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17 Traditional Haitian Dishes You Should Try

Learn about Haitian cuisine and find your new favorite meal.

The food of Haiti provides a unique flavor profile that you must try if you’re a fan of rich and spicy foods. 

Spicy hot meat curry from Kerala India

Some of the easiest dishes to try are makawoni au graten (a Haitian twist on macaroni and cheese), pikliz (a pickled vegetable relish), and bannann peze (fried green plantains).

But for the quintessential Haitian flavor, I like to suggest legim (a traditional stew with lots of vegetables).  

I’ve picked the 17 most popular Haitian foods to share with you so that you can experience the flavors of Haiti in your own home.

Popular Haitian Food

Learn about common Haitian meals below to learn more about their culture and find your new favorite dish.


Legim – Vegetable Stew

Legim is one of the most popular Haitian foods. At its heart is an essential Haitian seasoning base called epis.

I love this stew because it’s delicious, and all the vegetable ingredient options make it versatile and cost-efficient. 

To make legim, you will need to first marinate the stew meat overnight in epis. You can make your own epis with scallions, parsley, garlic, scotch bonnet chili, bell pepper, thyme, cloves, sour orange or lime juice, oil, and salt.

After marinating, you will add the meat to tomato paste, bullion cubes, water, and a load of vegetables.

Common vegetables include green beans, eggplant, cabbage, onion, chayote, bell pepper, carrot, and watercress. 

Seasonings include cloves, star anise, and a scotch bonnet chili.

Serve with white rice, Haitian grits, or plantains, and enjoy.


Tassot – Fried Dried Meat

Tassot is a famous Haitian dish made from meats or poultry. Goat and beef are common, but I’ve even seen tassot turkey.

You start out marinating the meat in epis, cooking it, and finally frying it until golden brown. I like to cook my meat in an InstantPot first to make it super tender before frying. 

I usually eat tassot with fried plantains, rice, beans, or mushroom rice. It’s also common to serve it with a Haitian creole hot sauce called ti malice and a Haitian vegetable relish called pikliz. 


Pwason Boukannen – Smoked Fish

A pwason boukannen is a fish smoked with a traditional technique called boukan.

I’ve had this with fresh-caught fish on a riverbank, making it that much better.

To make pwason boukannen, you’ll first need to season the fish with salt, pepper, and chili. Then, you skewer the fish with a stick from mouth to tail.

It’s common to use a stick from a cinnamon tree to enhance the flavor. You can place cinnamon sticks inside the fish for a similar taste.

Then, place the fish between a split piece of wood with one end open and one end closed. You’ll need two large stones on each side of a bed of embers to rest the stick upon for the smoking process. 

It’s essential to turn the fish regularly to make sure you smoke it evenly. 


Makawoni au Graten – Haitian Mac and Cheese

Haitian makawoni au graten is the mac and cheese you never knew you needed in your life.

What makes it unique is the inclusion of onions and bell peppers.

To make Haitian makawoni au gratin, you add sauteed onions and bell peppers to penne pasta, along with evaporated milk and cheese. Then, bake it until golden and serve. 

The recipe differs from home to home, so you might see extra ingredients like ground beef, ham, shrimp, mayonnaise, epis, or hot sauce in the macaroni. 

The type of cheese you use is up to you, but gouda, mozzarella, and cheddar cheeses are excellent options. 


Mayi Moulen ak Sòs Pwa – Cornmeal Porridge

Mayi moulen ak sòs pwa is coarse yellow cornmeal porridge with black beans and epis. It’s a standard part of a breakfast meal.

If you can’t find coarse yellow cornmeal, grits or polenta can substitute, but the dish will have a different texture than the traditional method.

First, cook onions and epis in oil. Then add cooked black beans, cornmeal, and liquid, and simmer until the cornmeal is done (about 20 minutes). 

A common accompaniment is chili-flavored salted herring, avocados, or fried eggs.


Fresco – Haitian Shaved Ice

You’ve probably had peanuts on an ice cream dessert, but have you ever thought about trying them with shaved ice?

If you order shaved ice from a street vendor in Haiti, expect this crunchy topping to make an appearance. 

Street vendors make frescos from shaved (not crushed) ice.

Familiar flavors you may encounter include cherry, grenadine, pineapple, mango, watermelon, lemon, coconut, peppermint, anisette, and orgeat almond syrup. 

To have the genuine Haitian shaved ice experience, you’ll need to sprinkle a few chopped, roasted peanuts on top.


Pikliz – Pickled Vegetable Relish

Pikliz is a pickled vegetable relish that you often find on the table to add to dishes and enhance their flavor. Think of it as a spicy, vinegar-based coleslaw, similar to Korean favorite kimchi.

Common vegetables in pikliz include shredded cabbage, scotch bonnet peppers, bell peppers, onions, carrots, scallions, and garlic.

You’ll pickle these vegetables in white vinegar and lime juice and add salt and peppercorns. Some people add other spices like cloves and thyme as well. 

I usually ferment it a minimum of four to five days before eating, but it’s also possible to eat within a few hours. 


Poulet aux noix – Chicken and Cashews

Poul aux noix is a spicy Haitian chicken dish with cashews. It makes an excellent lazy Sunday lunch dish. 

Start by marinating the chicken in a mixture of epis, lemon juice, salt, and parsley. Then, brown the chicken in oil.

Finally, combine the browned chicken, tomato paste, sauteed onions, sauteed bell peppers, cashews, lemon juices, salt, pepper, and a hot pepper and stew until the chicken is cooked through.

I like to eat poulet aux noix with a side of beans and rice.


Tchaka – Bean and Corn Casserole

Tchaka is a Haitian stew that is tasty enough to be a food offering for the loa spirits in Haitian voodoo.

It’s also associated with All Saint’s Day and Labor Day festivals.

The ingredients for tchaka stew include dried corn, red beans, salt-cured pig’s feet, thyme, parsley, garlic, onion, scotch bonnet pepper, bay leaves, bitter orange juice, lime juice, salt, and pepper.

The traditional recipe uses salted and smoked pig’s feet or other smoked pork like bacon. 

However, you may also find variations using beef, mutton, or even crab instead of pork. While red beans are traditional, you can use pinto beans or another bean type you have.

Adding coconut milk can give it a creamier consistency. Some people also add pureed pumpkin.

I like to cook mine in an InstantPot when I don’t have time to let it simmer for several hours. 


Akra – Malanga Fritters

Malanga fritters are a popular appetizer and snack in the Caribbean. Malanga is a tuber with an earthy taste and a texture similar to potatoes.

You’ll find malanga used much the same way as potatoes are, and akra is one of the most popular ways to eat them in Haiti.

To make a malanga fritter, you will combine grated malanga with egg, parsley, garlic, salt, and red wine vinegar.

Then, refrigerate the mixture for 15-20 minutes before forming into tablespoon-sized fritters and deep-frying. 

You can eat the cakes plain or dip them in ti malice. 


Bannann Peze – Fried Green Plantains

Other countries of the region call fried green plantains tostones. However, in Haiti, they’re bannann peze. 

The simplest way to make bannann peze is to fry sliced green plantains in oil, remove them, smash them, refry them, and salt them.

However, some Haitian cooks like to start out soaking the plantains in hot water, vinegar, and salt. I like to add a little garlic powder at the end for a flavorful kick. 

Since I like bannann peze enough to make them often, I found it worthwhile to get a tostonera to smash my fried plantains. 


Griyo – Fried Pork

Griyo is a fried pork dish infused with flavors typical of Haiti. It involves a two-step cooking process that gives you tender pork with a delectably crispy outside. 

Start out marinating pork shoulder overnight in a mixture of epis, lime juice, sour orange juice, scotch bonnet pepper, garlic, thyme, and rosemary.

Then, boil the meat in water until the water completely evaporates. The final step is to use oil to fry and brown each side of the meat evenly.

A meal of griyo isn’t complete without sides of rice, bannann peze, and pikliz. 


Bouyon Tèt Kabrit – Goat Bouillon

Traditional bouyon tèt kabrit is a rich, spicy goat head stew. Because it’s so popular, you’ll find it on restaurant menus across Haiti.

Ingredients for the stew include goat meat and a smoked goat head, limes, onions, scallions, garlic, spinach or watercress, cloves, bay leaves, thyme, salt, and pepper.

Vegetables vary and may include carrots, celery, malanga, yams, sweet potatoes, yucca, and plantains.

Some cooks add seasoned dumplings to the stew as well.


Kalalou – Haitian Gumbo

Gumbo is a dish with its origins in Africa. No two cooks make their gumbo the same, and you’ll find regional variations based on the ingredients at hand and family tradition. 

Gumbo always contains okra. However, the type of meat varies between beef, oxtail, chicken, and others. Some cooks find tomatoes to be essential while others don’t.

Gumbo might include veggies like carrots, bell peppers, and onions. Sour orange and lime juice may give the dish a tart bite.

Even the seasonings vary. Some cooks add epis, Goya Adobo, bullion cubes, and cloves. Unlike American versions, Haitian gumbo doesn’t usually include thickeners like filé.

No matter the ingredients, I always like my gumbo over white rice.


Joumou – Squash Soup

Joumou is a native Haitian soup that includes winter squash. When the French colonists would make this soup, it was forbidden for enslaved people to partake.

Now, it is representative of freedom and independence and is a common New Year’s Day soup. 

Start by marinating beef overnight in a mixture of lime juice, scallions, hot peppers, garlic, onion, thyme, parsley, salt, and pepper. 

To make the soup, combine the marinated meat with a cooked and pureed winter squash; sauteed leek, onion, and celery; winter vegetables like potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, and cabbage; bullion; and cloves.

Toward the end of cooking, you can add rigatoni pasta, salt, and pepper.

I like to eat it piping hot with sliced bread that I can dip into the soup. 


Kalalou Djon Djon – Okra and Mushroom Stew

Chicken with okra and djon djon is another famous okra stew in Haiti. Djon djon is a type of Haitian mushroom that is turned into an extract for flavoring rice and other dishes. 

Start by marinating the chicken in a mixture of lime juice, garlic, scallions, parsley, thyme, cloves, bell peppers, onion, and salt overnight. Then, fry the marinated chicken pieces. 

Combine the fried chicken, a broth made with Maggi djon djon bouillon cubes, and sliced okra to make the soup. Season with salt and pepper. 

Rather than chicken, some people use crabs instead, but I prefer the flavor of marinated chicken. I always eat my kalalou djon djon over white rice. 


Kibi – Ground Meat Fritters

If kibi sounds familiar, it’s because it’s an Arabic dish that made its way to Haiti through early Syrian and Lebanese immigrants.

It’s an appetizer that contains bulgar wheat and ground beef. 

Of course, you might encounter some variations in Haiti, such as smoked herring, ground lamb, or ground goat meat instead of beef. 

Kibi usually contains soaked bulgar wheat, lightly-cooked ground beef, garlic, and sauteed onions. Spices vary, but cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, cumin, salt, and pepper are typical.

Form these ingredients into a palm-sized appetizer and fry in hot oil until golden brown.

I’ve eaten these as appetizers, but I’ve also made an entire meal from them with a side of pikliz.


Popular Haitian Food

  1. Legim
  2. Tassot
  3. Pwason Boukannen  
  4. Makawoni au graten
  5. Mayi Moulen ak Sòs Pwa  
  6. Fresco
  7. Pikliz
  8. Poulet aux noix
  9. Tchaka
  10. Akra
  11. Bannann Peze
  12. Griyo/Griot
  13. Bouyon Tèt Kabrit  
  14. Kalalou Haitian Gumbo
  15. Joumou
  16. Kalalou Djon Djon
  17. Kibi

Final Thoughts

The most popular Haitian foods often include a traditional spice mix called epis. Even without epis, everything is rich with the flavors of garlic, peppers, and onions. 

As you explore Haitian food, you’ll also notice an interesting cooking method, which involves cooking meat before frying it for a soft interior and crispy exterior.

Did I leave out any popular Haitian dishes? If I did, please let me know below. 

You’ll also want to check out food from neighboring Caribbean countries. So, be sure to read 16 of the Best Cuban Food Dishes You Need to Try and 19 Puerto Rican Foods You Need to Try.

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3 Comments

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  1. You left out lambi (stewed conch), and I didn’t see a picture of Diri Djondjon (black trumpet mushroom rice), but I enjoyed reading your article and the pictures are amazing!

  2. Great list! So many dishes that it becomes easy to miss some. Among the most popular, you’ve missed Lalo, Tomtom, pate aransò, salad kenskof, diri ak djondjon, diri nasyonal

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.