Why I Follow My Mom's Tradition of Making Haitian Soup Joumou on New Year's Day
This winter squash soup commemorates Haiti's independence on January 1, 1804.
There is one tradition that I could always count on growing up: that is my mom making soup joumou (pictured above) on January 1. I know this tradition is one that every Haitian looks forward to on New Year's Day. From north, south, east or west, even if you did not make it yourself, you will find a Haitian household nearby that you can go to and eat a warm bowl of soup joumou on New Year's Day.
Eating soup joumou is a tradition that began on January 1, 1804: Haiti's Independence Day. Haiti, the first Black republic, had been enslaved by the French for hundreds of years. During that period, enslaved people would make soup joumou for their slave masters but were never allowed to partake in the delicacy. When the people of Haiti earned their independence on New Year's Day in 1804 by overthrowing the French, one of the first things they did to celebrate was to eat a bowl of soup joumou. And so the tradition continues today as we, the descendants of those who fought for our freedom, remember and celebrate our independence by eating a bowl (more like multiple bowls) of soup joumou.
The traditional recipe for soup joumou calls for calabaza squash (that's the joumou of the name), several veggies, herbs, potatoes, turnips, pasta and beef. My mother would make different variations where, for example, she would sometimes use goat meat instead of beef or the tuber malanga instead of potatoes. Similar practices are found in other Haitian households within Haiti and the Haitian diaspora. I've seen beef or chicken feet used in different recipes. It all depends on the part of Haiti that the person comes from and what their family had available to use in their recipe. You may even find some using butternut squash in the United States if calabaza squash isn't available. One ingredient that is commonly used in Haiti but may not be easily found elsewhere, especially the United States, is an herb known as lozéy (Kreyol) or l'oseille (French), and also known as culantro. While it may be confused with cilantro because of its name and, as some claim, even its scent, they're not the same. But my mother always used cilantro as I was growing up and I do the same.
Within my own family, I make my mom's variation with goat (and sometimes lamb), and as I've become more plant-based or when vegan friends come over, I'll make a meatless version that's just as amazing. My family loves soup joumou so much that I get requests to make it several times throughout the year.
While the consistency of soup joumou may vary between households, a soup that's too thin may cause your guests to give you a side-eye or two. Adding more potatoes and pasta will bring about a thicker consistency. Personally, I'm kind of a tweener—not too thick, not too thin.
Regardless of the family traditions, one thing is for sure: Haitians worldwide will always celebrate the day that freedom was won and joyfully eat a bowl of soup joumou surrounded by family and friends. Cheers to a bowl (or six) of soup joumou on January 1!
Johane M. Filemon is a Haitian American registered dietitian nutritionist and gut-health expert based in Atlanta, Georgia. Through her virtual nutrition practice she uses food to treat inflammation and promote pain-free living. You can reach her at www.johanefilemon.com or through her Instagram @wonderfullynutritious.