Food for Thought – Haiti, Taste the Fruits
When starting to think through the realities of day to day life on a mission trip, one question you may be thinking is “What will I eat?” In this series, PPM’s Missions Coordinators and Full-time Missionaries want to offer you a little insight into the delicious international cuisine we get to eat on a day to day basis. So come and join us on a trip and don’t be afraid to taste the flavors of the world!
I get the privilege of kicking off our newest PPM staff blog series… and it’s all about food. I’m pretty excited about this, because one of the best perks of serving in another culture is getting to experience it with all your senses, including taste!
When you come on a mission trip with PPM, you get the honor of being served by who I believe may be some of the world’s greatest cooks. These ladies work hard to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner each day for teams of up to 70 people! And there’s no skimping–every meal is made from scratch, by hand. And when I say by hand, I mean this literally: many times they don’t even have electricity in the kitchen! It’s all about coal burning stoves, grinding coffee by hand, and slicing carrots, cabbage, and peppers for pikliz (Haitian coleslaw). No food processors here!
For many people, eating food while traveling abroad can be a little sketchy because you’re never really sure how it was prepared. We understand that hesitation, and so do our cooks. In fact, our cooks are trained on the sensitivity of North American stomachs. They use purified water, work hard to make sure the raw ingredients are fresh and clean, and even prepare separate food for vegetarians, people with gluten sensitivity, and other various allergies.
So from me to our cooks: thank you. Thanks for all you do. Not all who come on trips really appreciate the sacrifice and hard work you put into our meals each day. I understand it’s your ministry to the team, and that your desire is to welcome the team to your country and treat them like family by creating beautiful, unique and filling meals.
(If you’re interested in seeing a first hand perspective on what it’s like working in the kitchen, you can read about Rachel’s experience serving in the kitchen here.)
From the hearty portions of beans and rice, to the chicken, beef, and goat that our cooks work for hours to prepare, to the many forms of plantains and other fried tidbits that grace your plate during the week.. it’s hard to choose a favorite!
But, when it comes down to it, there’s one aspect of Haiti’s cuisine that really shines compared to our food back in Arkansas: the fruit.
First, let’s talk about bananas.
Honestly, I’m a little upset about Haiti and what it’s done to my relationship with bananas.
Before I went to Haiti, I was content with the pretty, yellow bananas that you can find at any supermarket in the States. They’re usually a little green, but if you give them a few days they generally taste pretty good.
In Haiti, you can also find bananas pretty much anywhere. My first reaction was, “Man.. that’s an ugly banana.” Kinda bruised, and a far cry from the beautiful bananas we get back home. But, take a bite, and you quickly realize that it’s not what’s on the outside that really matters!
They are incredibly sweet, not a hint of bitterness, and pretty much melt in your mouth.
Now, when I’m back in the States, I don’t eat many bananas.
I guess I’m a banana snob?
Mangoes are to Haiti what Watermelon is to Cave City. Translation? They’re a source of sweetness, nutrition and community.
If there’s a mango tree nearby, you can bet that some kids from the community will be climbing into its limbs, shaking the branches and hoping that a few will drop to the ground. If you’re lucky (and, generally you are), they’ll decide to share them with you. (In the picture below, you can see a group of kids sharing their mangoes with the team.)
One mature mango tree can yield around 1,000 mangoes in a year, so they can be a plentiful source of food for the community. A good friend of mine from Haiti said that God knew exactly what he was doing when he gave Haitians mango trees, because they are packed full of vitamins and a great source of nutrition!
So when you come to Haiti, be prepared to try a fresh picked mango. You’ll probably make a mess, but it’s totally worth it!
Next up, the fruit of the Caribbean that is always a team favorite: keneps. If you’ve been to the Caribbean or even to Miami during the right time of year, you’ve probably tasted or seen these.
Many people from the States say that keneps are similar to muscadines. To eat them, you pop the skin open with your teeth, remove the pulpy inside, chew on it for a while to eat the pulp, then spit out the seed. Because the seed is the biggest part of the fruit, it’s no problem to eat 20 or 30 in one sitting!
It’s said in Haiti that no two keneps, even from the same tree, taste the same! And, while they do feel a bit like chewing on an eyeball, they are ridiculously addictive. To make things even better, they are incredibly plentiful in Haiti, so the prices are really cheap.
I’ve only touched on the fruits available in Haiti. Other fruits include cantaloupes, watermelon, passion fruit, grapefruit, oranges, and more!
But what is even greater than eating an orange? Drinking one!
There’s nothing quite like drinking a cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice, handmade by the cooks and chilled with ice, after working construction in the heat all day long. Juice is quite easily one of the best parts of a meal on a trip. And, at the same time, one of the most time-consuming for our cooks to make.
Our cooks can show you how they make the various kinds of juices for the week – grapefruit, passion fruit, cherry, orange and watermelon, just to name a few… But you better be ready to jump in when they ask you to help!
I have heard over and over the tale of Bethany and Marlo’s one singular attempt at making orange juice while living at HCO. As I understand it, they used close to 15 oranges and barely had enough juice for 3 glasses.
If I can paraphrase, as they laughed at how insanely hard it was to squeeze the oranges, one of our female Haitian friends came to help. Rachou showed them how much grip strength it takes to drain an orange – she probably doubled the amount of juice in the bucket when she was done!
Want to make your own, the Haitian way?
Here’s the recipe, straight from our full-time missionaries, Almando and Cassie Jean-Louis’s kitchen!
- 2/3 of a gallon of water
- 4 cups of pure orange juice (better sour)
- 3-5 cups of sugar depending on how sweet you want it
- Before you get out your electronic juicer, try to juice your oranges by hand! Then, after your hands hurt, see how much more the juicer can get out…
- Pour in your sugar and water and mix, mix, mix!
- Optional: to get the full experience, go outside and work in the sun all day, then come in, pour yourself an ice cold glass. Try not to drink it in one gulp!
Now I’m thirsty… Take me back to Haiti! Or, better yet.. Bethany, you reading this? 😉
Side note: Bethany’s favorite is mandarin or tangerines. During mandarin season, you can buy these on the side of the road and they are absolutely amazing. If you want to be her best friend for life, buy her a fresh mandarin on the road to Jacmel. You’ll win her loyalty forever!