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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Haiti

WARNING: Safety is a concern in Haiti, please read this travel warning before going!

Historic Diet

Haiti's historic diet was based on what the island naturally grew and since the island is quite lush and rainy that meant there was no shortage of fruits and vegetables. Most of these foods were the same as the fruits and vegetables found throughout the Caribbean, including plantains, pineapples, sweet potatoes, maize (corn), cassava (yucca), guavas, papayas, bananas, coconuts, beans, and numerous other foods. The island was also home to some animals that provided food to the earliest people. Although few mammals and other land animals were used in the historic or even in the modern diet, the waters off the coast provide a huge number of seafood, including angelfish, barracudas, grouper, lobsters, snapper, and crab among others.

Culinary Influences

The first influence to the diet of Haiti came with the first people to arrive who brought with them new foods and cultivated these foods. This led to the introduction of new ingredients as well as organized agriculture.

The first great change to the historic diet arrived with the Spanish. The Spanish brought new foods, animals, and spices to the island, giving the food an entirely new dynamic. The most important aspects the Spanish introduced were their spices, animals including cattle, fruits including oranges and lemons, and rice also arrived with the Spanish.

During the colonial period the Caribbean became a center of trade and influences to the local cuisine arrived from all over the Caribbean as well as from Africa as the slave trade began to dominate the region. This led to a greater use of rice, plantains, local seafood, and Caribbean spices.

Later in the colonization period the French took over as more influential than the Spanish and this influence makes Haitian cuisine quite unique, even compared to neighboring islands. This influence is seen in cooking techniques, the increased presence of dairy, and many French seasonings and dishes are common in their original or an altered form to match local tastes and available spices.

In the past century or so, international ethnic foods have arrived in larger numbers. Today a huge number of ethnic foods can be found in grocery stores and restaurants as American, Italian, French, and Chinese foods are found in many places. Oddly, a number of immigrants from the Middle East, have also arrived, bringing with them Middle Eastern dishes and spices, although these foods haven't altered the cuisine so much as they have added to it.

Staple Foods

Beans: a side with many dishes and often served with rice
Rice: a common base to meals or simply a side dish; often served with beans

Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes

Legim: beef or crab stew that usually includes eggplant, cabbage, spinach, and watercress, but can include many more vegetables
Poul Ak Nwa: found only in the north, this dish is made with chicken and cashews
Griots with Rice & Beans: the national dish consists of fried pork cubes, rice, beans, and bananas, usually covered with hot sauce
Tchaka: pork, bean, and pumpkin stew

Dining Etiquette

The Haitians have a mix of dining traditions between French, Caribbean, and Central American etiquettes. Generally the people are very laid back and easy going, but there are some dining rules all guests should try to adhere to. This begins with your arrival and dress as you may arrive a few minutes late and in casual clothing, but if meeting a business partner or going to a local's home dress a bit nicer as this shows respect.

As you enter the room to eat, allow women and "senior" men to enter first and allow your host to show you your seat. Couples are often separated and the seating tends to alternate between men and women so conversation can be encouraged. Often times drinks will be served with a meal and your host will welcome you with a toast of "salud." If not drinking, the meal will begin with the words "bon appetite."

As you eat use the continental style (knife in the right hand, fork in the left) and keep your hands within sight at all times by resting your wrists on the edge of the table. Once you have finished place your knife and fork together on the right side of your plate.

If you are eating in a restaurant, get the server's attention by making eye contact; don't wave or call his/her name. A gratuity is usually not included in your bill so be sure to add a tip of about 10% to the bill and hand all the money to your server directly.

Celebrations & Events

As with most Caribbean destinations, the celebrations in Haiti must begin with Carnival, which takes place just before the beginning of Lent. Although this celebration is now more about the music, dancing, and partying, its origin comes from a great over consumption that takes place just before Lent begins and remnants of this origin are still seen. During this time the people over indulge in meats and fatty foods prior to their Lenten requirements of fasting.

Other holidays, most particularly Christmas is celebrated with large feasts for families, but one unique aspect of this holiday is a drink called "kremas." Kremas is a local Haitian drink that is made of milk and rum and is most often served during the Christmas holiday, but can be found year round.


Haitian Food - Mojito

Haiti boasts all the popular drinks from teas and coffees to colas and milk, but juices and some unique drinks rule the nation. Among the more popular juices are guava, mango, orange, passion fruit, pineapple, and coconut milk/water among others. If you ever tire of the juice selection or are simply looking for something unusual try akasan, which is cornmeal, evaporated milk, sugar, cinnamon and other spices or try malta, which is flavored with barley and molasses.

Again, Haiti offers nearly every kind of alcoholic beverage available although some, including wine and some hard liquors are not real common. Beer is a mainstay on many menus and you can find both international brands as well as local beers, such as "Prestige." Rum is the other common beverage and the Haitians prefer the local "Rhum Barnancourt" although it can be expensive. A popular mixed drink using rum is cremas, a creamy coconut, milk, and rum drink; if you want an adventure, perhaps a slightly dangerous and ill-advised one, seek out kleren, the local moonshine.

The tap water in Haiti should not be consumed. Be sure to also avoid anything with ice as it may have been made from the tap water. Salads and fruits could have also been washed in the tap water so be careful with those foods as well.

This page was last updated: March, 2013