Monday, September 17, 2007

Mais Morou and You

Cute story-got a minute? Some time ago I was riding my scooter along 54th St, looking for the new location of 190 Restaurant, near N. Miami Ave. It looked like a pretty desolate spot (it's since been fixed up), but something bright caught my eye-a fresh 'Now Open' sign across the street. There was a chalked-in entry under the name LAKAY, that read 'Mais Morou $3.95” Now I didn't know what Lakay or Mais Morou meant, but I definitely got $3.95. I plugged around the corner and pulled in front of what looked like a little takeout next to a marginal grocery store, back of the church there. This is Little Haiti, and, to my utter delight, I was about to get what I like to call a Haitian Education. That's where one simple question leads to many complicated answers. The pretty girl behind the counter allowed me my one question-what is Mais Morou? Well, from what I remember of the answer, it is a traditional Haitian breakfast, which consists of a brown trout ragout, accompanied by a cornmeal concoction mixed with a bean or two, which I first thought was beans and rice until I swallowed my first forkful. It had an almost toasted texture, and each mouthful revealed some new flavor. The trout was also pretty flavorful, soft and delicate, and I marveled at all the cultures that eat fish for breakfast, as opposed to the American-style bacon or ham and eggs. (More on that later.) A couple of boiled bananas and a watermelon soda rounded out the meal. While this is primarily a takeout, there are four or five chairs pointed at the TV, which is usually playing some sporting event that is hotly argued over by those who are eating there. While we chatted, I asked about the sugar-coated little fried things behind the glass counter, and I was told they were beignets. Now I've only had beignets in New Orleans, and these looked nothing like them. However, the charming girl behind the counter insisted that I take a bag home with me gratis, “ that you will come back.” The next day, I was drawn back to Lakay, and not just by the beignets, which kind of reminded me of thin pieces of sugared french toast, but by the promise of another revelatory dish. This time, I got the beef stew, which came with the 'real mais', which was surprisingly spicy, but smooth and yellow with a few coarse lumps, what in polite circles might be referred to as polenta. The beef stew was thick with either spinach or kale, I couldn't tell, carrots, lots of vegetables, onions, almost like a beef fricassee-this was no breakfast combo, this was a pound and a half of serious midday meal, cooked by someone with a head and a hand for spicing things up. It came with a half a banana and a cup of beans and gravy. I asked for a soup, as I was a little under the weather, and I was directed to the bouyon. I mistakenly heard bouillon, or broth, and was blown away when I got home and opened the container. Of course I should have guessed from the weight, but this was no thin soup. Bouyon, as I have come to know it at Lakay, is a stew that is thick with potatoes and vegetables, and has an earthy beef flavor that can only come from bones, baby. This version also has some crab in it, imparting a subtle seafood undertone. I don't know how they do it in that little kitchen back there, but they have created some extremely fine Haitian food that reflects the French influence, but never strays far from the island's unique character. And my Haitian Education continues. LAKAY-45 NE 54th St., Miami, FL



Mais Morou

Beef Stew