The attractive geography of Haiti is perhaps the most striking feature of this country, which occupies the western side of the island of Hispaniola and shares it with the Dominican Republic.
Located in the central zone of the Antilles, Haiti’s cuisine is strongly influenced by French, African, and Spanish cultures. It is characterized by the intense flavor of its dishes, moderately spicy, prepared with aromatic herbs typical of the region.
The French took possession of Haiti a quarter of a century after the arrival of Columbus. Among the essential products of Haiti’s gastronomy are rice, pork, seafood, fish, local vegetables, and tropical fruits with which they make delicious desserts. Stews and soups are among the most consumed dishes on the island, the latter having a strong patriotic link in the Joumou soup, a symbol of independence that makes Haitians proud.
The Spanish took the eastern part of the island. Subsequently, Africans arrived on the island as enslaved people, who contributed their culinary customs to this mixture of four nations. This is the origin of the particularity of Haitian cuisine, the centuries-old confluence of European and African cultures combined with the customs of the Taino Indians, the first inhabitants of Haiti.
Below you will find 10 of the most traditional dishes of Haiti, a compendium of the most iconic meals that should not be missed when you visit this wonderful island.
Lambí guisado (stewed conch)
Lambí guisado (stewed conch) is traditional Haitian seafood and mollusk dish. To prepare this delicacy, it is necessary to soften the meat of the queen conch, which is then fried, grilled, or stewed in various spicy sauces.
The lambi is a marine mollusk generally found in Caribbean waters. In English, it is known as Queen Conch. Few restaurants serve this dish, which symbolizes Haiti’s struggle for independence. According to historians, the horns of these shells were used to warn of French attacks, rally the people, and mobilize the troops before any confrontation.
The preparation of the lambi takes some time, so be patient, but it is worth the wait. It is traditionally served with rice and fried plantains.
Pork Griot is a popular Haitian dish, spicy and sweet and sour, easy to prepare, and addictive. It consists of marinated pieces of pork, which are boiled and finally fried or grilled. For health reasons, many people prefer to roast rather than fry them.
The secret to prepare a perfect Pork Griot lies in the marinade; the meat should be marinated overnight and then simmered in a pot. It should be browned after cooking; this way, you will get the perfect crispness of the crust, which makes it very hard to resist the temptation. Finally, you need just the right amount of sour orange and lime juice.
Haitian Griot is one of the most common dishes in Haitian homes. It is very affordable and can be found in almost any restaurant throughout the island. You will find it at most social events, both casual and formal. There is an excellent variety of possibilities to accompany this popular dish, the most common being: banana pesée (a dough made with fried plantain), Accra (fried malanga), Riz collé (rice), and Paté Kode (fried pasties with fish filling).
Legim or Haitian Légume
Legim or Haitian Légume is a stew composed of beef and various simmered vegetables. Fish can replace the beef, or you can have a vegetarian version with only vegetables.
This dish is usually accompanied by diri kolé (rice with red grains) or simply rice in Haiti. It is a light dish, very affordable, which makes it quite healthy by the amount of vegetables. It is another slow-cooked meal, so patience is required, although the result is worth it.
The term Legim in Haiti refers to cooking large quantities of vegetables. Its preparation varies according to the season and the vegetables available at the time. Haitians, who generally favor stews, find legim one of their favorite dishes.
In addition to white rice, legim can be accompanied by ground corn. In Haiti, it is called mayi moulen. The choice of vegetables is key as some tend to fall apart due to the long cooking time. However, this can be remedied with larger pieces of vegetables that will give a firmer texture to the stew.
Joumou Soup promotes the patriotic feeling of Haitians because of its great historical significance. According to historians, the French colonizers prohibited Haitians from consuming soup until General Jean-Jacques Dessalines, at the head of the independence troops, achieved Haiti’s emancipation.
Dessalines invited the liberated people to prepare the soup to celebrate the feat. Since then, every January 1st, this dish is prepared and has become synonymous with independence and freedom. As it is also called, the independence soup is composed of turban squash which originates from the West Indies.
To prepare this soup, the meat must be marinated with a mixture of spices which the locals call tout trempé. Ingredients such as parsley, lime, cloves, chili, thyme, or shallot are also added. The meat must be marinated for approximately three hours, then cooked with carrots, leek, celery, potato, onion, malanga, and cabbage.
A pumpkin is cooked separately and then mashed before being added to the mixture of vegetables and meat. As the last ingredient, add diced pasta, noodles, spaghetti, or according to taste.
Diri ak Djon Djon (Black Mushroom Rice)
Diri ak Djon Djon (Black Mushroom Rice) stands out among Haitian dishes for its extravagance. Djon djon is one of the most expensive dishes of Haitian cuisine. It consists of a variety of mushrooms that come from the north of the country and usually sells for just over $60 per kilo.
To prepare this dish, the mushrooms are submerged in hot water, from which a black liquid comes out and is used to cook the rice with the beans and peas as well as the rest of the condiments. Djon djon is a traditional delicacy usually reserved for special occasions such as weddings or birthdays.
The final taste may vary according to the amount of djon djon added. It can be bitter if too much is used. Therefore, to prepare a pot capable of feeding a family of four, only a few grams (200 perhaps) of this ingredient is needed.
These stuffed snacks are evidence of the mixture of African, French, and Haitian cuisine. The French method is used to make the dough, while lard (popular in African dishes) replaces butter, considered a luxurious ingredient. Haitian puff pastries are called pâté.
Ground beef, turkey, ground chicken, or smoked herring can be used to fill this Haitian empanada. The filling is seasoned with shallots, onion, garlic, lime, aromatic herbs, and chili. The well-made pâté should have a thick and chewy inner layer towards the center, while the outside should be thin and fragile.
These pies, which were introduced in Haiti during the French and English occupation, can be eaten as an appetizer or as a main dish. In the second case, they are accompanied by salads or a sauce that can be spicy according to the diner’s taste.
The shapes of Haitian pâté vary according to the cooks’ skills or the diners’ desire. They can be triangular, square, crescent-shaped, or rectangular.
They can be cooked in a deep fryer with oil, or, if desired, they can be baked in the oven. In both cases, the result is a crunchy and delicious pie.
Makawoni au graten
Makawoni au graten is the Haitian version of macaroni and cheese. For its preparation, macaroni or pasta is mixed with condiments such as Worcestershire sauce, mayonnaise, white pepper, and mustard.
The ingredients are placed in a casserole, together with grated cheese, cheddar, or parmesan. You can also add ham or shredded chicken. Everything is then cooked until ready to serve.
Haitians, unlike Italians, cook the pasta until it is soft and not al dente. This makes the baking much easier by decreasing the chance of the pasta becoming crispy once it comes out of the oven.
Another peculiarity of Haitian macaroni is that it contains evaporated milk instead of pasteurized milk. Generally, Makawoni au graten is used as a main dish, but it also serves as a side dish.
Haitian Bouillon Soup is a hearty and thick beef stew, very popular in Haiti. It contains potatoes, seaweed, meat, root vegetables, scotch bonnet peppers, cabbage, and celery. Sometimes it is even served with meatballs which are prepared with part of the broth and wheat flour.
When preparing the bouillon, it is advisable to cook the meat first since it takes longer to soften. Together with the meatballs and the spices, the vegetables are prepared in a separate pot. Then, everything is mixed and cooked until ready to serve.
Regarding the time it takes for the preparation, it depends on the vegetables used and how long it takes them to soften, that is why it is necessary to be attentive at all times. If desired, the meat in this dish can be replaced by seafood.
Tchaka is one of Haiti’s favorite stews. It consists of corn, smoked pork, pumpkin, red beans, and pig’s feet. Its preparation is simple, but it takes time since it is simmered to ensure that all the flavors amalgamate.
In addition to red beans, such as pinto, small red, or dark red beans. The corn must be dry so that its volume is multiplied when it is immersed in the boiling water. Because many ingredients have different cooking times, they are prepared separately. Then they are all incorporated in the same pot.
Variations depend on the Haitian region where the soup is made, for example, lamb, beef, or crab may be used instead of pork. Some recipes include coconut milk to increase its texture and creaminess. It is also common to use malanga or yam.
Haitians usually prepare this dish on special occasions due to its time to prepare it. For this reason, it is often served at family gatherings and on certain commemorative dates such as Labor Day.
Beef Tassot is a Haitian dish that consists of marinated, boiled, and fried meat, usually beef. It is part of Fritaille, a fritter mixture very popular in Haiti. The secret for the tassot is the marinating time of the meat, which must be more than 30 minutes. In addition, you have to add lemon juice, spices, and fresh herbs. Before adding water, the meat is allowed to cook in the marinade.
When adding the water to the pot, the meat can be seasoned simultaneously, but it is important that the water be at room temperature or hot so that the flavors are preserved. The type of meat and the cut will determine the soup’s cooking time. For example, goat meat is delicious, but it takes longer to cook. For this reason, beef is the most commonly used meat in both restaurants and Haitian homes.
The veal loin is the most tender part of the beef, so it is most often used to make tassot. This dish is usually served with sauce or gravy because it tends to dry out quickly when cooked for a long time. It can be served with other fritters or as an accompaniment to the main course.
Even though Haiti is the first African-American country in the new continent to gain its independence in 1804, the traits of its conquerors remain today, not only in a language such as French but also in culinary customs.
Haiti, in recent years, has gone through both natural and political eventualities that have hit its population hard. Nevertheless, they are holding their own. Haitians are an inexhaustible source of love, friendship, and kindness. Their arms remain outstretched to welcome with big smiles the cheerful visitors to show them their gastronomy, one of the most attractive in the Antilles.