We talk a lot of crap about Florida on the podcast, and rightly so. The state at large is a magnet for drug-fueled white trash insanity of the worst order. From my brief time living in Ft. Lauderdale to every other episode of COPS; I’ve come to learn that shirtless ferret ownership is not only a way of life there, but an institution on par with common-law marriage. That being said; I love me some Miami.
I don’t mind the sweltering heat, the sprawl of the city, the rampant douchebaggery or even the painfully obvious contrast between rich and poor. I mean, I mind them, but they don’t ruin Miami for me.
What makes Miami work is its diversity. Cubans; Haitians; Jews; African Americans; South Americans; West Africans; Southeast Asians; Florida White Trash. They all contribute a great deal to shaping the multifaceted spirit of the city, especially when it comes to food.
One half of the restaurant industry here seems to be dominated by high end, chef-driven establishments whose food and decor look like a cross between a P. Diddy video and the movie Tron.
The other, and far more approachable, class of restaurants are the various small ethnic diners and restaurants specializing in the cuisine of the various immigrant groups who call Miami home. Especially Cuban and Haitian food.
My initial interest in cooking developed when I lived in South Florida. I was already interested in the then un-trendy cuisine of Spain, but it was my exposure to Cuban cuisine through these small, family-owned restaurants that compelled me to attempt cooking the dishes I enjoyed for my family and friends. In the 15+ years since then, even while working at a Cuban restaurant, Spanish and Caribbean cuisines have always been a comfortable fallback when cooking for loved ones (unlike Mexican food, which is what I cook when I’m showing off for girls).
For this visit; my history made finding an acceptable Cuban breakfast place near our hotel a major priority. Luckily there was the above hole-in-the-wall just a block away. The service wasn’t great, but the waitresses were customarily hot, the eggs with turkey were filling and the cortaditos were strong in the best possible ways. Breakfast left us full for hours, but the Cuban espresso with milk fueled further exploration of South Beach and Little Haiti without need for a siesta.
Little Haiti didn’t have much going on. The open-air community market our cab driver promised would be open was shuttered and deserted. In fact, most of the neighborhood seemed like a ghost town, save for a few churches overflowing with beautiful music. We checked out a few grocery stores looking for Haitian cigarettes, to no avail, and so we headed back to South Beach for one of two visits to the Tap Tap Haitian Restaurant.
On our first visit we had drank Prestige lager and eaten goat stew. It was such an enjoyable time that we went back for a second visit to kill a few hours before our plane ride.
We drank a lot of
rum rhum drinks on the second visit; tempering our alcohol intake with fresh cigars…
and a platter of fried akra, sweet potatoes, plantains and goat with a variety of dipping sauces.
I can’t stress how awesome the above dish was. I could eat it every day. In fact, all the Haitian food I tried was quite good. It has many of the same ingredients and techniques as other Afro-Caribbean cuisines, only with a distinctly French touch.
Despite a lot of personal heartbreak on this trip, the magic of Miami didn’t fail to lift my spirits and give me a series of irreplaceable food memories. If I wasn’t so hellbent on living in the Southwest; I could be very comfortable living a simple life in South Beach. Quaffing rhum drinks and eating up all the fried goat I could get my hands on.
Also; the women there are RIDICULOUSLY hot. That never hurts.