These Haitian Dried Mushrooms Are Culinary Gold

Chef Lemaire adds, “Aside from soup joumou, our independence soup, djon-djon is uniquely Haitian. It’s not found growing or harvested anywhere else. To me, it embodies Haiti. It evokes memories and also signifies sophistication due to its rarity. If you enter a household and find real djon-djon being used, you can discern it without hesitation.”

Though affectionately dubbed “Haitian black rice” over the years due to its deep, dark color, chef Natacha Gomez argues that that name does a disservice to diri djon-djon. A visually striking dish with a velvety texture, diri djon-djon gets its dark, almost black color from the djon-djon mushrooms. Its rich and earthy flavor is a welcomed sight at Haitian weddings, First Communions, and other celebratory gatherings. While it’s usually prepared as a vegetarian dish with the djon-djon as the star, you may also come across versions made with shrimp and lobster, which boost the umami of the mushrooms even further.

“When we label it ‘black rice,’ we erase the unique identity of djon-djon mushrooms and Haitian cuisine.” Instead, Gomez argues, we should use more descriptive terms like djon-djon rice or black mushroom rice. “This way, we respect the singular identity of djon-djon mushrooms and Haitian cuisine, and we’re more precise in our language.”

Hogarth and Guerline Emmanuel of Long Island, New York, echo this sentiment. As a couple operating a travel company focused on historical and cultural trips to Haiti, they believe it’s vital to preserve the essence of our culture rather than diluting it for convenience. “There are certain things every Haitian should know. 1804. The Haitian flag is blue and red, and it’s diri djon-djon, not black rice,” emphasizes Mrs. Emmanuel.

Given that djon-djon is both expensive and not always readily available, many have sought solace in the cube alternative offered by Maggi, known as Maggi djon-djon. In his book, The Simple Art of Rice, Chef JJ Johnson leans on its convenience for an approachable and affordable take on diri djon-djon (which he simply calls Djon Djon). But Haitians have varied opinions on the product. Clerge, for instance, staunchly refuses to use it. “You will always notice a gummy film at the bottom of the pot when cooking with the cube. And when used in non-rice dishes, the Maggi Djon Djon turns the dish green. No thank you!”

As someone who’s used the dark-flavored cube in the past, I can confirm that those familiar with authentic djon-djon will easily discern the difference. Nevertheless, when left with no alternative, it imparts a trace of the real thing. And Detroit-based Gracie Xavier agrees. “While the taste isn’t an exact match, Maggi Djon Djon serves as a decent substitute when authentic djon-djon is elusive,” she says. “Procuring Haitian ingredients can be a considerable challenge, and when I yearn for a connection to home, the cube lends a helping hand.”

“It’s a convenient, time-saving, flavor enhancer that proves invaluable in a pinch. Yet, I find the taste and aroma of actual djon-djon to be more well-rounded and full-bodied. Moreover, when I prepare my own djon-djon base, I have control over what goes into it, and I’m not obliged to use all the other ingredients that go into Maggi,” argues Mr. Augustin.

Regardless of the form it takes, there’s no denying that djon-djon is attaining a certain level of culinary prominence. As Haitians, we take pride in offering the best of what we have. During my initial culinary endeavors, even as a broke college student, the first meal I offered any friend was the renowned diri djon-djon. I wanted them to taste the most emblematic dish in Haitian cuisine, one that embodied the heart and soul of our culinary heritage. When we share djon-djon, we’re not just offering a meal; we’re expressing the richness of our culture and the warmth of our hearts. It transcends sustenance.

And as Mr. Augustin puts it, “djon-djon provides a connection to our heritage, helping us stay connected to our cultural roots and identity. It’s cultural preservation.”

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Cee Gei
Author: Cee Gei

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