Actually, maybe we should start with what I drank in Haiti because that’s certainly where I always start (and end). I’m not even sure it’s appropriate to talk about food & drink on a blog about ending hunger and poverty with Heifer International but enough people seem to be curious about what I’m consuming that I’m indulging myself in this post. (Please feel free to tell me you think I’m a shallow bore if you feel like it.)
Alcohol is not hard to find in Haiti but it is expensive (really expensive – like $12 for a gin & tonic at a hotel). Ordering wine is a total crapshoot– tried it once and it was SO not worth it– so you’re probably well-advised to stick to beer.
Prestige was yummy (and I don’t even like beer) at a mere $3/bottle (as opposed to the exorbitant $4.50 they were charging for Coca-Cola). However, the Coke was fantastic because it’s made with cane sugar syrup instead of the high-fructose corn stuff … and believe me, it makes a difference.
Coffee was thick, black & superb everywhere (my personal heaven). Fruit juices were equally amazing … absolutely fresh, and in flavors like mango, watermelon, papaya and grapefruit (to which Haitians add heaping spoonfuls of sugar, but I liked it tart enough to make you pucker).
If you like the food you are served on your first day in Haiti, you’re a lucky duck – because you’re likely to get that same dish at least once a day for the rest of your stay.
Here’s what it will consist of: a meat or fish (leg and thigh of chicken, beef, lambi– or conch, goat, or a whole tilapia fried with its head and tail still on) ; plantains fried in whatever; a few tomato slices that are no better than our grocery store models; and local rice (if you’re unlucky) with black beans.
Rice is ubiquitous in Haiti –which makes it all the more sad that we’ve just about killed off the rice industry in the country with dirt-cheap imports from Arkansas that cost about ½ what the Haitian farmers can produce it for in their own fields. Unfortunately, local rice, even though I was trying super hard to like it, is not nearly as delicious as the imported kind – (and I’ve never found a starch I didn’t like).
The creole sauce that is served on virtually everything is delicious; and the faux-kimchee ferociously hot cabbage slaw is similarly gorgeous – crunchy, fresh and so piquant I’m pretty sure no bacteria could survive in there so I ate a lot of it.
Every once in a while when I got desperate for something different, I’d opt for spaghetti bolognese which was always on the menu, but I was ashamed of myself in the morning.
Cashews and nuts are everywhere in the north; and in the south you can find fudge, just like at the Jersey Shore … but no, Snooki, it’s actually totally different.
Haitian fudge is striped with pink, like taffy, and made with what I am sure is child labor — but it tastes more like halvah in that sandy/sweet way than the chocolatey-buttery fudge of my childhood.
Speaking of sweets, there aren’t many in Haiti. The only chocolate fix I got was hitting my M&M stash hidden in my suitcase. Desserts were completely resistible, because I’m lactose-intolerant and can’t have ice cream, so that made it easy to say no.
Most importantly, despite the fact that Haitians have the lowest caloric intake in the Americas and 25-40% of Haitian children suffer from chronic malnutrition, we were never served a single meal but with total graciousness and generosity.
By the time I left Haiti, I was sad to go but ready for a giant salad, a frosty cocktail, and a bar of chocolate.
Which oddly enough, didn’t taste as good as I thought they would.
I kinda missed Prestige.
What a rich experience you’re sharing with us! This post was a real treat—-pun intended.