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Comfort food from Haiti

Haitian lecturer and storyteller Liliane Nerette-Louis will present culinary demos and stories at the Downriver Festival on Saturday. Photo : Craig Ambrosio

Haitian lecturer and storyteller Liliane Nerette-Louis will present culinary demos and stories at the Downriver Festival on Saturday. Photo : Craig Ambrosio

Lilianne Nerette-Louis lives in Miami. Haitian by birth, she lives in the city with the largest Haitian population in the United States and she’s about to visit New Orleans, the city with relatively few compatriots but the one most closely connected historically with her homeland.

It’s a connection that goes back more than two centuries with the immigration to La Nouvelle Orleans of the first wave of French-speaking Haitians following the slave revolt of the early 1800s. The most recent large-scale immigration to America happened in the 1970s and '80s when thousands of Haitians fled the dictatorship of the Duvalier father and son. They brought with them their language, their unique foods and their long-standing storytelling traditions.

This weekend, as part of the second annual Downriver Mighty Mississippi Festival in the French Market, Liliane is going to use all those cultural assets while she demonstrates how to fix what have become some of Haiti’s most popular traditional street foods: akra, (crispy fried malanga fritters) and piklz, (pickled cabbage, carrots and scotch bonnet peppers in vinegar with spices).

Telling stories she learned from her mother, Liliane is also going to cook up a batch of griot, that most famous of all Haitian street foods. “In the part of Haiti I grew up, they sell this food on the street corner,” she says of the fried chunks of pork. “It’s a great delicacy; I make it wonderfully myself.”

The storytelling traditions of her country and her family are the most comforting memories of what, for her, was not always a happy childhood. “I was the fourth child in a family of eight,” she recalls. “So, really, I was the middle child. The youngest one was the one I really put my love on.”

Lost in this large family of boys and girls, she remembers the closeness with her teacher-mother who told and re-told traditional stories in the Haitian Creole language. “For me, it was the best time,” she says.

Liliane has always remembered those stories, many of which over the years have evolved into newer English-language versions. “I have really adapted some of them to America,” she says adding that the one thing that is always in Haitian stories no matter is Haitian Creole or English “is how they all point to food.”

So for families young and old looking for a taste of some spicy and delicious food and the comfort of old-fashioned storytelling, go say bonjour to Liliane at 3 p.m. this Saturday in The French Market

For more information on the Downriver Fest, go to [email protected]

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]