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Haitian Food – Maintaining a unique flavor in the Caribbean

Haiti, with its area of 27,750sq km or 10,714 sq miles, is only somewhat bigger than the State of Maryland in the United States. This small Caribbean country comprises of many islands and three important mountain ranges with open plains separating them. The country has a tropical climate, though it varies largely depending on altitude. Plants and trees such as mango, lime, orange, avocado, coconuts, cocoa and coffee are commonly grown here. Among other crops cultivated here include sugarcane, cocoa beans, beans, sorghum, rice, corn and bananas. Now that we are set to explore Haiti let us get an insight and understand about the food, its history and the lifestyle of the people here. So, book your flights to Port-au-Prince today and visit Haiti’s largest and capital city.

Haitian Food and its History
Many countries such as those in Africa, the U.S., France and Spain have played quite an important role in influencing the traditional Haitian cuisines. Haiti per se has been ruled by several nations throughout its history. As a matter of course, food and ideas were subsequently introduced from the colonial rulers, thus heavily influencing the lifestyle and eating habits of the people here.

If we delve deep into the history of this region, we discover that hunter-gatherers inhabited the island of Hispaniola in 5000 B.C. It may be noted that the Dominican Republic and Haiti together formed the island of Hispaniola. The early Haitian tribes, the most important being the Taino Indians and Arawak, mostly cultivated many kinds of vegetables and fruits such as corn, sweet potatoes, papayas, cassava, pineapples and guavas. After the arrival of the Europeans, other fruits and crops such as sugarcane, rice, mangoes, limes and oranges were introduced. The Europeans also started getting slaves from Africa transported to this country for working in the sugarcane plantations. The African slaves who were brought by the Spanish introduced okra or gumbo, pigeon peas (seeds from a typical African shrub), taro (an edible root), and ackee (a kind of yellow and red fruit). The Africans also introduced various kinds of spices to their food. Later on, the Africans also brought in rice, red beans and miriton, which are now popular Haitian specialties.

However, when the French defeated the Spanish in 1700 and took control of Hispaniola, they took the help of African slaves in cultivating cocoa, cotton, coffee and sugarcane. Even after Haiti became independent in 1804 and was the New World’s first African-American republic, the country even today continues to be largely influenced by the French, which is not only appropriately reflected in its culture but also its cuisines such as French breads, desserts and cheeses that are commonly available at the local stores and markets.

Flavorful, yet unique cuisines
Since Haiti is now part of the Caribbean region, hence its food is also treated as Caribbean cuisine. The food in the country however continues to maintain an independent unique flavor. While the food in the neighboring Dominican Republic is greatly influenced by the Spanish, the Haitian food is mostly based on French and Creole cooking styles. In fact, the cuisines here are in stark contrast to those found in other Caribbean countries because of the abundant use of pepper in most dishes.

Many cuisines prepared here are specifically native to the country. The dishes such as rice djon-djon, Calalou, pain patate, and jomou are typical and found in Haiti only. The rice djon-djon is prepared by using the Haitian black mushrooms. The rice is first colored black using the mushroom stems and afterwards the lima beans along with mushroom caps are used as a tasty topping. The Calalou is also a typical dish prepared with peppers, okra, onion, spinach, salted pork and crabmeat. The pain patate is a dessert made of fig, sweetened potato and banana pudding. Pumpkin soup or Soup jomou is traditionally served during the lunch only on Sundays.

Other dishes
Haitian food is in fact mostly based on starch staples such as beans, yams, millet, corn and rice. This is mostly consumed by the average Haitians who are not well-to-do. The wealthier natives usually eat meat dishes such as goat and pork. The other dishes mostly favored by the rich include duck, spiced shrimp, cold cuts, frog legs and lobster. They also enjoy French-influenced desserts like pastries and mousse. French cheeses are also mostly consumed by the rich people in the country.

Riz et Pois, which is prepared using rice and beans, it the national dish of Haiti and is commonly eaten here. It is inexpensive when compared to other dishes. The general Haitians also prefer eating cornmeal mush or Mayi moulen. This dish is cooked with peppers, coconut and kidney beans, and is traditionally served with pikliz or spicy pickled cabbage and carrots. This dish is also quite affordable and can be filling.

The Haitians also fry their meals frequently in pig fat to make it even more delicious. These dishes include grio or fried pork, tasso or deep-fried beef, poule or fried chicken, and Bannann peze or fried plantains akin to bananas.

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