Haitian cuisine is a mix of several influences with a distinctive fusion of French, Spanish, African, Arabian and even American dishes. Like other Caribbean islands, Haiti has a unique cooking technique and practices that makes its traditional food rich in taste and flavor. Looking for an exotic mouth-watering treat on your next trip? Here’s a list of ten traditional foods in Haiti that every traveler should experience while discovering this Caribbean island.
1. Macaroni au Gratin (baked macaroni and cheese)
This dish is a favorite in any Haitian table. Not the usual mac-and-cheese, this freshly-baked delicacy is perfect for all cheese lovers. One should definitely not miss the opportunity to taste this authentic penne or rigatoni dish which overflows with delicious ingredients including ham, peppers, mayonnaise, milk, and parmesan cheese. Different cooking techniques of this popular staple are spread across the Caribbean but rest assured that Haitian version will not disappoint anyone, who is a cheese and pasta fanatic. For a more authentic Haitian feel, pikliz which is a traditionally pickled vegetable relish can be ordered as a side with it.
2. Poulet Aux Noix (chicken with cashew nuts)
This Haitian main dish is a specialty and a traditional fare in the Northern part of the island. Understandably it is very popular among meat lovers. Cooked or served with a condiment called pikliz, this saucy chicken dish has the authentic flavor of Haitian cuisine with its spicy and rich taste, enhanced by a slow cooking method. Chicken pieces are marinated overnight in a mixture of herbs, spices together with cashew nuts, onions, peppers and a mix of vegetables, Poulet Aux Noix is cooked in a thick tomato-based sauce. Usually eaten with steamed white rice, a serving of this saucy dish is perfect as an everyday meal.
3. Lambi (stewed conch)
Blessed with tasty treasures from the sea surrounding the island, Haitian menu is filled with dishes where seafood is the main ingredient, particularly conch. While exploring the culinary delights, you will encounter different styles of cooking Lambi - from basic frying, grilling, sauteing, barbequing to a more complicated yet mouth-watering approach like stewing the conch. Cooking it as a stew with a tomato-based sauce is known as Lambi Creole or stewed conch and you have to order it if you spot it in a local restaurant. Lambi can be very rubbery when not cooked properly so it is better to ask the locals for restaurant recommendations.
4. Griyo (fried pork)
When strolling around Haiti, you will surely spot vendors selling their fritays all day long. Fritays are fried street foods like conch, plantains, and sausages to name a few. One of the most popular street food items in Haiti without a doubt is Griyo, a kind of fritay made from marinated deep-fried pork meat chunks. Like any other Haitian cuisine, the cooking technique of this particular dish results in a balanced flavor of herbs and spices which are mixed during the marinating process of the meat. Together with fried green plantain, this dish is perfect with rice or with a bottle of cold beer.
5. Pain de Mais (cornbread)
A sweet delicacy and an extremely common dessert in Haiti, Pain de Mais is a sweet cornbread that looks like a cake and is usually eaten after a meal. Aside from banana, corn is also grown in the Caribbean in massive amounts. With its abundant production in Haiti, it is common for locals to make use of the left-over corn and convert it to this sweet treat. Baked to the desired level of sweetness, a mixture of butter, sugar, cornmeal, coconut milk, nutmeg, mashed banana, vanilla extract, and Haitian rum, this dense and delicious delicacy is truly not your average cornbread.
6. Mayi Moulen ak Zepina (cornmeal with spinach)
Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing
Considered as a superfood in Haiti cuisine, this dish is a popular staple on the Haitian table and is treated and consumed like rice. You should definitely order a serving of this heavy-loaded nutritious meal when in Haiti and need an extra boost walking around the island. Together with sautéed fresh spinach that is cut in tiny pieces, onions, and tomatoes, coarse corn is boiled and stirred for a smooth and soft cornmeal. Believing that Mayi is a great source of protein and iron, this dish is usually served during breakfast with green fresh avocado slices for a shot of energy, to start the day.
7. Lalo Legume (jute leaves)
Photo is only for illustrative purposes
‘No wonder, looks can be deceiving’ this quote is applicable to our next traditional dish of Haiti. Originated from the northern part of the island and a specialty from the Artibonite region, this eatable is definitely not an appetizing meal with its distracting deep green color. Yet it is truly a healthy and delicious option. If you are up to eating this dish, it’s good to know that the jute leaves, also known as lalo, can be cooked with or without meat. Lalo legume is usually mixed with seafood such as blue crab or beef and is served with steamed rice for a complete and fulfilling experience.
8. Labouyi Ble (bulgur wheat porridge)
Photo is only for illustrative purposes
Bulgur wheat is consumed in Haiti as a substitute for rice or is used for making porridge. Labouyi Ble, a typical Haitian bulgur wheat porridge, usually consists of milk, butter, nutmeg, vanilla extract, cinnamon, star anise, and salt or sugar to taste. This simple comfort food is a healthy and yummy dish. It is best served in the morning for a good start or as a meal before bedtime. Either cooked thick or as a runny soup, this traditional food in Haiti is perfect when paired with fresh fruit slices.
9. Bannann Peze (fried green plantains)
From the French “Banane pesée” which means “pressed banana”, bannann peze is a staple on any Haitian table. Similar to the other Caribbean plantains which are widely grown across the region, Bannann Peze is a dish made from fresh green bananas that are sliced, squashed and fried. It is usually served as an appetizer, snack or side dish. This sweet treat is a perfect pair with tassot or the famous griyo, both fried, spiced-dried meat dishes also traditional foods in Haiti. Before digging in, sprinkle your serving with a little salt and pepper to taste.
10. Pain Patate (sweet potato bread)
A Haitian traditional dessert Pain Patate which literally means potato bread is a baked sweet potato pudding usually eaten after a meal. Made with two main ingredients including Batata (Caribbean sweet potato), and fresh coconut, this delicacy is mixed with milk, sugar, coconut milk, raisins, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Moist and flavorful, the coconut and potato are patiently grated to achieve a rewarding smooth bread texture and crunchiness that makes this delicacy the most popular dessert in Haitian cuisine. If desired, you can ask for a serving of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream on top for a complete sugar rush.
New treats for your palate
Despite the huge calamity they encountered in the year 2010, Haitian cuisine continued to treat the palates of both locals and tourists with their dishes that reflect age-old culture and tradition. Tickle your taste buds with a mixture of flavorful dishes influenced by other nations but innovated and cherished by the people of Haiti. Prepare yourself for an exotic food experience as you scout this tropical paradise while discovering their traditional food and culture.
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