While the Radyo Shak was operating in the Grand Rue of Port-au-Prince I invited several local cooks to sit down in front of our microphones and share a recipe. First-hand oral transmission and observation seem to me to be the primary conduits for the fundaments of culture, and I hoped this might be an interesting exercise in part because while the internet has revolutionized the accessibility of recipes and the sophistication of home cooking, urbanization, globalization and technology have negatively impacted the transmission of a kind of generational culinary patrimony. As Agata Felluga, the chef of Jour de Fête, Strasbourg pointed out to me in another context, grandmothers are dying all across Italy and taking their specific regional recipes with them. Additionally, in our food-obsessed culture we are often so satisfied with ourselves for shopping sustainably, locally and artisanally that we ignore the elitism and luxury engrained in our eating habits. Haitian inner-city cooks create enormous flavors with ingredients that cost pennies, and put wholesome, filling servings on a plate that sells for less than a dollar, even though in the neo-liberal Caribbean economic context staple items like cooking oil, tomato paste and rice frequently cost more than they do in the United States. Comparatively tiny portions of meat, sun-dried fish, scotch-bonnet peppers and bouillon cubes are used to tremendous advantage in leveraging flavor. In the delivery of these recipes no quantities were ever given, and results when cooking from them will undoubtedly vary widely.

Diri blan avek sos Aran So / White Rice with Herring Sauce

A recipe from Simeon Ivens, better known as Junior, proprietor of the official snack bar of the 2015 Ghetto Biennale. Junior’s long, battered refrigerator-cooler, protected with the tiniest of padlocks and almost always full of bottled water and cold Prestige beer, was the Ghetto Biennale oasis. He describes this recipe as “very creole.”

Ingredients

Dried Herring

Lemon

Cooking Oil

Tomato Paste

Maggi® Seasoning Cubes

Scotch Bonnet Pepper

Sweet Green Pepper (ajícito)

Scallion

Salt

Rice

Onion

I started out by asking: How is white rice prepared in Haiti?

No, Junior said, when you make diri blan avek sos aran so, you are supposed to make the sauce first, because you might not have two fires, and you want the rice to be hot.

First thing, you buy your herring, you wash it, rub it with a little bit of lemon, and then you put it in water. Then get your oil heating up. When it’s really hot, you put some tomato paste in there and fry it. Stir it up so it melts. When that’s done you empty the herring into it so it can take a little bit of the color from the tomato paste, then you put in some water and then some Maggi, you add a bit of pepper, a little hot pepper, a very little, very lightly, and a little sweet green pepper, then you boil that up until it’s the way you want your sauce to be.

So then, if you don’t have two fires, you take your sauce off the fire once it’s finished boiling, you put your rice pot on the fire, put in oil, when that just starts smoking you put a stalk of scallion in there, then you put your salt in and fry it, and when you a little bit of smoke coming up off there you put in your water. When it starts to boil, then you put in your rice.

How do you know if you have enough water for your rice?

OK, so when you put your rice into the water, if you stick a spoon into the middle of the pot, if that spoon stands up straight, you’re good. If it falls over, you have too much water for your quantity of rice. Making white rice, you have some people who don’t know, they put Maggi in there, but white rice doesn’t have Maggi in it, once you put Maggi in there it isn’t white rice any more, the Maggi changes the color. When your rice is finished, you get your bowls and serve out the rice, and put a little onion on there and put your herring sauce on top.

More Recipes from the Radyo Shak:

Syndia Leonce’s Bannann ak Yam, Plantain and Ñame

served with

Amazan Esperanta’s Sos Pwason, Fish Sauce

Rose-marie’s Mayi Moulin, Corn Grits

Thomas Chung’s Pen Patat, Sweet Potato Pie

Blondine Herard’s Chiktay Aran So, Herring Salad for Drinkers

Alphonse Kettie’s Tasso Bef, Dried Fried Beef

Jean-Claude Saintilus’ Poul, Chicken Kreyol