One thing about Haitian Food: You will never forget it!
One of my most memorable Haitian moments connected to food was in the Kawo region located in the mountains overlooking central Haiti. Our group made the challenging and sun-drenched 7+ mile hike up, exhausting even to the most experienced hikers. Were greeted with the traditional cup of super-sweet fresh coffee to renew our weary bodies. It was amazing and energizing. We set up camp and settled in for a few days of living alongside our Haitian friends. My wife and I along with my boys, Gabe, 9 years, and Jon, 11 years, were part of our team. Jon had been here 3 years prior on his first journey to Kawo. For Gabe this was his first exposure to the amazing hospitality of the poorest mountain people in the world. The welcoming meal, our dinner for the night, began with the late morning slaughtering of a small goat. And then things got interesting as we discovered the resourcefulness of these incredible people.
I snuck into the “pantry” for a look see and found vibrant colored vegtables and ingredients set up for meal prep. As far as we could tell through Creole and hand gestures, they were going to use every part of the animal. The women butchered the animal with wonderful efficiency, setting aside the meat and bones. A bowl full of goat parts were about to be cleaned and set up for a rich and spicy tomato-based stew spiced up with hot chilis, onions, garlic, citrus fruit, and thyme.
Even the goat’s hide (seen here in the blue bucket later was hung on a nearby avocado tree and fleshed, scraped, and preserved for use. The process took all day and each woman had here job to do. This small goat would be the basis for several meals and feed many people.
With my general interest in food and cooking, I was kinda nosey and asking a lot of questions of the women. They found it funny that I (a man) was watching them and asking about ingredients and cooking techniques. My inquiries resulted in many smiles and some laughter. Men do not do this job!
When the cooking began in a couple different “kitchens” around the area, I visited another small structure and found what would be the center of the meal. The same woman who was fleshing and scraping the hide earlier in the day, see above, was cooking in a pot on a welded rebar rack using traditional hard charcoal. When you travel around Haiti you seen many large “tarp” bags filled with hard lump charcoal in markets along the road for sale and balanced atop the heads of women bringing them home for cooking fires. Our cook was using the same fuel to boil up the beginning of the meal.