Soup joumou, the national dish that brings Haitians together

Pumpkin soup, also called soup joumou in Creole, represents the culinary symbol of the independence of Haiti. This traditional dish, with high historical value, has been listed since December 2021 as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity by Unesco.

The national dish is traditionally savored on New Year’s Day, a day also celebrated as Independence Day in Haiti. It is a time when Haitians meet, either as a family or in a group, to consume the soup joumou.

Yasmine Guillaume has not yet visited the country of her parents, but she is very interested in its history and Haitian gastronomy. The soup joumou allowed me to connect to my identity rootsshe says.

Kervins Saint-Jean began to learn the history of the country of his ancestors by taking an interest in this national dish. Like Yasmine Guillaume, he has not set foot on Haitian soil. Reunions and discussions with members of his family on New Year’s Day always offer him the possibility of discovering the history of Haiti. An oral transmission which is done to the culinary taste and which pushes us to know a little more of this countryhe says.

A historic value

The dish is eaten all over the Caribbean country, in both rural and urban areas. Community organizations and churches participate in the celebration by distributing this dish in their area.

Slaves until 1804, Haitians were not allowed to eat the soup joumou when they grew squash, an essential product in the preparation of this dish.

It was not until January 1, 1804 that they were able to taste it for the first time. Marie-Claire Heureuse Félicité, the wife of Jean Jacques Dessalines, the first Haitian leader, had this dish prepared to mark the break following the battle of Vertières, which consecrated the defeat of the French army against the slaves, the November 18, 1803. She then had the soup distributed to the Haitians in a festive atmosphere.

The ingredients of the soup joumou (for eight people)

  • 450g top sirloin beef, diced
  • 1 C. at s. lime juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 to 2 peppers
  • 200g macaroni
  • 2 tbsp. spices to taste
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • Onion and garlic salt, to taste
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 white leek, minced
  • 3 green onions, minced
  • 1 pumpkin squash, about 1.4 kg, peeled and grated
  • 1.5 liters of chicken broth, approximately
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into large cubes (optional)
  • 3 tbsp. at s. chopped flat-leaf parsley

Ingredients used to prepare pumpkin soup.

Photo: Courtesy of Gaspard Dorélien

A recipe that has evolved over the years

More than 200 years later, Haitians remain attached to this tradition, says Haitian journalist Gaspard Dorélien, who has become a chef. He also supported the process for the dish to be declared intangible heritage of humanity.

The recipe for making soup joumou has evolved over time, however, he acknowledges. Our ancestors didn’t really use meat. Today, it is inconceivable to make this dish without meat, he declares.

Gaspard Dorélien maintains that it is easy to prepare this soup in an hour. The work in the kitchen begins with the preparation of ingredients such as the squash (the joumou), cabbage, celery, sorrel, pasta, and seasonings, such as chilli.

Once the meat is well cooked, we will take care of the joumou. After cooking, we will grind it and pass it through a colander to then be added to the pot. Add the other ingredients as you go and leave to marinate for a few good minutes. And it’s there soup joumou, indicates the chef Mr Dorelien.

If it is a dish traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day, Haitians give themselves the freedom to eat it at any time of the year. You just have to feel like it and you prepare your soup, says Yasmine Guillaume, who learned the recipe from her parents.

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