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.
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