Sunday, February 20, 2011

H is for Haiti: Tasty Traditions

The statue os the Unknown Maroon in Port-au-Prince

On Tuesday, January 10, 2010 a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti. This catastrophic event took the lives of an estimated 316,000 people and left over 1,000,000 homeless. The earthquake also has tainted Haiti's character. Now, when most people think of Haiti they think of natural disasters and relief funds  Don't believe me, google it...the first thing that comes up when you type Haiti, is "Haiti earthquake". Haiti is more than environmental degradation, violence, and the home to 2/3 of the Fugees. Haitian culture is a culmination of rich cultural traditions,  influential history, distinctive art, and colorful cuisine. Most of everything that I have written about in the last few weeks have shaped the flavors of Haitian cuisine.

Haitian Art
The cuisine of Haiti evolved from the culinary styles of the diverse historical ethnic groups that inhabited the western portions of the Hispaniola islands, particularly the French, African, and the Spanish. In 1492 Christofero Colombo (i.e. Christopher Columbus, as an Italian major I can't bare to spell his name wrong) sailed the ocean blue and arrived in Haiti, and well... obliterated it. Then in the 17th century the French came and basically told the Spanish who was boss, and in 1697, Spain ceded to the French and handed them over Haiti. Through more environmental degradation and massive importation of African slaves the French colony created sugar-related industries and made Haiti the wealthiest state in the Caribbean. By 1804 Haiti fought French colonial control and became the world's first black-led republic and the fist independent Caribbean state.

Modern day Haitian food, although similar to other Caribbean dishes, is shaped by an African and French istyle of cooking called Manjè Krèyol (Haitian Creole).  So yes, rice and beans are staple, however Haitian use peppers and extensive herbs to strength the flavor, which is unique to country. The base flavor to Haitian dishes is èpis, a sauce base made from peppers, garlic and herbs. This sauce is the basic condiment for most plates. Another condiment  commonly used is pikliz, pickled vegetables. Locals are blessed with an array of sea-food, and when they want to get away from fish they turn to chicken, beef, pork and goat. Kabrit (roasted goat) and groit (fried pork) are popularly enjoyed with a special krèyol sauce. Haiti's climate allows for tropical fruits like, guava, pineapple, mango, coconuts and banana's to blossom. One of Haiti's biggest exports are their mangos (YUM). Other widely used ingredients include tomatoes, oregano, plantains, cabbage, avocados, all sorts of beans (kidney, pinto, pigeon..).

There is a famous krèyol proverb that declares "beyond the mountain, is another mountain". The proverb speaks to how difficult life in Haiti is. Despite being one of the poorest countries, they have the richest cultures. Haitian embraces celebrations and festivals... dance to good music and eat good food.. they thrive on their customs, conviction, and creativity. So, although it seems that Haiti is land of great suffering, it is also a land of great beauty.


Sadly, there is no Haitian restaurants in Columbus (sad face). However, my previous post on France, Ghana, and Colombia have all prepared me for this week. I was, again, by myself today. It was a cold, gray day in C-bus so soup seemed favorable. After much research I learned about soup joumou. This traditional Haitian soup is a thick pumpkin stew usually eaten on New Year's day. What makes this soup so interesting (other than their flavors...) is its history. It seems like everything in Haiti has a story.  According to Haitian website, the dish represents Haitian defiance of the French colonial powers, who had declared that slaves could not eat soup. Consuming this soup on New Year's Day is a tradition past down from generation to generation as a historical tribute to Haiti's independence, where newly freed slaves consumed a meal forbidden to them by the French. Looking at the ingredients, I was stoked. I love squash. I know that I wouldn't be able to find pumpkin anymore, but butternut squash is available all winter long. The recipe also called for turnips. I had never had a turnip before and I was excited to try it! As I searched the grocery store I realized I had no idea what a turnip looks like. Naively, I almost bought a rutabaga...good thing I looked at the sticker before I bought it! The soup is hearty and thick...very comforting for a cold winter night.

Soup Joumou
serves 2

  • 1/2 lb boneless beef chuck eye roast
  • 2 cups of chicken stock
  • 1/2 medium pumpkin (or butternut squash), peeled and diced
  • 1 turnip diced
  • 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp parsley
  • 1 tbsp thyme
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup rice, uncooked
  • loaf of French bread
  • salt and pepper
  1. In a saucepan, cover beef with salted water, and boil on medium heat, partially covered for about an hour. Pour more salted water if the water begins to evaporate. 
  2. Drain and chop beef into bite-sized pieces
  3. In a sauce pan bring chicken stock to a boil; add pumpkin/squash, turnips, beef, onions, parsley, thyme, and garlic.
  4. Simmer until the pumpkin/squash is tender (15 minutes)
  5. Transfer the beef and pumpkin mixture to a food processor and puree.
  6. Return to the saucepan and add milk, butter, rice and nutmeg, and cook until the rice is tender (15 minutes)
  7. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with a little butter and bread.


  1. Looks like the soup came out wonderfully. Good job.

  2. It is amazing how pumpkins are used in a huge variety of dishes around the world, in Colombia they grow wild in some areas, in my juvenile times we used to enjoy hunting a nice “calabaza”, taking it home, then mom prepared a delicious milky cream. Today, Stephanie surprised us with a recipe from Haiti; it looks super exquisite, and mandatory to taste it. I am afraid becoming addicted to her blog looking for a new recipe, could be a good addiction, letting me flow with Stephanie’s global food.
    Pedro from York, PA