International Cooking: Food from Guyana

Guyana is located on the north coast of South America, and it is one of the least densely populated countries on Earth. Guyana was once colonized by the Dutch and later ruled by the British, which helps explain the incredibly diverse population.

Nine indigenous tribes live in Guyana, but many people from other countries such as India, Africa, China, and Portugal have made it their home. This makes Guyana a very interesting country when it comes to cuisine!

Guyana’s economy has been one of the few to grow during the pandemic due to the discovery of crude oil in 2015, leading to commercial drilling in 2019. The country is on track to become one of the largest per capita oil producers in the world by 2030.

What Do People Eat in Guyana?

As you can imagine, with so many different nationalities making their home in Guyana, there is a wide variety of popular dishes. To me, Indian cuisine seems pretty prominent, as daal, roti, and Indian-style curries are all common. There are Caribbean dishes such as bakes, saltfish, fish cakes, and cook-up rice (a dish similar to some I’ve made before such as pigeon peas and rice for the Bahamas, but with coconut milk). Fried rice and chow mein are popular too, showing Chinese influences. Then there are various types of bread such as tennis rolls, a type of bread roll often served with cheese; this is most likely from the British.

Common ingredients include cassava, sweet potato, rice, fish, and fresh seafood. Readily available fruits such as lime and pineapple are often made into a beverage called ‘local drink’. Other popular drinks include ginger beer, peanut punch, and sorrel drink (made from hibiscus leaves).

What I Made

Guyanese-Style Chow Mein

Guyanese-Style Chow Mein

I was surprised to find that chow mein is a popular dish in Guyana! I hadn’t expected there to be much Chinese influence. Now, I don’t know everything that goes into authentic Chinese chow mein, but the ingredients used here that I’m sure are unique to the Guyanese version are thyme and cassareep, which is a thick syrup made from cassava. I didn’t have cassareep, so I used soy sauce instead, which was the suggested alternative.

I started by chopping up some chicken thighs and seasoning them with thyme, soy sauce, garlic, brown sugar, onion powder, salt, brown mustard, pepper, ketchup, and Chinese five-spice. I let the chicken marinate for a bit while I chopped up my vegetables—I used carrot, green beans, broccoli, bell pepper, green onion, cabbage, and onion.

I heated up some oil in my wok and added the onions. When they were translucent I added the seasoned chicken, and when it was cooked through I removed it from the pan. I cooked the vegetables next, then returned the chicken to the pan along with my chow mein noodles, which I cooked while the chicken was cooking.

To finish, the recipe suggested I use a mixture of a premade garlic sauce with red pepper flakes and sesame oil. Instead, I chose to use what I had, and made a mixture of soy sauce, oyster sauce, red pepper flakes, and sesame oil, and I tossed that in.

I thought this was delicious! I’m sure I will make it again.

The recipe came from Metemgee, the source I used for everything this week as multiple people on the Guyanese subreddit recommended it.

Pholourie (Split Pea Fritters)

Pholourie (Split Pea Fritters)

Here we have a dish that shows some of Guyana’s Indian influences. Pholourie are fritters made from split peas, flour, and spices, often served with something called ‘mango sour’, which as far as I can tell is a kind of mango chutney.

I soaked some yellow split peas in hot water overnight, then the next day I put them in the food processor with onion and garlic. I blended everything up to make a paste, then transferred it to a bowl with flour, baking powder, curry powder, cumin, garam masala, and salt. I added some warm water to make a batter, then let it sit for about half an hour.

Next, I heated up some oil and deep-fried the fritters. I used a spoon to drop small pieces of dough in; mine didn’t look as neat as those in the recipe photos but that really didn’t matter since they were super delicious!

This recipe is from Metemgee.

Pepperpot (Meat Stew)

Pepperpot (Meat Stew)

Pepperport is a stew flavored with cassareep, a thick dark sauce made from cassava, and it is Guyana’s national dish. Traditionally, pepperpot is eaten with bread on Christmas morning.

Now, I wanted to get cassareep, but it was nearly $20 a bottle from Amazon and I didn’t feel I wanted to pay that much, especially since I didn’t know what I’d do with the rest (I’m sure it has a long shelf life but I only have so much space to store such things). Most sources say you can’t make Guyanese pepperpot without cassareep, so what I made is technically a pepperpot-like stew.

Instead of cassareep, I made a substitute that consisted mostly of molasses, combined with some soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce.

I started by seasoning some cubed chuck roast with brown sugar, salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, black pepper, thyme, and my pretend cassareep. The original recipe also uses oxtail and cow heels, but I decided to omit those as I was halving the recipe and just using the chuck worked out better. I’d like to try with the oxtails next time. I let the meat marinate for about half an hour.

Next, I sautéed some onion and garlic in a pot and added the marinated meat with a cinnamon stick, some cloves, and a habanero pepper (in place of the wiri wiri peppers the recipe called for). When the beef was browned, I added water and let everything simmer for a couple of hours or so, until the meat was tender.

I added more of my cassareep substitute and some brown sugar and cooked for a bit longer, then I served the stew with some plait bread (next), which seems to be the most traditional accompaniment.

This had a really interesting sweet and spicy flavor. I’d love to try it with the cassareep some time since I’m sure it will be a bit different. However, my ‘pepperpot-like stew’ was delicious.

The recipe I used is from Metemgee.

Plait Bread

Plait Bread

This is made using a pretty standard bread dough; it’s just shaped into a braid. There is also often another strip of dough placed down the middle.

I had a few issues when making this, hence why the shape isn’t so good. It was warm and humid and the dough was a bit too sticky to braid easily. I should have just added more flour when I was kneading it initially, but instead I decided to make the sticky dough work. This meant that when it was time to braid it, I couldn’t do it quickly without thinking, as I usually would. I had to do it slowly and methodically and I couldn’t work out how to do it! I had to look up a video online. It’s strange how hard it seemed to do a braid when I had to be thinking about it! Anyway, I fiddled with the dough a lot while trying to shape it, and as I said, it was a bit sticky—probably more sticky than it should have been. So it didn’t look that pretty when I was done.

Then, when it was time to bake the bread, I realized my oven had not been preheating and so I had to delay putting the dough in, so I think it over-proofed a bit.

Having said all that, bread is pretty forgiving. Even if it doesn’t look good, it usually still tastes delicious and that was the case here!

If you’d like to try this, the recipe I used is from Metemgee.

Final Thoughts

This was a great week! Everything was good but I enjoyed the pholourie the most.

I have to say that I think this has been one of the most interesting countries so far due to the influences from so many different countries. I would love to revisit Guyanese cuisine when I have the time!

Next week, I’ll be cooking food from Haiti.

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