Monday, May 31, 2010

Week #38 Haitian

The only thing most people hear about Haiti these days has to do with the recent earthquake. But this country's food is kinfolk of Southern American cuisine, most notably that of New Orleans. It's Creole, a blend of Caribbean with French, Spanish and African influences.

TiGeorge's in Echo Park is a mainstay of the neighborhood, and its offerings are as authentic as Haitian food can get. Himself and I went with a group from the Culinary Historians of Southern California for a good meal and a full measure of TiGeorge's hospitality. TiGeorge is an affable fellow who is proud of his country, his culture and his food, and it was a treat not only to eat there, but to talk to him and learn about his homeland and its cuisine.

I had a plate lunch that featured cabrit fricasee, or goat meat; Himself had the same basic plate lunch, but with chicken. The goat was wonderfully tender from its long, slow braise with green peppers, onions and an assortment of spices. Alongside were pikliz, a spicy, vinegary coleslaw, some battered and fried plantains and beans and rice, the national dish of Haiti. (More about the beans and rice later...)

Ti malis (named for a trickster voodoo spirit!) is a sauce of peppers, onion and garlic that packs some serious heat--although not enough to interfere with the flavor of the food. It was good on everything, with a citrus tang that helped tame the goat.

Normally I wouldn't bother including a photo of a cup of coffee, but this is a special case. The cup says Haitian brewed, but it's produced in Haiti as well. TiGeorge's family grows it on their plantation, and he roasts and sells it in his restaurant. In fact, the smell of coffee roasting in the giant roaster in the front room vies with the aroma of the great eats for your attention when you walk in. It makes a really good cuppa to finish. We carried a couple of pounds of freshly roasted coffee beans home, which TiGeorge packed especially for us.

 Since beans and rice is pretty much the national dish of Haiti, this combo was a must to reproduce. Mine wasn't as good as TiGeorge's, but it was still really tasty. After soaking and cooking the beans, you then cook the rice in the bean pot, so the flavor from the juices cooks into the rice. The chicken is packed with flavor and is honey-sweet, spicy and citrusy.

This dessert pain patate, or sweet potato bread, is about the most un-sexy thing I've ever seen, but it tastes good enough to make up for its looks. It certainly would have photographed better with a little whipped cream, but since the recipe calls for butter, eggs and three types of milk--whole, evaporated and coconut--I finally had to put my foot down. But mostly what you taste is sweet potato, banana, raisins and an assortment of spices and flavorings. There's not a speck of flour in it, so its name is a misnomer. Regardless, I didn't think it was going to make it to dessert time--I thought we'd eat it all fresh and hot from the pan before the chicken came out of the oven.

After the most recent earthquake in January, TiGeorge's held several fund raisers and sent home money to help rebuild the country. But one night in February a fire broke out, and the restaurant had to close for repairs. It has been closed for several months now, but as soon as it reopens, we plan to return to support earthquake relief and enjoy more Creole cuisine, Caribbean style.


balderton said...

What was used in place of flour in the sweet potato bread?


Hungry Passport said...

Hi Bryce,

This isn't bread in the strictest sense--more like a custard, with all the eggs, butter and various types of milk in it. You have to eat it with a fork or spoon. But I wouldn't hold that against it. It's good stuff.



nedjhy dominique said...

As a Haitian American woman who was raised on such foods, I am humbled and glad that you had a positive experience. I practically grew up in the kitchen watching my mom,aunts and grandma cook traditional Haitian cuisine. It is our version of food for the soul. There is so much love and effort put into the most simple dish. We take great pride in preparing meals for our loved ones. Thanks for reminding me of the connection between our food and hearts. I really enjoyed your article and hope that you continue to explore our multidimensional and flavorful cuisine.

Hungry Passport said...

You're making me want to go out today for Haitian food! It really is good stuff. I think the best meals are those served from the heart.

Thank you, Nedjhy.

all the best,