people, who cured and preserve meat via a method that we today call Barbecue.
When the Spanish conquistadors fumbled on the island in 1492, they witnessed this preservation method that they initially called barbacoa.
The island that we now refer to as Haiti is the actual origination of barbecue where this style of preservation and cooking was first discovered by the Europeans.
Barbecue was eventually introduced to American cuisine three centuries later in the late 1800s during the cattle boom.
Haitian cuisine still remains true to pre-colonialism cuisine and its West African roots while adopting some European flavors.
And of course, with Arab migration to Haiti, we have also adopted some middle eastern influence. As a previous Spain and French colony, Haiti married its culinary roots along with other migrated ethnicities to the island to bring you an amazing culinary experience.
Continued influence of Haitian cuisine and culture can easily be seen throughout the United States, but mainly focusing on Louisiana.
Henri Christophe who later became the first Haitian King in the North was one of over five hundred free Haitian slaves who helped America fight for its independence.
They were known as the Chasseurs Volontaires, meaning volunteered, who came to America to help in the revolutionary war.
Many of these slaves migrated to the South after the war, and today we are seeing the influence of their migration in Louisiana Creole cuisine and culture.
The introduction of red beans and rice, chayote (militon), cooked millet (piti mi) are all Haitian foods integrated in now creole cuisine in the South.
One thing that is true of Haitian cuisine is the cleanliness of the food preparation. Meats, such as chicken, like this poulet en sauce, and others are prepared meticulously to ensure that bacteria do not develop during preparation.
Keep in mind that Haiti is a tropical country with average temperatures ranging between 85-95 degrees.
Even with scarce refrigeration due to limited electricity, we still remained true to our ancestral roots in regard to meat preservation.
We continued to maintain similar methods used by the Taino people, pre-colonialism.
Today we also clean meats with some form of acidity such as lemons, limes, sour oranges, and or vinegar. The saying is, you should be able to eat it after cleaning it.
Preparing Haitian food can be a long tedious process, but honestly it does not have to be.
On our site, we are showing some effective ways to not only reduce the time spent in the preparation of the food, but increasing the time enjoying it.
We have altered some of the cooking process without sacrificing flavor in order to bring you more modernized and healthy dishes.
Similarities & Differences
The world categorizes Haitian cuisine with the rest of the Caribbean cuisine. Though we do share some similarities, rice and beans, goat stew, stew chicken (poulet en sauce), and so forth.
Haitian foods do however have unique and distinctive bold flavors. We may share stew chicken with the rest of the Caribbean, but the flavors are not the same by any means. Our foods have an extensive herb mixture and peppers.
Rice can be cooked a variety of ways from rice and beans (diri kolé ak pwa), which can be black beans, red kidney beans, or a variety of peas.
Plain white rice may accompany a variety of beans puree called sos pwa. Sos pwa should neither be watery or overly thick, just a perfect blend and full bodied to top over rice and at times can be eaten with bread.
A variety of meats can accompany any dish, from goat, beef, and or chicken prepared in a variety of ways. Meats are often marinated and boiled for tenderizing and cooked to perfection.
Another notable dish in Haitian food is légumes.
A full-bodied vegetable stew made of mashed cabbage, militon (chayote), spinach, and eggplant flavored with the popular Haitian epis.
Legumes are serves with any form of starch to include, boiled plantains, sweet potatoes (not to be confused with your typical sweet potato(batata)), rice, polenta (Mais Moulin), etc.
Our West African roots remain strong in our cuisine. For instance, tomtom, a regional dish from the South of Haiti (Jeremie) made with steamed lam véritab (breadfruit) derived from West African fufu.
Tomtom is eaten by mixing the substance with a meat sauce and swallowing it without chewing. This was the every day slave meals during colonialism. An extremely popular and regional dish to the North from Cap-Haitien is chicken with cashew nuts (poule ak nwa).
The last time AJ had this dish was actually in Cap-Haitien and he can personally attest the best flavor of this dish remains in the North.
West African Visit
During AJ’s stay in West African, he was able to further understand the ancestral tie of our cuisine.
The area where he was, goat was not a common dish, but one night, he was lucky to stumble on it as they were preparing it on the street, barbacoa style. As he tried it, the flavors vividly reminded him of Haiti. Being thousand of miles away felt extremely close to home.
The difference was only in the tenderness as we typically boil our meats in order to tenderize it. Another close to home experience was his introduction to fufu.
Though we are not well versed in tomtom, since AJ have only eaten it once, and Mirlene a couple times, but the texture from the West African fufu did revive AJ’s tomtom experience in Haiti.
Shito another common dish in West Africa made of spices, tomato paste and dried fish is commonly eaten in Haiti with starchy vegetables. A minor difference from its ancestral roots is in thickness of the sauce.
Other Notable Dishes
Haitian spaghetti, a hearty meal, mainly served for breakfast, can be made with herring, hot dog, cod fish, or simply with spices.
Depending on the type of meat or seafood used, the flavor changes. You can eat multiple variation of spaghettis on the same day and still be bombarded with freshly new bold flavors each time.
Haitian patties are one of our best-known appetizers and can be made with a variety of fillings. We have two kinds of patties and they both can be filled with ground beef or turkey, smoked herring or salted cod fish, and chicken.
The difference in the patties is in the dough.
Pate kodé typically found in street foods as it is deep fried, while the other has a crisp and flaky crust which is mainly prepared in bakeries.
Our notable soup, the soup joumou, is a celebratory meal served mainly on special occasions such as New Year’s Day, which is also our Independence Day.
The Base of the soup joumou dish is squash. This special soup derived from the French colonial times, as the slaves would prepare it for their masters, but unable to eat it themselves.
Now a variation of this soup is prepared throughout the country in every Haitian household around the world on New Year’s Day, every year.
Another hearty notable soup in Haitian food is Tchaka. A stew harmoniously blends a variety of beans, corn, and meat (pork or goat) into a pot.
Now it would not be fair to write this entire post about Haitian food and not talk about fritay. If you have ever been to Haiti, than chances are you have had some form of fritay.
Fritay, known as fried foods, are snacks typically served in the streets in the early evening through nightfall. Fritay consist of akra (malanga), marinade (West African beignets), bannann pesé (plantain squeezed) and various fried meats from pork, goat, beef, and or chicken.
And of course, the dish isn’t complete until it is topped with our spicy slaw called pikliz. The acidity from the pikliz is perfect at cutting through the greasiness of the fried foods.
It warms our hearts to see the recipes you make from this site, and we’d especially would love to know if you tried this recipe.
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I’m Haitian living in US close to 34 years, I’m always delighted to talk about our cooking, now, with your wonderful work I have a site to reinforce my conversation, people will understand me better and see the great unique flavored dishes we prepare. THUMBS UP 👍. Marc
Marc, Thank you so much. Our goal and mission is to educate the world about our culture through food. Thank you so much for your support and comment. 🙂
Your article is a breath of fresh air. Job very well done on our cuisine.
Continue the great work.
Thank you very much. We are very glad you liked it.
Very interesting !
But now you will find bak fritay on the streets all day long.
Thank you for reading!
Thank you for these informations, my culinary knowledge has broadened and believe me made me more aware of my culture .
Thank you so much, Mireille. It means a lot to us.
This was a great way to share the art and history of Haitian food.
Thank you, Liyah!
I lived in Haiti for 3 years as a child in the 80s. I remember we would frequently buy big “sheets” of rolls called bisqueet, not sure if the spelling. Do you have a recipe for it?
Thank you so much for reading. Yes, we do have a recipe coming out for the Haitian rolls coming out in the near future.
wow what great flavors and I have been there 3 times so I am very up to speed on this delicious cuisine I cant wait to go back thanks for the history!
We are so glad to hear that.
Oh this is so interesting. I love learning about new cuisines and so many of these Haitian recipes look incredible!
Thank you, Katherine
I like your full coverage of such a vast topic in such a small space. Haitian Cuisine can take you down so many culinary paths when you really start peeling back the many layers. I am almost glad that it is not “main stream”, that way we can maintain its integrity, and evolve it as the culture sees fit.
Truly appreciate the in-depth response, and you taking the time to to read and analyze the culinary pathways of this cuisine. So much history and information regarding the Haitian cuisine that we feel it needs to be shared, but still keep it from being saturated in the main stream.
I didn’t know anything about Haitian food until I read this informative article. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for reading, Beth!
Thank you for such a wonderfully informative post about Haitian cuisine. Love how it went deep into the history! It’s also great that meats are cleaned with acidity because I find there’s an extra layer of flavour!
Thank you so much for reading Jeannette!
Thank you for this. I am Filipino and I love Haitian food. I have a few Haitian co-workers and they introduced me to this wonderful dishes. I now know how to make pikliz and is a staple to my every meal, even when I make Filipino dishes, I have to have pikliz on the side.
Margaret, thank you so much for sharing. We love pikliz as well. We often have a jar in the fridge.
Wow, such vivid history. Love the information and the correlation of the ancestral roots. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you so much for reading. So glad you liked it.
Thank you for sharing, this was so interesting to read! Haitian spaghetti looks great!
Thank you, Biana
Packed with great information. This is the article to read if you want to learn about Haitian foods.