I couldn’t possible live in Haiti and not write about delicious local food that this side of Hispaniola has to offer. Haitian cuisine is primarily influenced by the ethnic culinary traditions of its ancestors that populated the western portion of the island of Hispaniola. Namely, it incorporates African, French, Taino, and Spanish cooking aesthetics and techniques. In addition, there are number of American as well as Italian and Lebanese dishes that have been adopted and are part of everyday household cooking, e.g. baked crusty macaroni & cheese, or spaghetti with hotdogs and ketchup for breakfast. All of the dishes are characterized by complex, spicy and bold flavors (at times too bold to my personal liking, e.g. dried herring or cooked liver).
To better demonstrate the depth of Haitian table and the underlying essence and nature of Haitian cuisine, I compiled a full course tasting menu that includes all of my favorite local culinary finds and “must-eats” during your visit!
Disclaimer: I hope you are all well-fed before you start reading this. Now let’s dig in. Bon apeti!
PIKLIZ & BANANES PESÉES
I can talk for days about my love for pikliz, Haiti’s all-purpose condiment! Pickled spicy slaw of cabbage and vegetables (onions, carrots, peppers, etc.), grated or shredded, served in a vinegar base and often dashed with chili peppers. Due to its crunch and tang it’s a perfect complement to fried and heavy foods and is most often served with fried plantains.
Country’s best known appetizers: a square-shaped flaky savory pastry filled with round beef, chicken, salted cod, smoked herring, peppers, guava paste or cheese.
Brought to Haiti by immigrants from Lebanon and Syria, this popular eastern appetizer has been adopted and is now prepared using local spices.
HAITIAN SOUP COURSE
Hearty and creamy bright orange bowl of puréed pumpkin made with vegetables, poultry/beef and tiny strands of short spaghetti or noodles.
LANBI NAN SÒS KREYOL (CONCH IN CREOLE SAUCE)
A grilled conch in a tomato-based spicy creole sauce. Of all the fruits of the sea you can find in Haiti conch is a must-try if seafood is your thing.
TASSOT DE CABRIT NAN SAUCE TI MALICE
Tender cubes of goat, marinated with citrus flavors and fried until crispy, often accompanied with spicy sauce.
GRIYO (FRIED PORK)
For meat-eaters, griyo is an absolute must-try traditional dish of Haiti. Cubes of pork are soaked in a sour orange marinade and then slow-roasted until tender. The tender morsels are then given a final fry in oil until delectably caramelized.
Sides: Typical Haitian meal consists of 3 elements. The protein is usually servied with two sides. Mostly these include your choice of white rice, diri et pois coles (rice and red beans) or the mushroom-flavored black rice called djon djon, plus fried plantains and/or a cold side like beet and corn salad or potato salad.
KASAV (CASSAVA BREAD)
Made from the cassava root tuber in a thin and crispy style with a slightly ‘nutty’ taste, cassava bread is less moist like bread and more dry like a cracker. It can be stuffed with shaved dried coconut, a not-so-sweet chocolate and paired with Haitian peanut butter (which, by the way, is spicy!)
No trip to Haiti would be complete without indulging on Rhum Punch or Rhum Sour (depending on your tastebuds) – a delectable fusion of famous local Barbancourt rum, lime orange and pineapple juices, and sugar cane syrup.
A ubiquitous Haitian beer of choice is Prestige, a relatively heavy American-style lager.
Another popular local drink is Crémas – a creamy mixture of rum, coconut, and milk. Various other spices are added for additional flavoring such as cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, as well as miscellaneous ingredients such as the widely used vanilla extract or raisins.
If you want an adventure, perhaps a slightly dangerous and ill-advised one, seek out Kleren, the local moonshine.
Best Restaurants in Port-au-Prince
You might be amazed by the abundance of good restaurants in the Haitian metropolis. Although in most cases the service has ample room for improvement, your tastebuds will be pleasantly surprised. My personal favorites with well-tried menus as well as pleasant ambiance are:
- Papay, allegedly the best restaurant in Port-au-Prince, offers a nouvelle cuisine and globe-trotting menu with the occasional stab at Caribbean fusion. Unlike many of the restaurants in Haiti, the menu here varies throughout the year, ideal if you plan to make repeated visits. Address: Papaye Restaurant, 48 Metellus, Port-au-Prince, Haiti,+509 3513 9229.
- La Plantasion. Popular with visitors, expats and NGO workers, this lavish restaurant showcases French cuisine on its menu and is set in and around a central courtyard garden shaded by palms and hung with trellises. The dining room’s colonial charm is accentuated by dark wooden ceiling fans and tiled floors. Address: Rue Borno, Impasse Fouchard, Petion-Ville, Haiti, +509 2941 6334.
- Mosaik offers gorgeous eclectic ambiance and French fusion menu. Address: 89, Rue Gregoire, Petion-Ville, Haiti, +509 3702 3939.
- Magdoos is an upmarket Lebanese restaurant which boasts with beautiful Middle Eastern ambiance. Magdoos also hosts the occasional special event like Arabian magic shows, wine tastings, string quartets and club nights. Address: Magdoos, 30 rue Oge, Ville De Pétion-Ville, Ouest, Haiti, +509 3821 2121.
- Quartier Latin. This charming restaurant offers an extensive breakfast and brunch menu along with pizzas, pastas and French classics at lunch and dinner time. Local jazz and salsa bands perform on several nights of the week. Address: Brasserie Quartier Latin, 10 Rue Goulard, Place Boyer, Pétionville, Haiti, +509 3460 3326.
- The View has local as well as international dishes on offer and is known for its astounding view of the city. Address: Chavannes, Petion-Ville, Haiti, +509 22 56 6075.
Last but not least, two video documentaries below give a perfect insight into diverse Haitian culinary traditions, as well as local culture and customs.
- Anthony Bourdain No Reservations: Haiti
- Undiscovered Haiti with José Andres
Do you like Caribbean cuisine? Have you ever tried a Haitian dish? If yes, which one? How did you like it? Share your experiences in the comments! :)