Me cooking chicken and potato curry.
It’s funny to me, but one of the most common questions I get asked from people back home is “What kind of food are you eating?” And the answer is all kinds! Most people think rice and beans when they think of South America, but like I’ve said before, Guyana is much more Caribbean when it comes to culture. Another factor is that there are so many different ethnicities all entwined into one small country, and the result is a lot of interesting (unexpected?) and delicious food! The following are probably the most common (at least in my experience so far) dishes here in the land of many waters:
1. Cookup Rice: A one-pot meal with rice and usually peas/beans cooked with coconut milk which makes it super filling. There are many different versions of cookup and it is often served with some type of meat. If you’re super fortunate, you may even find a chicken foot in yours 🙂
2. Curry!! Perhaps one of my favorite things here. Guyanese people will curry anything, including labba (giant rodent) and iguana. More commonly made with chicken, fish, potatoes, beef (not as common), even goat and lamb. Most of the time it is served with roti, and OH don’t even get me started on roti!
3. So, Roti: An unleavened bread-type food, made with flour, rolled thin, and cooked on a tava. Could be compared to a tortilla, but different. The roti must be “clapped” when hot in order to create the layers that are oh so desirable in a good roti. Turns out I am terrible at clapping roti, but for no lack of effort and/or burnt hands. I am convinced making good roti is an art, and seeing as how it is SO delicious, I am bound and determined to learn how to do it properly–two years should suffice, right?
4. Rice/Stew: Probably the most common, everyday Guyanese meal consists of white rice with some type of stew on top. Now “stew” can really mean anything, anything at all. The most common types are bora; a type of looooong string bean, boulanger- eggplant; pumpkin; black eyed peas; cabbage mixed with other vegetables; squash, etc. I typically smother my rice and stew with pepper sauce–oh so yummy!
5. Channa: My absolute favorite Guyanese meal, I really think I could eat it every day. Basically you soak chickpeas in water, put them in a pressure pot with tons of other mysterious ingredients, and when you take it out, it’s miraculous. Best when served with mango sour, which is a type of sauce, and pholourie, a type of fried dough ball. Just trust me on this one 🙂
6. Fry Rice: Very similar to fried rice in the States, I just like to say it like the Guyanese folk do! Since there is a sizable Chinese population here in Guyana, fry rice is a pretty common dish and most families here probably eat it about once a week.
7. Chow Mein: Again, Guyanese have taken a dish and put their own spin on it–the chow mein noodles are boiled and then fried up with vegetables (bora, carrots, corn, whatevs) and usually chicken, if there’s meat at all. It’s easy to whip up in large quantities and fairly cheap to make. It’s another one of those things that most people probably eat at least once a week.
8. Metem: A culinary delight really–basically a thick soup made with ground provisions (cassava, sweet potato–totally different from our sweet potato, eddoe and plantains) and a thick broth made with coconut milk. Usually served with fried fish, and dumpling type things called “duff”.
9. Bake: Despite its name, bake is actually fried like a lot of things in Guyana. It is a bread product that could be described as a really thick fluffy tortilla in its dense form, and in its more airy form can even be a lot like a sopapilla. It’s an all-purpose food that you can really do a lot with, most often I eat mine with peanut butter or cheese if we have it!
10. Pepperpot: A traditional Amerindian stew made with, as we would say in the states, “everything but the kitchen sink”. It is usually served at Christmas time, and is not typically made every week or so like the other things I’ve listed here. But seeing as how it is Guyana’s national dish and is truly unique and unlike anything I’ve ever tasted, I had to include it here. Typically made with beef, it is a combination of flavors (cinnamon, cassareep, and hot peppers) that results in something pretty spectacular. It is something that is supposedly better the longer it sits, and cooks, and sits some more, throw some more stuff in it, cook some more, you get the drift. There is even a myth that somebody has kept the same pot of pepperpot going for three years, but who really knows.
So, there ya go. That’s a pretty good rundown of the typical day-to-day things I’ve been eating here. Side note: I have become convinced that “food sanitation” and “safe handling practices” are some type of conspiracy dreamt up to sell refrigerators and the like. Since being here, I have eaten all kinds of things that have been sitting out in the tropical heat for way too long by American standards (including meat and eggs) and I’m still kickin’!