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04 March 2019

Taste of the City Fresh Grill

HAITI 🇭🇹

In a tradition that dates back to the founding of the nation of Haiti in 1804, the first independent black republic in the world, soup joumou is enjoyed around new years day. This day means more in Haiti than it does for the rest of the world though, because it is also the anniversary of their independence, the culmination of a decades-long slave revolt against French colonizers.

It is widely believed that the tradition started because this particular soup was forbidden, once only the meal of the slave masters rather than the enslaved themselves. You can find the soup at many locations in East Flatbush around the first of January each year, but this three year old restaurant on Flatbush Avenue is also cooking it every Sunday.

Often translated as "pumpkin soup," the vegetable used is traditionally a squash found in Haiti that is very similar to what we consider to be a pumpkin here. The rest of the ingredients change with each chef and each audience, but there are some standards in the dish's tradition as well: beef, potatoes, pasta, and peppers to provide a nice heat.


When you come in, if they are busy enough not to have someone to greet you, make your way straight to the counter in the rear of the restaurant, jostle with takeout customers, and get your order in. Sitting down and waiting for a menu to show up is a strategy that does not always work here, especially on busy weekends.

The version here is good, and large. For $10, a full soup meal arrives in front of you. The first bites reveal spaghetti and penne, a modest hunk of beef, a few potatoes, some vegetables, and many spices. But the heat takes its sweet time. Somewhere deep in the bowl there is the heat of an angry pepper, but it does not hit your tongue immediately. Overall it is not too intense, but this feeling your mouth gets after being coated with the pepper's tingle is very enjoyable.

And so is the general atmosphere at Taste of the City, where on a Sunday you can delight in not only the soup but the after church diners that come with friends and family. Shouts of French from tables, or the customers ordering behind you in line somehow seem more gentle than if they were in English. I am looking forward to coming back for a more proper meal to take in their fritay and seafood dishes.

If you would like to learn more about the history before trying soup joumou, watch the documentary film entitled Liberty in a Soup.


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