Caribbean And Atlantic Culture

Brief History of Haitian Food



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Food, glorious food. Every culture has its specialty and brags about theirs being the best. Haiti is no different. This Caribbean island nation has created a spice all its own, grabbing a little of this and little of that from the nations that descended on it over the centuries. Throughout the centuries, a number of countries controlled the region and introduced food ideas from their own countries. Spain, France, Africa and the United States were pivotal in molding traditional Haitian cuisine. Haiti used all of these influences and ideas from their indigenous people as templates for a cuisine that bears their distinct signature.

Before the Europeans began conquering the island of Hispaniola, on which Haiti is located, they were a hunter-gatherer people. Haitian tribes, such as the Arawak and Taino Indians, primarily cultivated fruits and vegetables such as guavas, pineapple, cassava, papayas, sweet potatoes and corn. When the first Europeans arrived on Hispaniola, they introduced oranges, limes, mangoes, rice, and sugarcane. The slaves who were brought to the island to work the sugarcane plantations also brought their cultural cuisine with them.

In 1492, when Christopher Columbus claimed the island for Spain and introduced slave labor after 1520, Haitian foods unique qualities began to form. According to Food by Country, Africans transported "okra (also called gumbo; edible pods), ackee (red and yellow fruit), taro (edible root), pigeon peas (seeds of an African shrub), and various spices to the diet." Africans also introduced red beans and rice to Haiti, which later became a part of Louisiana's Creole cuisine.

By 1700, the French seized control of the island from the Spanish. Using African slave labor, they cultivated sugarcane, coffee, cotton, and cocoa. Even after the Haitians gained independence in 1804 from the French, becoming the first African-American republic in the New World, their influence still permeates their local cuisine. Local markets and stores sell French cheeses, desserts, and breads. Because Haitian cuisine combines Creole and French styles of cooking, the strong pepper flavoring of many of their signature dishes sets it apart from the Spanish-style cooking of other Caribbean islands.

In recent years, food has become a hot button issue in Haiti, with many members of the population only able to get by with basic needs. Staples of the average Haitian diet include rice, corn, millet, yams, and beans. Rice and beans is a common meal in most families. Yet, wealthy residents of the island enjoy luxury items like pork and goat meat, lobster, spiced shrimp, duck, and French mousse and pastries. Visitors to Port-au-Prince can enjoy extravagant foods such as frog legs, cold cuts, French cheeses, food that most residents of the island cannot afford.

Tropical fruits, such as avocados, mangoes, pineapples, coconuts, and guava, flourish on this island and are used to make fresh fruit juices. Haitians also enjoy shaved ice topped with fruit syrup and even sugarcane. These drinks are refreshing in the hot tropical weather. Many individuals enjoy chewing stalks of sugarcane to get the juice.

It's heartbreaking that many Haitians cannot afford to enjoy the food of their ancestors because of economic hardships. However, they can never deny their place in culinary history.

Source:

http://www.foodbycountry.com/Germany-to-Japan/Haiti.html Also offers recipes of some traditional Haitian fare.

 

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