Because we’re nearing the one-year-later mark of my motherland’s massive earthquake, I’ve decided to make this week’s blog posts Haiti-centric. I’ll begin with the all-important subject of food. I love my people, but admit that a majority (not all, but many) are close-minded about non-Haitian food. When feeding baby-boomer-aged Haitians, there may be a spread on your table large enough to feed Alexander the Great’s army, but if there are no Haitian dishes on there, you may as well have a table full of marshmallows. The other stuff isn’t “real food.”
Thanksgiving ’09, one of my aunts came over. “Lise made the turkey this year,” my mom told her, gesturing towards my roasted bird in an offering manner. My aunt’s response: “OH! Ou konnain mwen pa nan ‘turkey breast’ sa! Mwen pote oun ti dinde en sauce pou ou!” (‘Oh! You know I don’t eat that roasted turkey breast. I brought you some Haitian dark meat turkey fried in sauce, though!’)
Me: “I’m thinking of doing a brunch.”
Mom: “What’s your menu?”
Me: Some pancakes and a compote, a quail-egg-tomato-cheese pastry recipe that I want to try, some breakfast meats, some hot chocolate from scratch, maybe some smoked salmon or trout…”
My mom: “I’ll make a riz cole.” (Haitian rice with red beans)
Me: “That’s okay, mom. I’m trying to stick to breakfast foods…”
My dad: “Il faut un riz. Mummy fera un riz.” (‘There must be rice. Mom will make a rice.)
I get it. Haitian food is great, so I’ve taken the liberty of compiling some of my favorite Haitian eating spots in the South Florida area that I feel are well worth checking out. Don’t expect smiling service, chatty employees, high-gloss marble floors, the safest neighborhoods, or that the meat you want will always be in stock; do expect generous portions of good Haitian food. Please feel free to add to the list, whether you’re in South Florida or not! Happy eating!
Chez Le Bebe (114 NE 54th St., Miami, FL, 33137)
A spot in Little Haiti. Excellent deep-fried whole snapper, paired with banan peze (fried plantains). Has good downhome Haitian fare, i.e. legume (stewed veggies), griot (fried pork chunks), stewed goat, stewed beef. Dishes come with beans, rice and fried plantains.
Chez Madame John’s Restaurant (975 NE 125th St., North Miami, FL, 33161)
Favorites here: griot (seasoned fried pork chunks); turkey and goat tasso (fried turkey, fried goat); poisson gros sel (which translates into fish with rock salt); this dish is poached whole fish–usually either snapper or kingfish– with sour orange and seasonings; they use snapper here.
Tap Tap Haitian Restaurant (819 5th St., Miami Beach, FL 33139)
A well known Miami Beach fixture. Haitian art all over the walls, ultra colorful, feels like Haiti. Their menu boasts plenty of traditional Haitian dishes, like akra (malanga fritters), kabrit nan sos (stewed goat), and stuff like corn, chicken, goat and conch prepared boukannen (over charcoal)– the way you’d find it on the street by a vendor or shoreside at the beach in Haiti. Also one of the only Haitian spots that serves spaghetti–spageti kreyol avec aranso (Creole spaghetti with herring)–which plenty of people in Haiti cook at home, but just about never serve in restaurants. Dear husband loves spice, and loves this dish, but he couldn’t finish it–mouth and body were literally on fire.
Chef Creole Seafood Takeout (200 NW 54th St., Miami, FL)
Well known for their Haitian seafood dishes: conch, lobster, fish, shrimp–stewed, fried, steamed, etc. Featured and well liked by Anthony Bourdain in his “No Reservations” series, Chef Creole’s chef/owner was hamming it up like crazy with Bourdain’s cameras around.
*Photo by Kthread