Just last week, I attended Haiti’s first Pork Festival. As the name implies, pork was the main ingredient on the menu of this cocktail-style event. From a pig roast to spare ribs, pork filet and more, each of the menu offerings included pork in one form or another. An array of foreign influences was showcased as well as was the case with a pork filet prepared with a cranberry and fruit chutney, pork ribs stuffed with spinach and blue cheese, or tamarind spare ribs to name just a few. With such a menu, no doubt that each chef brought his own twist and mix of flavors to the table, creating delightful dishes.
Our local flare was present as well whether it be in the rum mandarin ribs, griot, or the Haitian-style ragout and shredded pork type of dish that were featured on the menu. My biased palate couldn’t help but be drawn to these last two menu offerings in particular. They were both faithful to our local flavors.
My palate was so enchanted that I caught myself going for seconds and insisting that the chef at the ragout station serve me more meat than vegetables. I also couldn’t refrain myself from telling those around me that it seemed that, no matter the twist a chef gave his preparations, nothing could ever beat our gou lakay. And to prove that my palate wasn’t too wrong about that, they did agree with me that the tastiest dishes were the ones that had that gou lakay with the strong piman aroma that every Haitian is familiar with.
There simply is something about our cooking that makes it pop. We seem to always have the right combination of spices and seasonings to enhance our dishes. Our food is spicy, robust and full of pungent flavors that leave you begging for more. These flavors don’t vanish easily, they stick around your palate for a while, awakening your senses and taste buds.
That was the kick my palate was missing when sampling a cranberry and fruit chutney or a blue cheese dish; the same kick that attracted me to the ones with a local flair. They had that extra ummph, that Haitian ummph.
That’s when it hit me that it must be our epis lakay, which is essential to any dish prepared the Haitian way. Epis, or seasoning as it would be called elsewhere, is a mixture of fresh herbs and spices smashed in the pestle which rhythm is music to my ears as I mention in my Haitian Pilon Rhythm article. This mixture includes the following core ingredients: scallions, onions, garlic, piman, thyme, salt and pepper to which lime juice or sour orange juice is added. We use this paste mixture to season our meats, stews, soups and other items featured in our rich culinary repertoire.
The secret of our local cooking is in this epis lakay that stains and permeates our pilon, which helps our spices release their aromas and mingle together, sometimes tingling your nostrils and permeating the entire house just like I described it before. It is also in our piment bouc that we use liberally and that releases its strong and flavorful aroma, giving our dishes a mildly spicy kick that doesn’t always have to be overwhelming as is stated in my piman bouc article.
That festival reminded me of our epis flavored with piman bouc. That festival made me smile as it confirmed once more that pa gen tankou manje lakay… Almost nothing tastes quite as great as our local cuisine. And I vow to help you live that experience through this blog.
This recipe includes the basic ingredients. Don’t hesitate to add your own twist to it according to your taste.
- Scallions or green onions
- Sour Orange Juice (or lime juice)
- Piment bouc (habanero pepper)
- Salt & Pepper (to taste)
- Oil (drizzle)
- Roughly chop the ingredients
- Add the ingredients to a wooden mortar and pestle* and smash them until you obtain a paste
- Store this mixture in the fridge in a tight container, and use it to season your meats, stews, soups and even rice.
*Note: Of course you can always use a blender in lieu of the pestle, but if you read my pilon article, you will know that I have a personal preference for that wooden tool.