Haitian Cuisine and History

Although Thanksgiving Day is not a traditionally observed holiday in Haiti, many Haitian Americans have adopted this national holiday to be with each other while enjoying their Thanksgiving meal with a Haitian touch. The following are six Haitian staples and their interesting facts:

  1. Diri ak djon djon or “black mushroom rice” is one of the most extravagant and unique dishes in Haitian cuisine. It is made with black mushrooms, cashews, tri tri (dry shrimps), and lima beans or pears. Although Haitian cuisine shares many characteristics with other Caribbean cuisines, djon djon, commonly referred to as Haitian black mushrooms is a seasoning unique to Haiti. As a food history specialist, Anthony Buccini has pointed out that djon djon is a type of wild mushroom native to Haiti, and the dish was likely a creation of the collective foraging efforts of northern Haitians during the island of Hispaniola’s colonialism period.

 

  1. In addition to Caribbean flavors, Haiti’s culinary influences also come from France and West Africa. Pate is the staple to demonstrate the melding of French and West African food characteristics of Haitian cuisine. Like Jamaican patties, pate is French puff pastry made with margarine, lard, or shortening since butter is typically a luxury ingredient. Inside the pate are often filled with spiced ground beef or salted cod.

 

  1. Haitians have a particular multistep method of preparing meat by seasoning, tenderizing, or preservation. The process begins with thoroughly washing the meat, scrubbing it with salt and citrus juice, and scalding it with boiling water. It is then rubbed with a wet spice mixture called epis, which varies with each cook. The marinated meat can either be part of a stew, braised, or fried in what is collectively called fritay. Considered as one of the national dishes is gyro- fried pork- which is often paired with spicy pikliz (cabbage and other vegetables marinated in a spicy vinegar sauce). Other dishes of the same preparation methods are tasso, which is beef or goat, or fried slices of green plantain which are called bannann peze.

 

  1. Soup joumou (pumpkin soup) is traditionally served on Sundays but more importantly on the first day of the new year, celebrating the Declaration of Independence on January 1, 1804. On that day, Haiti became the first free Black republic after a long and violent slave revolt. Soup joumou was once upon a time forbidden by the French colonizers for the slaves to consume- some sources claim that slaves were prohibited from touching the pumpkin used to make it. Now the soup serves as an emotional and spiritual reminder of the Haitian’s strength in fighting for independence.

 

  1. As an island nation, seafood plays an important role for those Haitians who live in the coastal areas. One of the most prominent seafood dishes is called Lambi, Caribbean queen conch. It can be enjoyed in many ways- grilled, fried, in cold salads, or stewed in a spicy sauce. The conch is very symbolic in Haitian history because the shell served as the calling instrument to gather and organize people during the Haitian revolution. Lambi is more than just a delicacy that is relished by the Haitian diaspora, it also represents Haiti’s struggle for independence and freedom.

 

  1. Contrary to the common practice of having one’s main meal at night, Haitians often have their main meals during the day. For many, their breakfast is especially hearty. Beside porridge that is often served as a convenient and nutritious option, spaghetti with chopped hot dogs is a popular breakfast staple. The dish is a mark left behind by the American occupation from 1915 to 1934. Haitian spaghetti may not be considered a traditional Haitian dish, but it remains a closely held comfort food in the culture.

 

References

  1. Ethnic American Food Today: A Cultural Encyclopedia. (2015). United States: Rowman &

Littlefield Publishers. Retrieved on October 18, 2021:

https://www.google.ca/books/edition/Ethnic_American_Food_Today/DBzYCQAAQBAJ?hl=en&g

bpv=1&dq=haiti+culture+food&pg=PA256&printsec=frontcover

  1. From Kongri to Diri ak Djondjon: Slavery, Creolisation and Culinary Genesis in Saint-Domingue

and Independent Haiti. (2016). Dublin Gastronomy Symposium. Retrieved on October 18, 2021:

https://arrow.tudublin.ie/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1092&context=dgs

  1. Six Haitian Staples and Specialities to Try. (2016). Vox Media, Inc. Retrieved on October 19,

2021: https://www.eater.com/a/mofad-city-guides/miami-haitian-food

  1. Yurnet-Thomas, M. (2004). A Taste of Haiti. United States: Hippocrene Books. Retrieved on

October 18, 2021:

https://www.google.ca/books/edition/A_Taste_of_Haiti/giQaoQz8N0AC?hl=en&gbpv=1

  1. Food, Cuisine, and Cultural Competency for Culinary, Hospitality, and Nutrition

Professionals. (2011). United States: Jones & Bartlett Learning. Retrieved on October 18, 2021:

https://www.google.ca/books/edition/Food_Cuisine_and_Cultural_Competency_for/lj0CeaIIETk

C?hl=en&gbpv=0

  1. How Italian Spaghetti Became a Haitian Breakfast Staple. (2017). Vox Media, Inc. Retrieved on

October 19, 2021: https://www.eater.com/2017/3/2/14780710/haitian-spaghetti

 

Written by Jennifer ShuPing Chen

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