Street food and Haitian hot wings

In Port-au-Prince the streets bustle with sights, sounds, and the smells of cooking street food.

Three Many Cooks
A pot of chips, or french fries, bubbles in oil on a street in Haiti.
Three Many Cooks
Haitian hot wings.

I’m in Haiti this week, mainly for work. But if I’m traveling for business, I always make time for a bit of pleasure. As I prepared for my trip, however, I wondered how much pleasure I could find in a place that has experienced disaster after disaster for over a year. A lot, I found.

Port-au-Prince is still very much a city of tents and rubble. While there are signs of reconstruction everywhere, around every corner is a home or a shop that looks like it came crashing down just a moment before. On every free wall there are competing campaign posters for this highly-charged, contested election and graffiti everywhere alluding to the “Kolera” which first plagued St. Marc and has now crept into the capital city. But despite the last year of horrors, Port-au-Prince is vibrant and lively, the people warm and friendly. When I was stranded at the airport without a phone or money, I had at least a dozen offers to use people’s phones. Without asking, a young man went and bought me a bottle of water.

As in any bustling city, the senses are overwhelmed with sights, sounds and smells. Life is abundant here. The markets are heaving, the roads are crawling. Motorcycles carrying four (and sometimes five) passengers and dangerously overflowing trucks have endless near-misses. Traffic laws don’t exist here; the only constant is the sound of horns. I must also say that the people in Haiti are (in the words of Derek Zoolander), “really, really, ridiculously good-looking.” The children are unquestionably the most beautiful I have ever seen.

Of course what interests me is the food. Street food: lining the streets, cluttering the corners, clogging the intersections. I strain my eyes to see what’s cookin’ as we zip through the streets in our Land Rover. Women are hunched over bubbling pots of beans and steaming bowls of rice, or standing over barbecuing meat, while young boys carry buckets of popcorn and crispy fried plantains on their heads. In my short time here I have already tried everything from meatballs and chicken (with a spicy coleslaw) to crab stew with rice and hot wings.

With this variety of delicious food everywhere, I wonder why New York street food is so limited. I have heard about popular food trucks (and experienced them on the West Coast), but I have never really seen them in my own city. For me, street food consists of dry, over-salted soft-pretzels and boiled hotdogs in a cold, white bun. This may have a certain charm for tourists, but being here in Haiti I’ve got street food envy.

I don’t have a recipe for any of this street food (at least not yet). It’s likely been made the same way, and the technique passed down for generations. But there is one thing I did eat a lot: wings! All different kinds. Here is a recipe that is similar to what I had during my time there.

Haitian hot wings

Makes 2 to 2-1/2 dozen wings

2 large shallots, peeled
1/2 medium onion, peeled
2 hot chili peppers such as serrano or jalapeno, stemmed and deseeded
1-1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1/3 cup juice from 2 lemons
2/3 cup juice from 2 oranges
Salt and ground black pepper
3 pounds split chicken wings
3 tablespoons olive oil

Process shallots, onions, chiles, thyme, lemon and orange juices, 1 tablespoon salt, and several grinds of pepper in a food processor until pureed.

Put wings into a large zipper-lock bag; add marinade and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Bring wings, marinade, and 2 cups of water to boil in a soup kettle over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until liquid has nearly evaporated, about 45 minutes.

Heat a oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When wisps of smoke start to rise from the pan, add as many chicken wings as will fit in a single layer (depending on skillet size you may need to cook in 2 batches); sauté, turning only once, until crisp and golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes total. Serve.

Maggy Keet blogs with her mother and sister at Three Many Cooks.

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