As we get ready for New Year’s Day, some people will make black-eyed peas, maybe some greens, possibly some ozoni soup.
I, however, will be thinking of soup joumou.
Two years ago, I was in Haiti for my second time, that time over the New Year, where I first had this squash soup.
While it’s tradition to have this on New Year’s Day in Haiti, it’s not really for good luck, but rather to mark Haiti’s independence from French colonizers in 1804, when it became the first free black republic in the world. It’s an incredible story, really, of the only slave uprising that led to the founding of a state that was free from slavery and ruled by non-whites and former captives.
The soup consumed this day is a lovely one, embracing winter squash and enhancing it to a barely spicy meal, best shared at a long table with as many friends as possible.
Really, my friend Sarah Marsalis-Luginbill puts it well — as she should, she’s been to the country many times, even having lived there a while.
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“One of my favorite things about the soup is the representation of the freedom that comes with it, and so when I hear the stories and the pride and how connected it is to their culture, I just immediately feel drawn to the people and the hearts of Haiti,” she says. “It’s there when you taste the soup: You taste the richness of the soup with your mouth, but then you also taste this richness of culture, richness of pride and richness of people.”
Taste-wise, expect the squash to be complemented by beef, potato plantains and various vegetables.
So, trying it … I have a call to action: Do you know a place serving good Haitian cuisine, possibly soup joumou? Let me know; we’ve been hunting and haven’t yet found it. There are recipes online, of course, if you want to try making it yourself. Though, Marsalis-Luginbill says it doesn’t taste quite the same here (and I'll vouch that she's a good cook).
With that being said, you can always go to Port-au-Prince to try the food and discover this wonderful country.