In order to fully appreciate Haitian food, it would be enriching to learn about its history so to better understand its influences and its tasteful, yet diverse medley of cuisine styles.
Haiti is situated on the western part of the Carribean island of Hispaniola. Because of it's coastal location, it has had various colonizations. Starting in 1492, Cristopher Columbus discovered the Carribean island for the first time, settling with the Spanish for a good 25 years. This explains why the island was originally called Hispaniola (Little Spain). Afterward, in the early 17th century the French settled in some portions of Hispaniola as well, and in 1967 they were offered the Haitian portion from Spain. The French colony imported many African slaves into the island to care for their vast sugar cane crops, therefore, this is how Haiti obtained its African, Spanish and French culinary influences.
While the African cuisine offers exotic cuisine styles, the Spanish influence offers the spice and the French influence offers refined recipes, creating a pretty unique cuisine that will certaintly entertain the visitor. When African, Spanish and French cuisines mix, the local produce will supply various ingredients to work with. Haiti's coastal position offers plenty of seafood such as lobster, fishmeat and shrimp. Fruit-wise tropical fruits abund such as bananas, guava, mango, pineapple, coconuts, melons and breadfruit.
Breadfruit may sound like something peculiar for tourists. It is a native tree of the western Pacific islands which produces a large tasty fruit. It is very versatile and used in fruit salads and desserts.
As a tourist, expect Haitian food to be moderately spicy, not too mild yet not too hot.
While most of us are used to fast food restaurants and ready to eat foods, the Haitians invest a large amount of time cooking. Slow cooking is vital to assure proper conservation of vitamins and minerals and at the same time allow the flavors to flow. Many meals are slow cooked wrapped in banana or plantain leaves for up to 3-4 hours. Coals are often used to further allow slow cooking and this is accomplished by placing them in a hollow area in the ground with leaves on top of the food.
Typical Haitian foods may be appreciated at local restaurants however, there are some more rural plates that may be appreciated only by mingling with the locals. Some of these common dishes are as follows:
Mais moulu: a dish that resembles cornmeal often served with a bean sauce called 'sos pwa'.
Sopu jomou: a spicy pumpkin soup
Banane Pz:fried plantain slices
Griot: cooked/fried pork
langouste flamb: lobster
Diri cole ak pwa: brown rice with red kidney beans and red snapper
Du riz djondjon: rice with black mushroom sauce
Du riz blanche a sause-pois noir : rice with black bean sauce
Poule: chicken marinated with black pepper, lemon juice, cumin, and garlic
Canard: fried duck
Fresco: similar to Italian ice, it may be found sold by street vendors
Pain Patate: a sweet bread made of sweet potato, cinnamon and evaportated milk.
Akasant: thick milk shake made of evaporated milk, cinnamon, and corn flour.
Chocolat des Cayes: cocoa
Beer: offered often at festivals, the most common brand is Prestige
Rum: Rhum Barbancourt is very popular and produced using sugar cane juice
Cremas: a creamy liquor offered along with desserts
Guava juice: the juice produced from the guava fruit
Haitians enjoy celebrating events through their cuisine, so when Independence day comes on July 1st they try their best to arrange their best foods and celebrate. Meat and fish based dishes are often offered at such occasions.
While Haitian food may seem very intricate in nature, the tourist must be aware of the fact that Haiti is a relatively poor country. Many of its inhabitants still struggle through many hardships and still cannot afford meat and fish. Grain based dishes are the most popular as they are much more affordable and available. Poverty has perhaps been the main influence in the dishes of this country, yet while there are poor children chewing on sugar canes for dessert, there are those few wealthy people buying expensive French desserts.