Haiti Part 2: Kreyól Cuisine

One might imagine that food and its preparation between each Caribbean island couldn’t possibly vary drastically in taste, but then one would be wrong. I’ve learned now through an odd handful of islands visited; St. Lucia, Bahamas, Trinidad & Tobago and now Haiti, that the art and science of cooking and eating a good meal on each is an experience of its own. No where else have I been able to feast upon conch salad the way I had in the Bahamas or the doubles and roti found in T&T and in Haiti, Creole cabrit, picklise, and lambi. The islands are without a doubt full of flavors. I’m sure I did not come close to taste-testing every Haitian delight on the menu or even the grilled corn on the cob which I longed for from one of the street vendors, but what I have here is only a glance of what savory, mouth-watering dishes await the visitor hoping to dig into Kreyól Cuisine during a weekend, week or months stay in the country.

Pasta Nostra was not the first sit down restaurant I dined at, but it easily became my favorite. It possibly was the story behind the place alone that won my affection. As the story goes the breath-taking, beautiful mademoiselle pictured above had once been involved with an Italian man who taught her the art of cooking pasta and other Italian dishes. While the man in the story is somewhat of a ghost now, the beautiful chef can still be found preparing fresh seafood and pasta dishes across from the quiet beach of Ti Mouillage.

The establishment is cool, casual and comfortable like most situated next to the beach. Wooden chairs and tables sit atop of a small deck and small, bright, colorful artwork hangs from the wooden pools along the restaurant. Come before you feel you will absolutely faint of hunger because it is a one-woman operation in the kitchen and so it will be a moment before the food arrives. If you’ve come all the way to Haiti only to sample items typical to the country and wish not to have what I call ‘Italian fare remixed’ there is enough delicious fresh seafood to fill you right on up and if you weren’t aware – seafood is pretty typical for most islands.

On my plate: Grilled red snapper with plantains covered in a spicy red leafy sauce. The fish was cooked wonderfully and the sauce (I cannot remember the name – pictured below) had the right amount of kick. My companions all had the same with the exception of one who sampled the lobster and noted it was delicious. To wash it all down I sipped on cold cherry juice which I expressed some initial skepticism over as I’m not wild about cherry flavored foods/beverages in the States, yet the taste of cherry in Haiti is much different. The gelato featured on the desert menu was not available, so I skipped on having sweets afterwards. The rest of the bunch ordered crepes, which I took only a bite of found tasty as well. After you’ve refueled head across to the beach for a snooze underneath the island sun. ($$)

Pasta Nostra is located in Ti Mouillage, up the road from Jacmel. Ph. 509.453.3413

The restaurant at Hotel Cyvadier was the first I ate at and found the food appetizing. It wasn’t until we’d made the long three hour drive from Port-au-Prince and got all checked in did I finally rest my limbs and gobble down my first real meal. The restaurant as best described on the hotel website ‘seats up to 70 people and specializes in a diverse variety of fish, crawfish and lobster delivered daily from the local fishermen.’ The atmosphere is casual for breakfast and lunch which were the only two times I actually dined at the Cyvadier. Views of the hotel, swimming pool and the alluring Cyadier Plage (beach) can all be seen from the restaurant.

On my breakfast plate: I usually went the light way for breakfast having fruits (mango, banana, pineapple and/or melon) and bread with confiture (jelly or peanut butter). Simple and yummy! On the lunch plate: Spaghetti with ham and onions. If my memory serves me correctly I believe it may have been called Creole spaghetti, but I could also be wrong. For the first meal it wasn’t too bad. It was not mind-blowing, but highly satisfying. I would have liked to have explored other dishes on the menu, but didn’t want to stick exclusively to the hotel restaurant. ($$$)

Hotel Cyvadier Restaurant Plage is located in Jacmel off of Avenue Baranquilla in the direction towards Marigot. Ph. 509.288.3323

Ambiance was the dinner stop right before heading out to the second night of Festival Mizik Jakmel. It sits on the second floor above a business which I did not bother taking notice of and has a nice view of the activity taking place on the streets below. There isn’t a ton of ‘ambiance’ with the speeding motor ‘taxi’ bikes passing along, but once your meal is served you forget about all that is surrounding you including the screeching tires. The dishes took a while to prepare and by the time my Cabrit Creole (Creole goat) arrived I had lost the sense to take a photo of it and instead dug right in.

It was accompanied by a small field salad and a plate of red beans and rice far to large for me to tackle alone. The goat itself was very tasty and the meat was falling off the bone. Considering how different the taste was from the curry goat I’d had in T&T so many times and how easy it was to rip right into the meal I questioned whether I was truly having goat, but only for a short few seconds. I cannot recall what was on everyone else’s plate, but the overall reaction to the food was a good one. ($$)

Ambiance is located at Avenue Baranquilla, Jacmel, Haiti. Ph. 509.288.3067

There were a few things on my wish list that I still hadn’t eaten and I didn’t want to wait anymore. I had been told about how delicious the picklese and Creole lambi was in Haiti and I didn’t want to miss either and in the process I still managed to miss one. The last sit-down spot where I had the opportunity and sadly failed was at Le Lambi Beach Hotel near Carrefour.

Le Lambi is HUGE! It was by far the biggest place we’d been to and during the time of our visit one of the quietest. It was obvious the restaurant had been there for ages as it was decorated from every inch of the ceiling in colorful baskets and every inch of the walls in conch shells. When you walk in your attention is split between the dance floor to the right and the open floor in the center where one can look down into the sea beneath. Old kompa tunes hum from the stereo system calling music lovers to the dance floor on a packed night I’m sure, but for lunch every patron in the restaurant was either far too hungry or too relaxed. I was so thrilled that they had picklese (a chopped cabbage in an extra delectable vinegar dressing) that I made the mistake of ordering my lambi grille
d and not the typical way which is served in Creole sauces.

When my meal arrived I looked down at what seemed like an appetizer. My companions then confessed that they’d never eaten the lambi (conch) grilled before and always order it in Creole sauce. I thought to myself why they hadn’t shared that valuable information before I ordered and let it slide as they were probably only trying to provide me with a reason to come back. In the end the grilled lambi was ‘OK’ and the picklese amazing! In fact I had everyone else’s picklese too. They were more than happy to share. And yes, I must finish what I started and return to sample more. ($$)

Le Lambi Beach Hotel is located in/near Carrefour at Mariani Mer Frayyte, Haiti. Ph. 509.234.0272

Dollar Guide: ($) Under U.S. $10 ($$) Under U.S. $20 ($$$) Over U.S. $20. While some restaurants are pricey and there is much street food to devour there are cheap tasty items on most if not all menus. Menu prices are noted in Haitian dollars (which do not actually exist) and can be paid for in Gourdes or U.S. dollars. To get the price in Gourdes multiply the Haitian dollar amount by five. For the price in U.S. dollars divide the amount of Gourdes by the going exchange rate approx 35-37. After you’ve done all the math treat yourself to a cocktail.

Want to go cheaper and hit the streets! Go for it! Among most busy town roadsides you can find chicken, plantains, sugarcane, juices, you name it! Just be careful to always have bottled water.

Yesterday: A Country with a VERY Bad Reputation
Tomorrow: Hotel Cyvadier & Other Jacmel Hotels