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Haitian cuisine originates from several culinary styles from the various historical ethnic groups that populate the western portion of the island of Hispaniola, namely the French, African, the Taíno Amerindians Spanish and Middle Eastern influence.
Haiti is similar to the rest of the Latin Caribbean, (the French and the Spanish-speaking countries of the Antilles), however it differs in several ways from its regional counterparts. Its primary influence derives from French and African cuisine, with notable derivatives from native Taíno and Spanish culinary techniques. Though similar to other cooking styles in the region, it carries a uniqueness native only to the country and an appeal to many visitors to the island. While the cuisine is unpretentious and simple, the flavors are bold and moderately spicy and demonstrate a very African culinary aesthetic paired with a very French sophistication. Haitians use vegetables, meats, rice or corn meal extensively and peppers and similar herbs are often used for strengthening flavor. Dishes tend to be seasoned liberally. In the country, however, many businesses of foreign origin have been established introducing several foreign cuisines into the mainstream culture. Years of adaptation have led to these cuisines (e.g. Levantine from Arab Migration to Haiti) merging with Haitian cuisine.
"Manje Ayisien" (Haitian food) is the equivalent of criollo cooking (criollo meaning "creole") in other countries. This encompasses most of what is regularly cooked in Haiti, involving the extensive use of herbs, and somewhat unlike Cuban cooking, the liberal use of peppers. A typical dish would probably be a plate of diri kole ak pwa (rice and beans), which is white rice with red kidney or pinto beans glazed with a marinade as a sauce and topped off with red snapper, tomatoes and onions. Dishes vary by regions. The dish can be accompanied by bouillon (bouyon), similar to sancocho in some neighboring Latin American countries. Bouillon is a hearty stew consisting of various spices, potatoes, tomatoes, and meats such as goat or beef.
Rice is occasionally eaten with beans alone, but more often than not, some sort of meat completes the dish. Beans puree or (sos pwas) is often poured on top of white rice. The traditional Haitian sos pwa is less thick than the Cuban's black bean soup. Black beans is usually the beans of choice, followed by red beans and white beans. Chicken (poul) is frequently eaten, the same goes for goat meat (kabrit) and beef (bèf). Chicken is often boiled in a marinade consisting of lemon juice, sour orange, scotch bonnet pepper, garlic and other seasonings and subsequently fried until crispy.
Legim is a thick vegetable stew consisting of a mashed mixture of eggplant, cabbage, chayote, spinach, watercress and other vegetables depending on availability and the cook's preference. It is flavored with epis, onions, garlic, and tomato paste, and generally cooked with beef and/or crab. Legim is most often served with rice, but may also be served with other starches, including mayi moulen (a savory cornmeal porridge similar to polenta or grits), pitimi (cooked millet), or ble (wheat groats).
Other starches commonly eaten include yam, patat (neither of which should be confused with the North American sweet potato), potato, and breadfruit. These are frequently eaten with a thin sauce consisting of tomato paste, onions, spices, and dried fish.
One of the country's best known appetizers is the Haitian patty (pate), which are made with round beef, salted cod (bacalao), smoked herring (food), chicken, and ground turkey surrounded by a crispy or flaky crust. Other snacks include akra (crispy, spicy fried malanga fritters), bananes pesées, and marinad (fried savory dough balls). For a complete meal, they may be served with griyo (fried pork) or other fried meat. These foods are served with a spicy slaw called pikliz which consists of cabbage, carrot, vinegar, scotch bonnet pepper, and spices. Fried foods, collectively known as fritay, are sold widely on the streets.
Regional dishes also exist throughout Haiti. In the area around Jérémie, on Haiti's southwest tip, people eat a dish called tonmtonm, which is steamed breadfruit (lam veritab) mashed in a pilon, and is very similar to West African Fufu. Tonmtonm is swallowed without chewing, using a slippery sauce made of okra (kalalou in Haitian Creole), cooked with meat, fish, crab, and savory spices. Another regional dish is poul ak nwa (chicken with cashew nuts), which is from the north of the country, in the area around Cap-Haïtien.
The flavor base of much Haitian cooking is epis, a combination sauce made from cooked peppers, garlic, and herbs, particularly green onions, thyme, and parsley. It is used as a basic condiment for rice and beans and is also used in stews and soups.
Increasingly, imported Maggi bouillon cubes are used by Haitian cooks. This is indicative of the growing availability of imported, often artificial and inexpensive, foods, such as Tampico beverages.
Beer is one of several common alcoholic beverages consumed in Haiti, often drunk at festivals, parties, and occasionally downed with a meal. The most widely drank brand of beer in Haiti is Prestige, a nationally popular mild lager with a taste similar to many commercialized beers such as Budweiser and Miller Light. The beer has a light and crisp yet mildly sweet taste with a vague yet strong flavor reminiscent of several American-style beers. Prestige is brewed by Brasserie Nationale d'Haiti (owned by Heineken).
Haiti's rum is extremely popular among its inhabitants, in addition to those in other societies. The most known company in the country is the world-renowned Rhum Barbancourt; one of the nation's most famous exports and by international standards, the country's most popular alcoholic beverage. It is unique in that the distilleries use sugarcane juice directly instead of molasses like other types of rum. The rum is marketed in approximately 20 countries and uses a process of distillation similar to the process used to produce cognac. The liquor creamed drink called Crémas is also drunk in Haiti. It is a popular beverage usually consumed as part of dessert or simply by itself. It has a sweet like flavor that you can taste.
Clairin or kleren is another popular drink; it is equivalent to moonshine and is distilled from molasses, it is distilled twice sometimes to have a higher proof of alcohol. It is widely popular and small distilleries can be found throughout the countryside. Clairin is at least 100 to 120 proof. Double distilled, it can easily be 150 to 190 proof. Clairin may be more popular than rum, because it is much cheaper and less labour intensive to make.
Crémas, also spelled Cremasse or Kremas in Haitian Creole, is a sweet and creamy alcoholic beverage native to Haiti. The beverage is made primarily from creamed coconut, sweetened condensed and/or evaporated milk, and rum. The rum used is usually dark; however, white rum is used frequently as well. Various other spices are added for additional flavoring such as cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, as well as miscellaneous ingredients such as the widely used vanilla extract or raisins. Recipes vary from person to person with a few differences in ingredients here and there. However the overall look and taste is the same. The beverage possesses a creamy consistency similar to a thick milkshake and varies from off-white to beige in color. The drink is popular in Haiti and is served regularly at social events and during the holidays. It is usually consumed along with a sweet pastry of some sort. The drink is often served cold however it can be served at room temperature. The beverage has become recently marketed in Haiti as well as the United States. One of the popular brands is Dorobe. It is similar to Puerto Rican Coquito.
Due to its tropical climate, juice is a mainstay in Haiti. Juices from many fruits are commonly made and can be found everywhere. Guava juice, grapefruit juice, mango juice, along with the juices of many citrus fruits (orange, granadilla, passion fruit, etc.) are popular. Juice is the de facto beverage because of its variety of flavors, easy production, and widespread accessibility. Malta H is also a popular non-alcoholic drink consisting of unfermented barley with molasses added for flavor. Fruit champagne flavored Cola Couronne, is arguably the number one liked soda by the Haitian community as it is a stapled beverage for them in Haiti and abroad since 1924. Cola Lacaye has also become part of the Haitian experience and is also well liked. It is available in banana, fruit cola and fruit champagne flavors. In more urban areas of the nation, the people also enjoy Americanized drinks such as an array of soft drinks, from Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. Milkshakes (or milkchèyk) are also drunk regularly.
Many types of desserts are eaten in Haiti ranging from the mild to sweet. Sugarcane is used frequently in the making of these desserts however granulated sugar is also used often. One very popular dessert is fresco which can be whipped up quickly. Fresco is similar to an Italian Ice, however it consists primarily of fruit syrup. The syrup is moderately thick and very sweet. It is frequently sold by street vendors. The sweet smell of this candy-like snack often attracts honeybees and a common sight on the streets is a hurried vendor handing out frescos surrounded by swirls of bees. Pen patat is a soft sweet bread made using cinnamon, evaporated milk, and sweet potato. It is usually served cold from the refrigerator but it can also be eaten at room temperature. Akasan is a thick corn milkshake with a consistency similar to that of labouille (in Creole, "labouyi") (a popular porridge made from corn). It is made using many of the same ingredients as pen patat consisting of evaporated milk, sugar, and corn flour.