My favourite thing about living in Toronto is the multiculturalism. By welcoming individuals from a wide-variety of backgrounds, our city becomes a more vibrant, interesting and delicious place to live. In my Global Food in Toronto Series I’m travelling the globe by eating one local meal from every country in the world without leaving Toronto. This time I’m tasting Haitian food in Toronto.
Haitian Food in Toronto
Restaurant: La Creole (It has seen been closed)
Companion: My friend, Incia.
Menu: Drinks – le planteur, ti punch, le kremas. Starters – bannan pésé, salade la creole. Mains – ti bek ak rhum with rapadou, caille la creole. Dessert – crème brûlée, beignet foskawo.
Images of plantain frying over an open fire, chickens running around a farm and banana palm fronds gently swaying in the wind greet me as I enter. A video montage of beautiful, gritty, authentic scenes from Haiti plays on a large TV and as I watch I can’t help getting excited about my latest eating exploration. La Créole Restaurant is the destination for French Caribbean, Creole and Haitian culture the menu assures me.
The plan was to meet my friend Incia at La Creole for Summerlicious, a prix-fixe food festival that take place annually in Toronto. Incia is a big supporter of this blog and in the past has helped me visit Poland and even convinced me to learn to brew Kombucha! Unfortunately, on this particular occasion, a busy schedule and a long drive meant that she was about an hour late for our 8pm reservation. My A-type personality went into hyperdrive thinking that the restaurant would be highly annoyed at holding a table and that the kitchen would surely close.
Luckily inspiration struck in the form of a fruity drink. Sitting under a canopy of billowing white cloth, I sipped the very delicious le planteur cocktail, a wonderfully tropical concoction of orange, guava, pineapple, mango and passionfruit juices with a healthy splash of rum. In that moment I decided to embrace the idea of island time and simply let things unfold as they may.
As picturesque as that may be, Haiti is much more than a series of white sand beaches and rum-filled cocktails. It’s culture has been shaped by long, dark history of colonialism, poverty and slavery. For hundreds of years Haiti was occupied by Spanish and French colonizers whose used slave labour to build a sugar plantation economy. In the early 1800s Haiti fought for its independence and became the first ever post-colonial, black-led nation. Sadly years of foreign control left environmental destruction and economic instability that still impact Haiti today. Modern day Haiti still has many struggles including recovering from the 2010 earthquake, battling rising HIV/AIDS infections and overcoming serious environmental devastation.
This turbulent but powerful history can easily be seen in the cuisine of the region. My understanding is that Creole food is infused with elements of French and Spanish cuisine, references African culinary traditions and utilizes locally available Caribbean ingredients. Such a diverse and flavourful background makes Haitian food unique even among the Caribbean islands.
I was hoping to sample some dishes that would showcase this exciting culinary diversity. Luckily for me Summerlicious menus always includes an appetizer, an entree and a dessert. I found that overall there were some hits and some misses although I must admit I accidentally chose three very heavy dishes. Sadly my photos were a definite miss due to the low light and rushed meal.
To start I had Bannan Pésé which is sweet yellow plantain slices deep fried into chips and served with aioli. In my opinion it lacked flavour and was much too dense. Next up I had ti bek ak rhum with rapadou which is slow roasted beef short ribs cooked in rum and sugar then served on creamy corn grits. This dish was by far the best we sampled and showcased three Haitian staples – rum, sugar cane and corn. Lastly, I had le beignet foskawo, freshly made donuts with organic Haitian chocolate sauce. Again these were ok, but by then I’d had my fill of starchy fried foods.
Incia did a better job of choosing a balanced meal. She started with a salade la creole – a salad of mixed greens, tomatoes, heart of palms and radishes with mango balsamic vinaigrette. It wasn’t anything special but the dressing had a nice flavour. As her main she had caille la creole which was a whole fried quail with spicy roasted corn puree. We both loved the scotch bonnet pepper sauce that added the heat to the corn but thought the quail was nearly meatless. She finished up with nicely presented, but average crème brûlée.
We also ordered another couple of drinks with Incia trying ti punch, a light and yummy mix of rhum, lime and cane sugar. I went with the le kremas as it reminded me of puncha cream which I’ve enjoyed before but the heavy combination of coconut milk, cream, rhum, exotic spices was too much during my big, fried meal.
What made this meal interesting to me was that it showcased the rich, albeit difficult, history of Haiti. The appearance of sugar cane, rum and of course creme brulee speak to the strong French influence while the corn, plantain, scotch bonnet peppers, tropical fruit juices all highlight the caribbean climate. I found it inspiring that a people so brutalized by outsiders could take aspects of that foreign culture and make their own unique yet unifying cuisine. I haven’t visited Haiti yet, but I feel fortunate to have experienced a small part of their culture here in Toronto.
Have you ever tried Haitian or Caribbean cuisine?
Now It’s Your Turn! Next time you have a meal from another culture, take a moment to think about the history of that place and how it might influence the regional cuisine. Subscribe here to receive more stories in the Global Food in Toronto series.