Food & Drink

Haitian Squash Soup Gets Delicious Recognition

Every January 1, Haitians serve this spicy, savory soup with centuries of history—and UNESCO just awarded it protected cultural heritage status 

Photo: Alain Lemaire

Every New Year’s Day, when chef Alain Lemaire was a little boy growing up in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, he would stop into friends’ and family members’ homes with a bowl to fill up with a spicy squash soup called soup joumou. Aunts and cousins and friends would share their renditions—his mother’s cooked with chicken instead of the usual goat meat; some soups spicier than others; most topped with fresh lime juice.

The New Year’s tradition—and the soup—are deeply rooted in centuries of Haitian history. Just this month, UNESCO awarded Haiti celebratory news when it granted soup joumou protected cultural heritage status.

“This heritage generates a strong sense of belonging to the Haitian nation, connects new generations with their roots and becomes an expression of their dignity as a people,” wrote Dominique Dupuy, Haiti’s ambassador to UNESCO, in her nomination. “[The soup] is a culinary ritual linked to the commemoration of the battle for independence, celebrated every January 1 since 1804. It is a ritual, a constantly renewed proclamation of freedom, equality, and fraternity.”

Dupuy describes the history of Haiti’s colonial system—a time when slave masters forbid enslaved people from eating the soup they themselves cooked, from native squashes they grew. “Slaves would prepare the soup on Sundays and were denied the right to even taste it,” Dupuy says. Haiti, which fought for and won independence from France, marked its freedom by cooking—and serving widely—squash soup on January 1, 1804, Independence Day. Today, Haitians still simmer the soup on most Sunday mornings, every January 1, and as a symbol of peace: “The soup is used as a token of reconciliation: in the event of a quarrel between two parties, peace is restored once one makes an offering of soup to the other,” wrote Dupuy. “Joumou soup is more than a meal; it promotes cohesion between communities, groups, and individuals in their living environment. It is an indisputable fiber of Haitian identity.”

photo: Courtesy of Alain Lemaire
Alain Lemaire

Chef Lemaire now lives in the United States, where he has appeared on Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen. He started a catering company, Sensory Delights, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and has been perfecting his own version of the soup. “When I moved to Florida, we kept the tradition going here,” he says. “The soup would bring everybody together, and I think that’s the reason behind soup joumou in the first place—community. “We bring our empty bowls to different people’s houses to see how everybody makes it differently,” he explains. “But the basics are the same across the board.” Beef or goat meat, marinated in a blend of spices, simmers in broth, and then the chef adds root vegetables and the squash—the variety used in Haiti is called giraumon, or turban squash; Lemaire uses roasted butternut squash in a pinch. “I don’t want to call my recipe a classic because unlike many others, I add pasta. It all depends on what region you were born into, your family, and all that,” he says. “It has been adapted again and again throughout the years.” Soup joumou’s legacy, now made official by UNESCO, lives on and evolves—friend to friend, bowl to bowl, cook to cook.


    • 1 medium calabaza or butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled and cubed

    • 1 lb. beef shank, meat cut off bones into 1-inch cubes

    • 1 lb. stew beef (preferably chuck) cut into 1-inch cubes

    • 1 cup plus 1 tbsp. distilled white vinegar, divided

    • 1 cup Haitian epis or spices (Every Haitian cook has their own version of this spice blend, but it usually includes parsley, thyme, scallions, scotch bonnet peppers, and garlic. Use whatever green herb seasoning you like. Some versions of epis are available in Florida grocers and online.)

    • 3 tbsp. fresh lime juice (from about 1 lime)

    • Salt, to taste

    • 15 cups beef or vegetable broth, divided

    • 1 lb. beef bones

    • 3 large russet potatoes (about 2 lbs.), finely chopped

    • 3 carrots (about 1 lb.), cut on the bias

    • ½ small green cabbage (about 1 lb.), very thinly sliced

    • 1 medium onion, julienned

    • 1 celery stalk, chopped

    • 1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, finely chopped

    • 2 small turnips, chopped

    • 1 green Scotch bonnet or habanero pepper

    • 6 whole cloves

    • 1 sprig parsley

    • 1 sprig thyme

    • 1 bunch culantro (a leafy herb grown in Haiti; can substitute with cilantro or a favorite leafy green)

    • 1½ cups rigatoni

    • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter


  1. Roast squash at 375 degrees until cubes are fork-tender.

  2. In a large bowl, toss beef shank and stew beef with 1 cup vinegar. Transfer beef to a colander and rinse with cold water.

  3. In a new bowl, mix epis, lime juice, salt, and beef, and let marinate at least 30 minutes and preferably overnight.

  4. Heat 5 cups broth in a very large stock pot over medium. Add marinated beef and bones, cover, and simmer until meat is beginning to soften, about 40 minutes.

  5. Transfer squash to a blender. Add 4 cups broth and purée until smooth. Add squash mix to pot and bring to a simmer.

  6. Add potatoes, carrots, cabbage, onion, celery, leek, turnips, hot pepper, cloves, parsley, thyme, culantro or greens, and remaining 6 cups broth. Simmer, uncovered, until vegetables are 80 percent done, 20 to 25 minutes. Add pasta and let cook another 10 minutes until pasta is done.

  7. Add butter and remaining 1 tbsp. vinegar. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until beef is very tender, 15 to 20 minutes more.

  8. Taste and adjust seasonings. Chef tops his with a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a dash of Tabasco. Divide soup among bowls and serve with bread alongside.