Breakfast is not a big deal in Haiti. Although people are up at 5 or 6 am and busy about their work, no one seems to eat early in the day. Since I am used to a hearty breakfast, I usually stow away a few pieces of bread from dinner because it is never clear what food may come my way before lunch. Sometimes Gama gets food from the ladies who cook on site mid-morning. He always shares, although it is hardly standard American fare.
“Mangoes for Breakfast!” Gama shakes a plastic bag full. “So, do you want to eat mangoes Haitian way or American way?” He slides a five gallon bucket of water across the floor of the construction shack and dumps five mangoes to float in it. “When in Rome,” I reply, but I get a quizzical look. Idioms don’t translate. “Haitian way.” He smiles, straddles the bucket, picks a fat mango from the water and gnashes it with his teeth, peels away the skin and chomps down.
I peer into the water. I am adventurous but not stupid. I cannot put a mango washed with local water in my mouth. “American way,” I shrug. I pull a mango out and use my thumb to break through the soft peel. “American way is with a knife,” Gama points out. “You are doing Haitian way for Haitians’ with no teeth.” It’s a good joke, but then again, maybe it is not. People without teeth are a significant minority in Haiti.
The mango is sweet and pulpy, the juice gathers around my mouth. It is the best I’ve ever eaten, but then again I am very hungry.
The next day we have goat head stew for breakfast. The head is placed in a large kettle and boiled in a buttery sauce, think béarnaise without the flour. Add chunks of yum, a papaya-like starch, and the obligatory onion. When the head is tender it is cut into pieces and mixes with the broth and starch. The skin turns deep grey and curls around the underlying muscle.
Goat head has a nice texture, but I did not find it as flavorful as the goat meat cubed into the evening stews or the char broiled chunks we sometimes get as a garnish to our rice and beans. I suppose I am developing a sophisticated palate when it comes to goat.