Imagine sitting at a table next to a tomato-red guy whose forehead is dripping with sweat falling in his plate filled with food…Imagine that all this is going on because he willingly chose to add hot peppers to his meal…Imagine that he thoroughly enjoys what in your eyes looks like pain…Now imagine being 5 years old witnessing this…Would you be disgusted? Fascinated? Or Both?
Try both! As far back as I can remember, I have witnessed my uncle in this shape every time we sat at the table with him. What in the beginning looked disgusting to me, ended up fascinating me. I was intrigued by the fact that he chose this hot palate challenge, and that he enjoyed the extra kick of heat our piment bouc gave him in a house where the temperature was already high enough to make one break in sweat naturally. But perhaps what made me enjoy those little moments even more was my aunt putting a paper towel on his forehead each time to make fun of him. That always made me burst out laughing because he would give her that whatever look; that I-like-it-and-I-don’t-care-about-the-sweat-dripping-in-my-food type of look.
This story has to be the best piment bouc story in my book, and I have many of those. The reason I could share so many stories is that piman is at the very core of our Haitian cuisine and most definitely of my family table.
Piment bouc is indeed as common in Haitian kitchens as salt. Smashed in a wooden pestle; dropped whole in our meat, seafood, sos pwa or even our diri kole; cut into slices in our pikliz, added to our fried meat or in our sauce ti malice, piment bouc is at the core of our food personality. Not only is it colorful in shades – ours come in different shades of red, green and orange – and flavors, it also has an aroma that incorporates well with every meal; an aroma I have yet to find in other hot peppers. But beware of a hot piman that bursts in your meal or your cooked diri kole! It might make you dial the firehouse number.
Just the other day I was thoroughly enjoying the strong aroma of our piment bouc as I was preparing the Sauce Ti Malice shared earlier on the blog. The smell of the pepper under my smasher along with that of the garlic tingled my nostrils. It was a sign of how delighted my palate would be once that burst of hot flavors hit it. And indeed, that sauce was everything my tastebuds expected; the right condiment to complement our griot and lames veritab pesees. Just like it tingled when I was smashing it, it gave me the familiar tingling of the nostrils that any preparation of this fiery pepper leads to.
I didn’t break in sweats like my uncle; I never put myself through that. I may have been fascinated as a 5 year-old but not to that point! I do, however, fall prey to this burst of bright and hot flavors. But I always enjoy my piment bouc in moderation.