What is the diet for Haitians? What Haitian dishes should you be searching for, and what kind of flavors and spices will you find while visiting the country? To find out, we went to Haiti. Our favorite Haitian food, sweets, drinks, and where to find them are shared in this Haitian Cuisine and Culinary Travel Guide.
I had no knowledge of Haitian cuisine before making research about this topic related to Haiti. Sure, I had a feeling of what it might be: island-informed, Caribbean-like, African-influenced, maybe even a touch of French.
Haitian cuisine or Haitian food, like the language of the region, has a sense of Crèole, which is a blend of influences. A mixture of roots and spices, pure but zippy, plain and grounded in the truth of the tropics and in the back-story of its African origins, yet with a hint of French sophistication.
Take pikliz (spicy pickled vegetables), breadfruit, bergamot, cress and even strength shakes flavored with rum.
Haitian cuisine is varied: The food draws influences from French and West African traditions and Caribbean ingredients. These six dishes — from stews to fried meats — serve as a good introduction to the culinary offerings of the Haitian community in Miami.
Let’s dig in now. Yeah, Bon apeti!
Pate is the Haitian puff pastry with savory fillings. In Miami, pate is one of the few Haitian food names that is frequently anglicized in English conversations, even among Haitians. Instead of pate, it is also called a patty, usually branded as Haitian or Creole, to differentiate them from Jamaican patties, which are best known to the broader public.
Pate shows the convergence of the French and West African culinary types typical of Haitian cuisine.
The dough is made more like French puff pastry, except as in much of the Caribbean, margarine, lard or shortening also takes the place of butter, normally a luxurious ingredient.
The dough appears to have smoother, chewier layers in the core of the pastry, while the outer layers are thin and brittle.
Spiced ground beef or salted cod are the most popular pate fillings, but other traditional fillings include ground chicken, ground turkey, or smoked herring. Haitian bakeries in Miami sell pate at any time of the day, as do a growing number of restaurants.
Fritay refers to foods that are fried. Some fritays may trace their ancestry directly back to West Africa, where identical preparations exist with the same name, including the seasoned grated malanga fritters called akra.
Maybe patat, slices of deep fried white sweet potatoes traditionally served as a snack or side dish, is the easiest fritay. Bannann peze is ubiquitous in Haitian cuisine, and similar to plantain preparations found in the Caribbean, as fried slices of green plantain that are pressed into flat disks and fried again.
Meat needs a mechanism that is more complicated. Tasso transforms into beef or goat (and occasionally turkey), while pork becomes griot (also spelled griyo), which is considered the national dish of Haiti.
Meats require a more complex process. Beef or goat (and sometimes turkey) become tasso, while pork becomes griot (also spelled griyo), which is considered Haiti’s national dish. Preparing the meat typically involves thoroughly washing it, scrubbing it with salt and citrus, scalding it with salted water, and then marinating it in a seasoning paste called epis consisting of parsley, scallions, bell peppers, Scotch bonnet chiles, garlic, cloves, thyme, and citrus juice, along with other herbs and seasonings that vary with each cook.
In its own juices, the beef is slowly braised, then fried to produce a crisp exterior and a juicy, tender inside.
“Pikliz, a fiery cabbage slaw preserved in vinegar and generously seasoned with Scotch bonnet chiles, accompanies almost all fritay, its acidity and heat cutting through the richness of the fried meats and vegetables. Chicken drumsticks receive the same treatment, plus a light dusting of cornstarch before frying to make poul fri, Kreyòl for “fried chicken.
While regularly enjoyed in Miami, special occasion dishes are considered tasso and griot in Haiti. Fritay, particularly griot, tends to play prominently on social occasions: Griot festivals take place in South Florida and Fritay nights are promoted by some Haitian nightclubs.
Poulet Aux Noix (Chicken and Cashew Nuts)
This is a rich northern Haitian chicken specialty, also known as poul ak nwa, served in a tomato-based sauce with cashew nuts that you can most likely find in and around the town of Cap-Haïtien. Where to get it: Lakou Lakay Culture Center close Sans Souci Palace in the town of Milot.
How to prepare it: This recipe is better if you can let the chicken sit in a marinade overnight in a sour orange (or orange and lime juice mix if you can’t get your hands-on sour oranges) and then cook it the next day until the chicken meat is so tender that it comes right off the bones. Here is a recipe for a poulet aux noix to check out.
Griyo (fried pork)
For meat-eaters, griyo is a must-try traditional Haitian dish. It is most commonly eaten with or, better still, spicy piklizz with cabbage salad (onions and other vegetables marinated in a spicy vinegar sauce).
Where to get it: If you go out for a good meal, try the griyo in Petionville’s Quartier Latin. Request a large plate of griyo at Cinq Coins Restaurant (they market it by the pound) in Port-au-Prince for a more low-key meal and side it with a cold beer or two. Great for sharing and celebrating with friends.
How to cook it: one of the aspects that makes this Haitian pork dish so delicious is that it is marinated in a combination of citrus and spices for hours until it is fried. Or, if you want a much healthier version, here’s a baked griyo recipe.