You’ve definitely heard of Haiti before. Maybe you’ve heard of the long coastline of beaches like Labadie, or the gorgeous historical fortress Citadelle Laferrière.
Or maybe it was the devastating 2010 earthquake that brought Haiti to your attention. Either way, there’s one thing about Haiti you most likely haven’t heard much of and we’re about to shed some much-needed light on it. It’s the Haitian Food!
Get ready to salivate. In this article, we detail a brief history of Haitian Food, and break down 5 Most Famous Dishes In Haiti today.
A Brief History of Haitian Food
Historically speaking, traditional Haitian cuisine has relied upon ingredients like fish, pork and root vegetables. Hispaniola, the island that Haiti is situated in, has been home to people since as early as 5000 B.C.
The early Haitian tribes cultivated vegetables and fruits like corn, sweet potatoes and pineapples.
Throughout its history, several countries have had control of Haiti (as we’ll discuss below). All of these cultures introduced their native recipes to the region. Today, Haitian cuisine is a mix of cuisine from all these countries.
The Influence of African, French And Spanish Cuisine
Around 25 years after Columbus arrived, the French settled in the Haitian region.
Some years later, the Eastern coast was handed over to the Spanish. Between the French and Spanish – foods like rice, limes, mangoes and sugarcane thrived and grew wild in the island.
African foods were brought into the mix after the French brought in African slaves to work in sugar plantations, hence bringing in unique cuisine from African cultures.
Today, the Haitian traditional cuisine owes its uniqueness to the historical influence of Africa, France and Spain; who introduced new foods and ideas to the region and greatly influenced what the Haitians did and did not eat.
5 Absolute Must-Try Haitian Dishes
The end result of such a diverse range of influences is the Haitian cuisine that you see today. Here we break down 5 of the best dishes from Haiti that you should either try on your next trip or cook for yourself using the links to the best recipes we have found.
We’re talking about a Carribean country here, guys. Of course Haiti is home to the most amazing seafood!
One of the most prominent seafood dishes is Lambi. This is a delicacy you’ll only find in certain Haitian restaurants.
The dish consists of queen conch meat getting tenderized and then grilled or fried. It can also be stewed in spicy sauces or added in cold salads.
Lambi is more than just a dish and actually represents Haiti’s struggle for independence.
The horns that can be made from the shell’s spiral have been historically used to organize and gather people throughout Haiti, and also to mobilize troops and signal impending French attacks.
So, next time you’re having a mouthful of Lambi, try to absorb the historical significance of the dish on your plate!
You can find a great authentic Lambi recipe here.
Haitian Vegetable Stews
Haitian vegetable stews make use of West African, native Caribbean and European vegetables, often cooked together.
These dishes reflect the stronghold of West Africa on Haiti’s cultural identity. Zepina, a popular vegetable stew, is made from spinach and other vegetables like lima beans or carrots.
Legim, a similar dish, is amongst the most popular of Haitian vegetable stews. It is made from a large variety of vegetables consisting of green beans, watercress, chayote squash, carrots, cabbage…..the list goes on!
Kalalou, another stew, replaces the spinach in Zepina with okra. The most common type of meat in these stews is beef. Other meats like shrimp, crab, oxtail, goat and pork are also used.
Here is an excellent Zepina recipe to try.
This is another Haitian dish with immense historical significance.
It is believed that before Haiti had gained independence from Europe, the slaves were forbidden from consuming a particular pumpkin soup that the French colonizers were really fond of.
Some Haitians recount tales of slaves not being allowed to even touch the pumpkin used to make the soup!
The soup was a puree of mild, soft Caribbean pumpkin cooked with beef stock. Root vegetables, celery, plantains, carrots, and lasts are incorporated in the base of the soup.
Today, Haitians have soup joumou as a ritual on New Year’s Day every year to commemorate their hard-fought freedom. It’s also a tradition in Haitian homes to have the soup on cozy Sundays mornings!
Here’s a delicious, traditional joumou recipe to try.
Diri ak Djon Djon (Black Mushroom Rice)
One of the uniquest and most extravagant dishes in Haitian cuisine – Diri ak djon djon (meaning “black mushroom rice”) is cooked from the most expensive ingredient in Haitian cooking: djon djon!
Djon djon is the name for a variety of mushrooms found in northern Haiti that sell for around $65 per pound.
Diri ak djon djon is prepared by soaking the dried mushrooms in hot water and producing a black liquid.
This liquid is then used to cook the rice along with seasonings, lima beans and peas. Other additions to the dish are dried or fresh shrimp and whole cashews.
This is a dish that only a few, elite restaurants serve regularly. Haitian families prepare it only for holidays or special occasions!
If you prefer written recipes, check out this Diri ak Djon Djon recipe.
Pâté is the Haitian name for puff pastries with savory fillings. This dish is an amalgamation of West African and French cuisine.
The dough is made like French puff pastry, but the butter is replaced by lard, shortening or margarine (as with most West African dishes). Butter is actually considered a luxury ingredient in Haiti.
Pâté has a chewy, thick layer towards the middle of the pastry. The outer layer is brittle and thin.
The most common pate fillings are salted cod or spiced ground beef. Smoked herring, ground turkey or ground chicken are also used as alternative fillings. Haitian bakeries and restaurants usually offer pate all throughout the day!
Here’s a great recipe for chicken Pâté puffs to try!
Haitian cuisine stems from a range of cooking traditions and practices, shaped under the influence of France, Africa, Spain and the Arab World.
If you want to experience this orgasmic blend of flavors – make sure to try out as many local dishes as possible during your trip. One thing we assure: the flavors will linger on in your memory long after your trip has ended.