Tropical Creole Restaurant (TCR) is an establishment that serves Haitian cuisine and is really a “fast-casual” restaurant. After ordering at the front counter, the food is brought to you if dining in. Take-out is very big here, as my dining companion and I noticed many customers and their hinged three compartment Styrofoam to go boxes.
Interestingly, TCR had no menu that day. We were told of the food choices when you get to the counter. That evening it was a choice of fried pork, stew (braised) vegetables, stew conch, stew chicken and fried fish, all with rice and beans, plantains and a side salad. This may sound somewhat monochromatic. It was not.
My dining companion was at a loss, so I took “the bull by the horns” and ordered. We ordered stew conch and fried fish.
The first thing brought to the table was a very traditional Haitian dish, lambi, or stew conch. Conch is initially braised with lime juice, garlic, tomato sauce and epis, a marinating paste made from garlic, bell pepper, onion parsley, cilantro, clove and citrus juice or vinegar. Clove, trinity (onions, bell peppers and celery) and chicken bullion are added to finish the dish. It was very richly flavored and delicious.
Mushroom rice (diri ak djon djon) another traditional dish, was also served. Dried black mushrooms are combined with long grain rice, garlic, onion, clove, Lima beans and thyme. It was also very good. Other rice and bean dishes are served and are seasoned differently depending if they incorporate either red or black beans.
Double fried plantains (Bannann peze) were also served as a side dish. If made from green plantains, they are usually dipped in salted water in between frying to season them.
Pikliz (pick-lees) is a favorite condiment in Haiti that came with our meal. It consists of scotch bonnet pepper, shredded onion, carrot and cabbage steeped in vinegar. Although not shown, we were also served another condiment for dipping our plantains into which was referred to as “chicken sauce”. This is basically braising liquid used in stew chicken, and has a tomato, onion, thyme and chicken bouillon base. It was a good condiment for the plantains.
The side salad was basic, mostly iceberg lettuce with ranch dressing from a gallon jar obtained from a commercial food supplier. Apart from the salad, this dish was excellent and highly recommended.
Prestige is Haiti’s only local beer brand, and is a light lager reminiscent of another Caribbean beer from Jamaica, Red Stripe. Prestige was a perfect beer pairing for this food.
Should the reader feel adventurous, here is an excellent Website describing elements of Haitian cuisine and how to make them.
The food at TCR was very good, worthy of a return visit. The staff here were very friendly, and enjoyed talking with me in some detail about what we ordered that day. The prices were very good as well, the lambi and snapper dishes costing ten and twenty five dollars, respectively.
I did not consider this expensive with the size of the fish served, which could, along with the sides, have been enough for two. I hope readers will go here as besides being delicious, the food ordered was much different than the status quo.
What exactly is creole anyway?
The most common creole, that of Haiti, has over 10 million speakers and is a mixture of French and a former native Haitian language. Other variants exist including Portuguese- and Arabic-derived creole.
Linguistically, it developed from the interactions of people whose languages are totally different, most notably in agricultural or trading interactions as a consequence of colonization. It starts off as a rudimentary common language known as pidgin. Over time, it becomes creolized, or a primary native language based on a hybrid of an indigenous and non indigenous language.
The development of regional cuisines can also follow language. Creole foods of the Caribbean are culinary “mutts” derived from different cultures settling in the region. The Spanish initially colonized Haiti, but diseases brought with them killed off many indigenous residents on the island with no natural immunity. Slaves from Africa supplanted those lost and the French also colonized part of the island. All of these early influences, and cultures settling later in the region, contributed to the development of contemporary Haitian cuisine.