International Cooking: Food from Haiti

Haiti is located in the Caribbean Sea and shares an island with the Dominican Republic. It is the most populous country in the Caribbean.

Originally, the island was inhabited by the indigenous Taíno people who came from South America. Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492 and claimed the island for Spain, setting up the first European settlement in the Americas. However, in 1690, the western part of the island (where Haiti is located) was ceded to France. The French colony became one of the richest in the world due to the establishment of sugarcane plantations.

During the French Revolution, Haiti had its own revolution, led by a former slave. After 12 years, Haiti became the first independent nation of Latin America and the Caribbean and the first country in the Americas to eliminate slavery. It is also the only state in history to be established by a successful slave revolt.

After initial periods of political instability, conflicts with the Dominican Republic, and other issues, Haiti still struggles today and has a very low Human Development Index. Haiti has had no elected government officials since February this year, and has been described as a failed state.

What Do People Eat in Haiti?

Haitian cuisine is the result of a blend of indigenous, African, French, Spanish, and Arab influences. There are similarities to food in other Caribbean countries, but Haitian cooks add their own unique flavors to dishes.

Common Haitian flavors include lots of herbs and peppers, and a popular marinade for chicken and pork features sour orange juice, garlic, and Scotch bonnet peppers.

Rice is one of the most popular starches, but yams, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and breadfruit are also common.

Beans are a common source of protein, particularly black and red beans. When it comes to meat, chicken, goat, and beef are popular. Seafood is common too, and is often salted or smoked.

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Haitian dishes I didn’t make!

Pate Kode (Fried Haitian Patties)

Pate Kode (Fried Haitian Patties)

These are similar to other patties I’ve made, like the hot patties I made for the Bahamas. They also bear similarities to empanadas. The main difference here is the filling—in Haiti, common filling ingredients include hotdogs, boiled eggs, chicken, ground beef, and herring, though I think there are many variations.

I chose what I was told is one of the most common combinations—hotdogs and boiled eggs. I was having trouble finding an authentic recipe though, because two different Haitian cooking blogs seemed to be having an issue where the actual recipe wasn’t displaying on the webpages. I ended up following a video, which didn’t specify amounts, so I had to estimate.

First I needed Haitian epis, which is a flavor base used in many meals. I used a recipe from Haitian Cooking, but my measurements were very loose as I was not making nearly so much. It’s made by blending up parsley, onion, celery, cilantro, green bell peppers, scallions/green onions, chicken bouillon, thyme, garlic, lime juice, olive oil, and vinegar. Once made, the mixture can be stored in the fridge, though the recipe does not say for how long.

Next I made the filling for my pate kode. I started by sautéing the epis in oil, then added chopped hotdogs. Once they were starting to brown, I added some onion, habanero, onion powder, garlic powder, dried thyme, and pepper. When the onions were cooked, I turned off the heat and stirred in some chopped boiled eggs.

I let my filling cool a bit while I made the dough. I used similar recipes online to work out what I thought were the right amounts. I used 2 cups of all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Then I added enough chicken stock to make a dough and kneaded it for a few minutes.

I divided the dough into 8 equal pieces and rolled each into a circle. Then I added some filling and folded, being sure the edges were well-sealed. I poked a few holes in the top of each patty to let excess air escape; this was suggested by the recipe video.

I heated some oil and deep-fried for a few minutes on each side until the pate kode were golden brown, and then they were done.

I was apprehensive about the hotdog filling but these tasted pretty good. I do think I would have preferred a dough with some fat in it though, and I don’t feel the baking powder was necessary. It made for a bready texture rather than a flakey pastry, but maybe this is how it’s meant to be.

If you’d like to try this, the recipe I referred to is from Love for Haitian Food. The recipe is currently not displaying but that might be a temporary issue, and the video is there at least.

Pikliz (Pickled Slaw)

Pikliz (Pickled Slaw)

Pikliz is a spicy pickled slaw which is commonly served with meats and fried food. It does a great job of bringing some brightness to a rich dish.

This was easy to make, just a little time-consuming because of all the chopping! I combined cabbage, carrot, onion, bell pepper, serrano chili (in place of Scotch Bonnets), shallots, and a few whole cloves in a jar. Then I poured over a mixture of white vinegar, lime juice (in place of sour orange juice), and salt. I let the jar sit for 24 hours. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be left out at room temperature for this initial stage; either way, the recipe didn’t specify so I refrigerated it to be safe.

I served this with the griot (next dish) and it was pretty good but I felt the vinegar taste was a bit too strong. I’m not an expert on pickling so I am not sure if it’s okay to add some water instead of some of the vinegar. That would make it taste better, in my opinion, but it may decrease how long you can keep it (the recipe says it can stay in the fridge for months).

To make this, I used the recipe from Haitian Creole Cuisine.

Griot (Marinated and Fried Pork)

Griot (Marinated and Fried Pork)

Griot is commonly considered to be Haiti’s national dish, and it’s made from chunks of pork that are marinated, braised, and finally fried.

The pork marinade consisted of habanero, onion, bell pepper, parsley, salt, pepper, thyme, garlic, cider vinegar, orange juice, lemon juice, lime juice, and Worcestershire sauce. Traditionally sour orange juice is used, but the citrus combination here is meant to be a good substitute. I mixed in the pork pieces and let them marinate overnight.

The next day I cooked the pork in the marinade over low heat on the stove—the recipe said to do it in the oven but it was hot and I didn’t want to turn the oven on. I did have to add more liquid now and then; I used chicken stock.

When the pork was tender I shallow-fried it until browned. This is another deviation from the recipe, which specifies to use the broiler, but frying it is the traditional way (and again, I didn’t want the oven on). To serve, I drizzled some of the strained sauce over the top and sprinkled over some parsley. The recipe suggested I serve it over rice with pikliz on the side; I included the pikliz but wasn’t feeling like rice. It would have worked well to mop up some of the sauce, which was delicious. The pork tasted really good, especially with the pikliz which made for a nice contrast.

To make this, I used a recipe from the New York Times.

Bonbon Siwo (Haitian Gingerbread Cake)

Bonbon Siwo (Haitian Gingerbread Cake)

This is a gingerbread-flavored cake. One thing I found interesting is that many of the recipes I came across used fresh grated ginger rather than ground ginger, which is what is usually used in baking. In Haiti, this would often be made with dark sugarcane syrup, but molasses is a bit easier to come by elsewhere so many recipes use that instead.

To make this, I beat together butter, eggs, and brown sugar. Then I mixed in flour, baking soda, molasses, vanilla extract, nutmeg, cinnamon, and grated ginger. I baked for a bit less than the recipe suggested because I always like to be on the safe side, and I was halving the recipe so I had a smaller tin. I did have to use some guesswork here because the original recipe did not specify a tin size. I do think it’s a brownie tin, but that could be 8×8 inches or 9×13. I think it’s the latter judging by the photo. I used a 9×5 inch loaf pan for half the recipe.

There was an optional citrus/rum glaze, but I omitted it in order to be a little more healthy, and it didn’t seem like it was a crucial part of the dish. In the end, I kind of wish I did use the glaze, because this cake was SO dry. I don’t know if the baking time was just way off, or if the recipe is no good. I specifically chose a Haitian recipe site but I think sometimes it may be better to sacrifice a little authenticity for a more reliable recipe (and I definitely do that sometimes). I can say that the flavor was good but I’ll have to eat the rest of this cake soaked in cream!

If you would like to try making this, the recipe I used is from Haitian Recipes. I would just advise that you only bake for 30 minutes or so to start because maybe that’s all it needs.

  • Diri djon djon – a rice dish cooked with black mushrooms called ‘djon djon’, found in northern Haiti. Even if I could get the right mushrooms, I am not a mushroom lover so this was something I would have skipped anyway. However, it seems to be popular in Haiti.
  • Soup joumou – a soup made with winter squash, beef, potato, and other vegetables. This soup commemorated Haiti’s liberation from France in 1804, and is on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. This means it has been recognized as an important part of Haitian culture.
  • Tchaka – a stew made from hominy, beans, pumpkin, and meat (usually pork). This stew is used as an offering to the loa in Haitian Vodou.
  • Lambi – stewed conch. Conch is a sea snail popular in the Caribbean. It’s not so easy to get here though so I’ve had to pass up all conch dishes I’ve come across.
  • Pain patate – a pudding or pie made from sweet potato, banana, coconut milk, and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. I don’t really like banana so I skipped this one!

Final Thoughts

This was a good week! My favorite dish was definitely the griot.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Honduras.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Flavor Vortex © Copyright 2021. All rights reserved.