Today is Haitian Flag Day, commemorating the official adoption of the Haitian Flag on May 18, 1803, just before the country’s declaration of independence from France on January 1, 1804. Haitian Flag Day is celebrated throughout Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora, and remains a potent symbol of unity and identity. This festive holiday is the perfect occasion to dig in and try some Haitian recipes. And while not particular to Flag Day, this is a great time to try a Haitian dessert classic, Dous Makos (aka Haitian Fudge).
Dous Makos is a spiced fudge composed of different flavored layers arranged in stripes of tan, brown and red (which is somewhat reminiscent of a flag, though that was not the original intention). The major flavors in Dous Makos are vanilla, anise, nutmeg, cinnamon and cocoa, though you may see other combinations. Fernand Macos, a Belgian entrepreneur, created Dous Makos in 1939 in the town of Petit-Goâve, and has spread in popularity since then. It is not hard to make on your own, and utilizes ingredients you may already have in your pantry including condensed milk. You can find recipes from versions from Haitian Cooking, L’Union Suite and Manje Ayisyen. Island Vibe Cooking, below, has a video on how to make mini Dous Makos in muffin tins. If you need a quick fix, you can even buy some Dous Makos pre-made from Bonbon Lacay in Brooklyn!
Much has been made of the dire economic situation of Haiti, and its continued degradation especially following the devastating 2010 earthquake. During and even before French colonization, Haiti’s economy has been based on agriculture; today manufacturing is the broader basis of the economy in terms of exports, and Haiti’s main export is been clothing. However, a new possible economic driver is on the horizon: chocolate. NPR recently reported on the presence of unique “mother / maman” Haitian cacao trees, which can produce more and better cacao pods than normal trees. Though these trees are not necessarily unique to Haiti, they are plentiful here, and are an untapped resource, sometimes producing twenty times the pods of normal trees.
Though around 60% of Haitians work in agriculture, the cacao market in Haiti has not been a primary economic driver in recent years (though it was exploited by colonial traders in the past). Even though cacao may only be a relatively small business in Haiti, there is major opportunity. As the global taste for chocolate grows, the demand for high quality chocolate products (even at a high prices) is there. One important potential stumbling block: even though the cacao produced from Criollo varietal trees in Haiti is of high-quality, it is often not fermented post-picking, which is considered an essential step in high-quality chocolate production. Consequently, unfermented Haitian cacao beans are often sold for much less than competitors.
A display of export-quality Cacao Beans at a fair by Nick Hobgood
So what are the next steps to realizing this cacao dream? Unlike many other food industries, cacao is still produced in overwhelming majority by small family farms, a model which will continue in Haiti. One collective, SOGEPA (Societe Genérale de Production Agroindustrielle, “General Society of Agro-Industrial Production”), a cacao exporter that represents 450 family cacao farms in Haiti, was given a grant by LEAD (Leveraging Effective Application of Direct Investment Project – funded by USAID) post-earthquake to establish distribution and sales channels for the farmers in the collective. US Aid has also developed a program to help train Haitian farmers in effective cacao-raising techniques. FECCANO, a collective of cacao producers in northern Haiti has also been established. Slowly, artisinal Haitian chocolate is even being made available outside of the country. On such brand, the French Fair Trade label Ethiquable, boasts a “Grand Cru” Haitian chocolate bar. Currently Haitian chocolate does not enjoy the same cache as a French or Belgian label, but that could soon change.
Our first taste of Haitian food was the amazing whole Red Snapper at Le Soleil in NYC, where we enjoyed a whole red snapper and copious fixings for only $14. Haitian food, with it’s emphasis on fresh seafood, stewed meats and savory pastries, is delicious. When we got back from NYC we wanted to partake in some Haitian food closer to home – fortunately there was a tasty option nearby – Chez Violette, which recently closed. However, a new Haitian restaurant is soon opening in its place: Kizin Creole (2311 W. Howard St.) We look forward to its opening! In the meantime there is another great Haitian restaurant on Howard, Sweet Nick’s.
A veritable feast at Le Soleil in NYC