Several thousand Haitians have traveled to Tijuana in recent months, overflowing migrant shelters and often sleeping outside next to their backpacks on sheets of cardboard, many after traveling 7,000 miles (11,000 kilometers) by foot, taxi and bus from Brazil through eight nations to the threshold of the United States.
As thousands of Haitians have arrived in Tijuana in recent months, stranded and hoping for asylum into the U.S., one thing bringing them together with locals is a love of good food.
Shelters around the city estimate that about 2,000 Haitians are currently being housed.
A month ago, Fausta Rosalía, the owner of Lonchería Dulce, a Mexican food stand, located inside an auto-shop on Calle Ocampo, was approached by five Haitian immigrant women hoping to find something to eat that might remind them of home – traditional tacos, quesadillas, and tostilocos were not going to cut it.
“[At first] the women asked if I would allow them to cook some food for themselves in the kitchen. They did not like Mexican food,” Rosalía told Fusion.
Then the women went on to ask the Tijuana restaurant owner if she’d be interested in going into business with them. It would require a change in cuisine unlike anything Tijuana and Rosalía had seen before.
But as any smart business woman knows, success is usually inevitable when you can fill a void where there is a need. So, Rosalía took the women up on their proposal and a trip to the local market pulled the new menu together.
Although Tijuana has a relatively burgeoning food scene, the new Haitian-style and Mexican food collab is a first in the city.
For the last month, Loncheria Dulce has been the exclusive spot for finding traditional Haitian fare in Tijuana.
The Haitian food is surprisingly similar to the Mexican cuisine, but uses a lot of habanero chiles, and so can be pretty spicy.
“After three months of travel, we are fortunate enough to eat chicken with a taste of Haiti,” Charles, a Haitian immigrant who asked that his last name be withheld told Fusion. “A lot of people didn’t make it all the way here.”
The Haitians make a perilous two- to four-month journey, often starting in Brazil, crossing 11 countries and requiring boats, buses, cars and on foot to land in TJ.
Many pay as much as $2,300 apiece to smugglers – usually in $100 to $300 increments along the way, according to press reports.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), since October 2015 more than 4,336 Haitians have entered the U.S., with 2,600 stuck at the San Ysidro port of entry in Tijuana, Mexico, and another 3,500 are in route.
The Haitian spot has become so popular that according to Fusion it’s full by 11 a.m. Both Haitian and Mexican customers flood in for the tasty uniquely prepared rice, beans and fried chicken.