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A Taste of Haiti

By Julie Geng, VI Form

A Taste of Haiti

Haiti, the Country

Haiti occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola. Haiti has an area of 27,750 square kilometers including several islands[1]. The Haitian population is 10.32 million[2]. The climate is tropical[3]. Coffee, cocoa, coconuts, avocado, orange, lime, and mango grow wild. The most important cash crops are coffee and sugarcane.

Haitian History and Food

Spain, France, the continent of Africa, and the United States were crucial in shaping Haitian cuisine. The island of Hispaniola was inhabited by hunter-gatherers as early as 5000 B.C. Fruits and vegetables such as guavas, pineapples, cassava, papayas, sweet potatoes, and corn were cultivated by early Haitian tribes[4].

On December 6, 1492, Christopher Columbus landed on the island and claimed it for Spain[5]. The Spanish established sugar plantations and made the native Indians in Haiti work as salves. Hard labor and disease nearly wiped out the indigenous people, forcing the Spanish to ship slaves from Africa to work the plantations[6]. The Africans then introduced okra (edible pods), ackee (red and yellow fruit), taro (edible root), pigeon peas (seeds of an African shrub), and various spice to Haitian cuisine. They also introduced red beans and rice and mirliton (a pear-shaped vegetable)[7].

By 1700, the French had taken control of Hispaniola from Spain. The French colonists successfully cultivated sugarcane, coffee, cotton, and cocoa with the help of African slaves[8].

Today, French rule remains evident particularly in the contributions to the country’s cuisine. French cheeses, desserts, and breads are commonly found at local markets and stores.

Daily Haitian Food

Haiti maintains a unique flavor. Unlike its Spanish-influenced counterpart, the Dominican Republic, Haitian cuisine is based on Creole and French cooking styles. Strong pepper flavoring in many dishes also sets Haitian food apart[9].rice

Several dishes are specifically native to Haiti, including rice djon-djon. It requires Haitian black mushrooms, locally grown fungi. The stems of the mushrooms are responsible for the black color, and the mushroom caps with lima beans are used as a tasty topping[10].

 

bouilionBouillon is a Haitian soup made with sliced meat, potatoes, sliced plantains, yam, kelp, cabbage, and celery, and cooked as a mildly thick soup[11].

 

     

                                                       

PainPain patate is a native dish to Haiti, and it is a sweetened potato, fig, and banana pudding[12].

 

 

 

soupeSoupe jomou is a pumpkin soup typically served on Sundays.

 

 

The average Haitian diet consists largely of starch staples such as rice, corn, millet, yams, and beans. On the other hand, wealthier residents can afford meats, lobster, spiced shrimp, duck, and sweet desserts[13]. Frog legs, cold cuts, and French cheeses are available typically in Port-au-Prince, the capital, but they are not commonly eaten by the average Haitian[14]. Riz et Pois, the country’s national dish of rice and beans, is much more common. This relatively inexpensive dish provides carbohydrates and protein for field workers. Haitians also tend to fry their meals in pig fat to enhance flavor and increase calorie intake[15]. Banana peze (fried plantains) and grio (fried pork) [below top] are common examples. Accra [below bottom] is another typical fried food made from malanga, a tropical vegetable closely related to taro[16].

griot accra

Haiti’s tropical Caribbean climate allows for tropical fruits such as avocados, mangoes, pineapples, coconuts, and guava to grow in abundance. Such fruits are often used to make refreshing fruit juices.

Haitian Holiday Food

The two main religions in Haiti are Roman Catholicism and Voudou. Roman Catholics observe such holidays as Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Christmas. A typical Christmas menu includes the following: fried pork or goat, pikiliz (spicy pickled carrots and cabbage), fried plantains, pain patate, Haitian bread, and pineapple nog[17]. Haitians who practice Voodoo observe Manger-Yam, “eat yam” day[18]. The purpose of this day is to recognize the importance of yam in the rural Haitian diet.

Interview

photo 1-4Jammil Telfort was interviewed for this research project. Jammil is 16 years old, and he studies at St. Mark’s School in Southborough, Massachusetts. He is originally from Haiti, and he now lives in New York. Jammil’s family moved to the U.S. to pursue the American dream and seek opportunities. Jammil’s grandma came to the United States first and worked menial jobs. She left Jammil’s mom, aunts and uncles back in Haiti. She eventually gained residency for the rest of the family. Jammil’s mother moved to the U.S. a few months after Jammil was born. She came back to Haiti to get Jammil’s brother and Jammil in 2001. They departed Haiti together on December 21st, 2001.

Jammil still eats Haitian food at home. Breakfast at Jammil’s, however, is rather Americanized. He often has scrambled eggs and omelette. He occasionally eats spaghetti with ketchup instead of spaghetti sauce for breakfast. For lunch and dinner, Jammil’s family eats rice and beans, chicken, plantains, bouillon, pate, and griot. Pate is one of the country’s best know appetizer made with ground beef, cod, herring, chicken, and ground turkey surrounded by a crispy or flaky crust.

Jammil’s family celebrates New Year’s Eve and Haitian Independence Day together, and they always eat soupe jumbo (pumpkin soup). For Easter, Jammil’s mother typically cooks fish and plantains. They also eat baked macaroni and cheese along with rice and beans. Occasionally, his family orders Chinese food.

According to Jammil, rice and beans are the staple food in Haiti. They are served at almost every meal. Jammil and his brother are fairly Americanized compared to the rest of their family. Although they both enjoy Haitian food very much, they cannot eat it everyday. Nevertheless, Jammil’s favorite Haitian dish is griot with rice djon-djon. His second favorite dish is pate. He boasts about regularly eating 10 pates in one sitting! pate

 

 

(Pate)

 

 

 

 

People plant sugarcane, mangoes, coconuts, rice, and plantains in Haiti. Jammil’s grandfather used to work on a plantain farm. People also raise chicken, lamb, and cows.

There is Western food in Haiti. In 2013, Jammil and his father went to a restaurant that served pizza. There is also Domino’s in Port-au-Prince.

In Jammil’s house, everyone eats together, even for snack. For snacks, they sit together on the front porch, eat and talk. No one ever eats alone. They sometimes say grace before meals, but not always. Jammil’s father side is very religious, but his mother’s side is not. Everyone is expected to finish everything on the plate. However, Jammil’s mother always welcomes seconds or thirds! Licking fingers after eating is viewed as a compliment to the food.

Analysis

Jammil’s description of the Haitian food culture is consistent with the preliminary research. I have recently traveled to Haiti, and my field observation is consistent with the preliminary research as well.

I went to Latournelle, a village that is 30 minutes from Leogâne. Food production in Haitian countryside is a combination of horticulture and pastoralism. On the mountains, there is terrace farming, and people raise domesticated animals such as goats, chicken, and cows. They also plant rice, beans, plantains, mangoes, and coconuts. Compared to food, water is much less accessible. People in the mountains have to travel down the steep slopes daily to obtain water from a giant cinder column.

Intensive agriculture used to take place at plantation farms during Spanish and French colonization. Intensive agriculture still exists nowadays, and the most important cash crops in Haiti are coffee and sugarcane.

Western food is accessible in Haiti. When I was in Haiti, we saw billboards of Quiznos and passed by a Domino’s in Pétionville. Nevertheless, western food is not as accessible as traditional Haitian ingredients. For example, Father Wisnel’s wife, Majorie, had to purchase a cake for Mr. Kent from the city of Leogâne and asked a Jeep to deliver it up to the mountain. There are also American dishes prepared for us, including fries, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, scrambled eggs, and lasagna.

Jammil is not very well connected to the modes of food production in Haiti because he no longer lives in Haiti. However, he is still very familiar with Haitian food as his family mainly eats Haitian meals. Rice and beans are essential to the Haitian diet, and they provide sufficient carbohydrates and proteins. Fried food is also predominant in Haitian meal since frying effectively increases fat and calorie intake.

Haitians have a more formal etiquette than Americans do. As Jammil describes, everyone eats together. Haitians cherish the sense of community and enjoy sharing food with others. Since hunger is still an epidemic in Haiti, Haitians seldom waste their food.

In conclusion, Haitian food pertains its unique flavor in spite of the influence from French and Spanish colonizers. Haitian diet efficiently provides energy and nutrients, and the dining etiquette reflects the values Haitians uphold proudly.

Julie Geng is a VI Former from Shanghai, China. She is obsessed with chemistry, and her favorite class at St. Mark’s is Death of God.

 

Bibliography:

  1. “Haiti.” Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed February 11, 2015. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ha.html.
  2. ”Food in Every Country.” Food in Haiti. Accessed February 11, 2015. http://www.foodbycountry.com/Germany-to-Japan/Haiti.html.
  3. Houston, Lynn Marie. Food Culture in the Caribbean. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2005. Print.
  4. Purseglove, J. W. Tropical Crops: Monocotyledons. (Harlow): Longman, 1972.

 

Images:

http://images.getmecooking.com/recipes/black-mushroom-rice-with-shrimp-riz-djon-djon-with-shrimp/black-mushroom-rice-with-shrimp-riz-djon-djon-with-shrimp.jpg

http://threemanycooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Joumou.jpg

http://content0.tastebook.com/content/photo/user_photo/8xWfgVZz13c2836313832393C8Or71oq_1269904797.jpg

http://www.metro.ca/userfiles/image/recipes/Djon-Djon-Calalou-champignons-1527.jpg

https://leoacademicjournal.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/4585b-haitianrice2.jpg

https://leoacademicjournal.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/25d89-nap_0283.jpg

http://haitian-recipes.com/images/recipes/96.png

[1] “Haiti.” Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed February 11, 2015. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ha.html.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] ”Food in Haiti.” Food in Every Country. Accessed February 11, 2015. http://www.foodbycountry.com/Germany-to-Japan/Haiti.html.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] ”Food in Haiti.” Food in Every Country. Accessed February 11, 2015. http://www.foodbycountry.com/Germany-to-Japan/Haiti.html.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Houston, Lynn Marie. Food Culture in the Caribbean. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2005. Print.

[12] ”Food in Every Country.” Food in Haiti. Accessed February 11, 2015. http://www.foodbycountry.com/Germany-to-Japan/Haiti.html.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] ”Food in Every Country.” Food in Haiti. Accessed February 11, 2015. http://www.foodbycountry.com/Germany-to-Japan/Haiti.html.

[16] Purseglove, J. W. Tropical Crops: Monocotyledons. (Harlow): Longman, 1972.

[17] ”Food in Every Country.” Food in Haiti. Accessed February 11, 2015. http://www.foodbycountry.com/Germany-to-Japan/Haiti.html.

[18] ”Food in Every Country.” Food in Haiti. Accessed February 11, 2015. http://www.foodbycountry.com/Germany-to-Japan/Haiti.html.

 

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