food in guyana: part 1

RECIPES: As I learn how to make several Guyanese dishes from friends and families here, I can’t quite figure out how to get the recipes because well, they don’t have any. In Guyana, you cook based on your memories from watching your mother and your mother’s mother in the kitchen. It’s the same way I know how to make Filipino food–you put this (pours the bottle for 10 seconds) and this (dumps unmeasured amounts of ingredients) and a little bit of that (it’s actually a lot) and then you stir it until it’s done! A lot of my work here in Guyana will be to write down these recipes and modify them for patients at the hospital so… I’m gonna have to figure something out.

SEASONING: There’s a lot of seasoning that goes into their simple cooking. Curry isn’t just curry. It’s curry seasoning, masala seasoning, chicken seasoning, fish seasoning, green seasoning, garlic seasoning, pepper seasoning, and any other seasoning you honestly feel like throwing in there. Oh, and don’t forget, aghee (also known as MSG). To be fair, Guyanese food taste delicious. And that’s not just the MSG talking. However, hypertension is a serious problem in this country. And although people are aware they shouldn’t add “salt”, they are not always aware that there is plenty of salt in the other seasonings they are putting in their foods.

CHURCH’S CHICKEN SANDWICHES: Wow, ok. Let me not be a nutritionist for just a quick paragraph. I don’t know what it is, but the Church’s Chicken Sandwiches here are… Gosh, I don’t even have words. Specifically, the ones in Parika (Region 3). I don’t pass through Parika unless I’m going to and from Essequibo (Region 2), but holy moly, biting into one after a long day of traveling is everything I need to forget that I’ve been on a bus and a boat for the last 5 hours.

CHIPPING: This is how you cut things in Guyana. You could use a cutting board, but as I like to describe it, most people cut things in the air. They chip everything under the sun effortlessly (and quickly, might I add) as they pull the knife upwards through the food into small, sometimes even pieces. It’s really an art and I’m not very good at it.

HOT PEPPERS: They are hot. Like the hottest bearable peppers I’ve ever come across eating. When you do cut the peppers, your fingers will burn. I don’t know the names of them, but they come in different sizes. A friend of mine ate a large pepper whole and from what I’ve heard, I’m almost sure his entire body was on fire. I’ve only ever cooked with the little, round red peppers that look like the tiny berries my cousins and I used to put up our noses when we were kids. Disclaimer: don’t put these up your nose. You’ve been warned.

BUGS: You will probably eat some and you won’t even know it. Mostly ants because they get into everything. I think I ate some this morning with my jam. I’ll live though.

ROTI: I love roti for multiple reasons. It not only taste amazing with pretty much all my favorite foods here (pumpkin curry, dahl, and belanjay choka), but it’s also a great way to make friends in Guyana. I’ve learned that telling someone I know how to make this round, flakey piece of doughy heaven is a perfect shoe into friendship. Instead of breaking the ice, you clap the roti.

CHEESE: It’s really oily and I think it’s cheddar (*update, it is cheddar). Other volunteers are pretty skeptical about it, but I don’t care what anyone says, I eat it everyday and it makes me happy.

VEGETABLES: Some things are called differently here: bora (green beans), belanjay (eggplant), calalu (spinach). People in Guyana eat vegetables, they just don’t eat them raw. My host mom in Essequibo was always shocked to see me eat our vegetables before we cooked them. To my knowledge, almost everything is thrown into a pot, stewed down, seasoned up, and then eaten with rice. Although this is a good way to kill bacteria, people are also killing the nutrients. There are ways to make raw vegetables taste good and I hope to show more people what I mean by this. Mixing different types of veggies together to compliment the sweet and the bitter, adding lime to make it sour, or maybe some peppers for a little spice–the possibilities are endless.

FRUITS: I’m not saying everyone has mangoes and coconuts and papayas and guavas growing right in their backyard (I certainly don’t), but someone has something and I can bet they’re more than likely willing to share with you. As a fruit lover myself, I’m in my own personal heaven here. Not all of them taste good (sorry, I’m not a fan of awarra), but trying new fruits I’ve never had or heard of before like soursop and sorrel have been one of my favorite experiences since moving to Guyana. There’s really nothing like eating a fruit right off the tree. Nothing.


It’s been almost three months since I’ve been in country and I’ve learned so much already; things in and out of the kitchen, of course. Cooking, however, continues to be my way of connecting with people in Guyana. Feeling like I belong here has been difficult at times, so I thank God for this way of being loved and loving others.

Love always,
Mel

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