Pen, bè, kafe, the epitome of Haitian breakfast

I believe I fell in love with coffee in my early teens. Prior to that, I would often watch my cousin in awe whenever our paths crossed early enough for me to witness her breakfast ritual.

As many of you may already know, I live in the mountains of Port-au-Prince, in an area that used to be considered “remote.” While we slept up there every night, our bustling life truly happened in Port-au-Prince where my parents worked, and we went to school. We left our home in the wee hours of the morning on weekdays to get to school, work and everywhere else. Sometimes, even Saturdays drew us back downtown, often leading me to my cousin’s grandmother’s house – a familiar refuge for everyone, our pied-à-terre, our home away from home –  bright and early.

Pen, bè, kafe, Haitian buttered bread dipped in coffee | Tchakayiti - Haitian Food

There, without fail, I would find my younger cousin seated at the vintage-diner-style bright pink counter of the main kitchen we all walked past upon entering the house. Her dad had just dropped her off for the day, and she was getting ready for her go-to breakfast: pen, bè, kafe – bread, butter and coffee. Her table setting was complete with her grandmother’s vintage yellow-brown dinner plate, large mug resting on its saucer, a bag of freshly baked pen rale, a bread knife, a butter dish, a butter knife, and a sugar bowl.

I would stand in front of her, talking her ears off, while she sleepily sliced a piece of bread, generously slathering it with butter.

She would occasionally respond to my chatter in a less than engaging way, too preoccupied with her first meal. I would watch as she overfilled her giant mug with coffee to which she added one too many spoonfuls of sugar. Her mug undoubtedly included a three to one ratio of sugar to coffee, which was visible through the transparent vessel. 

As the sweet coffee aromas filled the air, she would dip her buttered bread into the mug before taking a bite. I still recall the delight on her face with each mouthful. She’d repeat this ritual until the buttered bread had soaked up almost all the coffee. 

Café au lait | Tchakayiti - Haitian Food
At my house, we children were not used to consuming copious amounts of coffee. I am almost certain we were limited to café au lait at such a tender age.

I never joined in her morning ritual, which I simply couldn’t grasp it at the time. At my house, we children did not consume copious amounts of coffee. I am almost certain we only drank café au lait at such a tender age.  It wasn’t until my teenage years that I truly grasped  her joy. She was indulging in the typical Haitian breakfast:

Pen, bè, kafe, a breakfast that not only nourishes the body, but also magically transforms the world into a better place.

Today, I often find myself drawn to this breakfast, especially on those days when I long for lazy morning rituals. I reach for my mug and, much like my cousin, fill it with coffee to which I probably add way too much sugar. The truth is, the success of this meal depends on those unmelted sugar bits finding their way onto the coffee soaked buttered bread. 

In those moments, the world seems to come to a standstill as pure joy permeates my entire being. 

Nothing beats that Haitian pen, bè ak kafe. 

As one savors it, ideally undisturbed by a chatty cousin disrupting a tranquil morning, the world is at peace, and the day filled with the promise of endless possibilities.

Pen, bè, kafe, Haitian buttered bread and coffee | Tchakayiti - Haitian Food
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  • Joveta

    I still love this haitian breakfast,after so many years living abroad.

  • Mirlaine

    So good to see you writing again! I pray that all is as well as it can be where you are. Your writing is beautiful.

    • annick

      Thank you so much Mirlaine! And thank you for sticking up with me in spite of my long silence 🙂

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