Throughout its history, several countries have had control of Haiti. All of these cultures introduced their native recipes to the region. Today, Haitian cuisine is a mix of cuisine from all these countries.
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.
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Most Popular Haitan Dishes
Today, 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.
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.
So without further ado, here are the absolute must-try traditional dishes of Haiti along with recipes to try for yourself.
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!
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.
Joumou soup 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.
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.
Haitan Patties (Pâté)
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!
Makawoni au Graten
Makawoni au Graten is a popular pasta and cheese dish from Haiti, it is essentially the Haitian version of mac and cheese. It contains typical baked mac and cheese ingredients like pasta, milk and cheese. Other ingredients in Haitian mac and cheese are bell peppers, Tête de Maure, onions and mayonnaise.
The vegetables are sauteed then added to the rest of the ingredients to make a cheese sauce. The pasta and cheese sauce are mixed together, topped with more cheese then baked until melted and golden.
Cremas, also spelled Kremas or cremasse, is a popular beverage frequently served at social events and during the holidays (typically during Christmas). It is most often accompanied by a sweet pastry of some kind. The drink has a creamy consistency just like a thick milkshake or egg nog, and varies in colour from off-white to beige.
Cremas includes spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, vanilla and almond. As well as being made with milk and coconut, cremas includes rum which makes it an alcoholic drink.
Stinking Toe Fruit
Stinking Toe Fruit, also known as locust fruit or jatobá, is the fruit of the West Indian Locust, the largest tree in the Caribbean. A popular fruit throughout Latin America, it is known as Stinking Toe Fruit as its shape is similar to a big toe and its pungent smell is like a sweaty foot.
The fruit’s texture is mainly dry and dense, and it is sweet in taste. The fruit is said to remind people of powdered sugar and dried milk, with a touch of herbs and some parmesan cheese.
The ‘flour’ obtained from drying the stinking toe fruit can be added to various smoothies, soups and juices. It is also included in several baked goods, including biscuits, cookies, crackers and bread.
Haitian Legume (Legim)
Haitian Legume is a vegetable stew, usually consisting of a protein, eggplant, cabbage, chayote, and any combination of other vegetables desired including watercress, green beans and even cucumbers. The meat is cooked first. The vegetables are cooked separately until soft, mashed, then combined with the meat.
Haitian Spaghetti (Spageti)
Haitian spaghetti, also known as spageti, is a dish which typically includes spaghetti noodles, onions, peppers and a tomato-based sauce. The sauce is seasoned with a variety of spices, and is often served with fried plantains or bread on the side.