The Food in Guyana 

I gave you a brief introduction to the various foods in Guyana in my previous food post and have talked about foods that are difficult or expensive to get in other posts. Per a friend’s request I figured I should do a more in-depth/specific look at the food in Guyana.

Pepper-pot

Pepper-pot is the most common food I read about in relation to Guyana, but it’s not typically eaten on a regular basis. Pepper-pot is a traditional Amerindian dish; from what I’ve been told, the version you find on the coast is vastly different than what they eat in Amerindian villages. It is a stew, usually made with beef but can be other types of meat like goat and is cooked cassareep (a sauce made from the cassava root). After that ingredients vary more, but can include something similar to cook up, cassava, edo,etc. On the coast it is usually reserved for holidays or special occasions, especially Christmas. From what I’ve heard it’s eaten more regularly, but still not frequently, and is spicier in Amerindian villages in the hinterland. 

I can’t wait to visit other PCVs in the hinterland so I can start telling you some first hand experiences there instead of what I’ve heard. We can’t be overnight from our site for the first 3 months at site, without burning vacation days, so once I hit that mark I’ll be planning a trip.

Curry

Curry is actually one of the most common dishes, and you can curry almost anything. The curry is a little different than what I’ve had at Indian restaurants, but it’s similar and still really good.  Curried chicken, rooster, beef, goat, lamb, edo, cassava, and so on.  It is usually served over rice and often with roti.

Channa, a way to prepare chickpeas,  is also sometimes curried, but is served without being curried sometimes too.

Rice

Rice is probably the most common food in Guyana, it is eaten with most meals. Even the brown rice is white in color and it’s not particularly flavorful on it’s own so it’s used as a base for whatever other food you’re eating. The portion sizes of rice are very large in Guyana as a general rule, often covering the bottom of the plate in a mounding layer, topped with your other food. A lot of the country is made up of rice fields, so it is in ample supply.

Cookup rice

One of the more popular dishes in Guyana, Cookup is a one pot dish. The base is rice, mixed with coconut milk, red beans, black-eyed peas, split peas, and usually some kind of meat. I prefer for the chicken, goat, or beef cookup, but the pork is good also. Some of my fellow pcvs have had it with fish or shrimp, that’s gotten mixed reviews – I’ll let y’all know when I try it. Cookup is one of my favorite Guyanese dishes.

Vegetables 

Vegetables are almost all stewed in oil and cooked for a long time.  Okro (okra), balangee (eggplant), pumpkin, bora (green beans), and callaloo (related to spinach) are among the most common.  

Salad usually means raw cucumbers, tomatoes, and sometimes carrots chopped up together. It is a fairly common side, but never served as a meal unless you’re at an Americanized restaurant that then usually adds lettuce.

Vegetables are all pretty inexpensive unless you want something they import, like broccoli.

Fruits

Guyana may be known as the land of many waters, but the land of many fruits would be equally appropriate.  There is a seemingly endless supply of fresh local fruits including bananas  (usually less than half the size they are in the US), mangoes, papayas, guavas, pears (avacados), awara, coconuts, oranges, limes, pine (pineapple), passion fruit, whitea, watermelon, cherries, and sapodillas are some of the most common. Sapodillas, awara, and whitea are the only fruit from that list I’d never heard of before coming to Guyana. Sapodillas are roughly plum sized and taste like they’re at least 50% brown sugar. Whitea was a small nut size fruit that I had in region 2, but have not seen or heard of in region 3. It comes in a pod, that you break open and eat the white inside. There is a pit inside, so don’t bite down. Awara is a small bright orange fruit with a rine and large pit. It’s the only fruit I’ve tried in Guyana that I wasn’t fond of, the flavor was actually good, but there are a lot of different textures for one fruit. It’s is stringy (so be prepared for it to get caught in your teeth), slimy, the juice will shoot into your mouth when you bite down, and somehow like starchy at the same time. My host mom in region 2 said she hadn’t met an American yet who liked – which made me want to like them even more 🙂 but unfortunately I was unsuccessful. 

Mobi might be mistaken for a tart fruit juice, but it is actually made from bark.

Staples

Carbs and starchy vegetables are referred to as staples here. They are generally the largest portion of food at every meal. Edo and cassava are root vegetables similar to potato. Edo has more calories than a potato, but it also has more nutritional value, like iron and vitamin A. They also have potatoes and white sweet potatoes.  Plantains, jackfruit, and breadfruit I’ve seen classified as both fruit and vegetable, but for the purpose of how they’re prepared in Guyana I feel like it fits in the starch category best. They are prepared in pretty much every way that potatoes, sweet potatoes, edo, and cassava are prepared. Cassava has to be one of the most versatile starches I’ve ever come across. You can eat it anyway you can eat a potato, but they make a lot of other things from it too. It is made into cassava bread, alcohol, sauce used for seasoning other foods – like pepper-pot, flour, tapioca, and sago (a type of porridge) can all be made from cassava, just to name a few. I’ve already mentioned the Guyanese love of rice. There are also a lot of bread products. Outside of sandwich bread, tennis rolls, hot dog buns, etc there are a few bread products I hadn’t had til I came to Guyana.

Roti and fry bake

Some of the common bread type products are roti (sada and clap/paratha) and fry bake. Fry bake is a sweet bread that is reminiscent of an empty empanada. Roti is circular and made up of flour, water, and baking powder  (some people add sugar). Sada roti is somewhere between pita bread and a tortilla. You cook it on a flat pan, similar to a comal and fluff it over open flame to get it to rise. Paratha roti is a lot flatter and larger. You mix the same ingredients  (just less baking powder), flatten it, cut it almost in half, roll it like you would a crescent roll but all the way around the circle making a little mound. After it sits for a couple minutes you reroll it into a circle and paint it with ghee and then cook it on the flat pan and then you clap it between your hands.

Dahl Puri

Dahl is smashed split peas, often made into a sauce and eaten over rice and sometimes saltfish (literally salted fish that comes in small pieces). It’s another one of my Guyanese favorites. Dahl puri is when someone cooks the smashed peas inside of paratha roti instead of turning it into sauce.

Ground Provision

Ground provision is all of the starchy root vegetables, flour dumplings, and sometimes chicken cooked together. It is sometimes served in a broth, other times just a light sauce.

Protein

The protein in Guyana is most commonly chicken (including roosters), either fried, curried, stewed, or in a pot roast sauce. Grills aren’t common and while most houses I’ve been in have an oven, I’ve never had food (other than cake) that was prepared in the oven. Fish is common too, especially along the coast. So are eggs, goat, and mutton. Beef and pork are readily available (at least along the coast) and is affordable, but a lot less common. I think this is because of a combination of factors. 1.Only bulls can be slaughtered for meat in Guyana, they get a bull approved, but then they take that approval back and I’ve heard that approval can be used to slaughter any bull they have (like perhaps ones that wouldn’t pass inspection). 2. There is a cultural influence between the large Hindu and Muslim populations. Most practicing Hindus don’t eat beef, some also don’t eat pork, and others don’t eat any meat. Muslims don’t eat pork and they own a lot of the butcher shops, where they sell Halal meat- so no pork. 3. People have been known to get sick from both pork and beef, (whether worms or food poisoning) because of improper meat handling and lack of reliable refrigeration for some people. Also it’s very common to leave food out for long periods of time here, even for people who have good refrigeration, and keep food much longer than we would in the US which seems to be the most dangerous with beef and pork. They also commonly eat legumes, but not generally as the sole protein, more of a side or something they throw into stew.

Dairy

The majority of dairy is from powdered milk or evaporated milk, unless a family has a cow. Ice cream is fairly common, it’s a little less creamy and a little more icy than ice cream in the states, but it’s still good. (You can also get ice cream like what we have in the states, but it’s 3-4x the price. Think around $13 US for an off brand carton or that for a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.) They have cheese but, Guyanese cheese has a much different flavor than any I’ve had anywhere else so I’m not sure how to describe it. Along the coast you can find American brands of cheese, but they’re about double or triple the price that would be in the US, because they’re imported.

Snack foods

So most of Guyanese snacks seem to be just slightly smaller versions of meals. But there are are few foods that are signature snacks. They make pastries stuffed with with coconut  (often dyed), jams or fruit, shredded cheese, or sometimes without fillings. There are also things called egg balls, a hard boiled egg with a fried cassava breading around it, usually with sour inside, and cassava balls which is the same thing minus the egg.

Fries/Chips

There are fries and chips (think like kettle potatoe chips) made of potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, and plantains. There is usually a fourth option known as “chicken foot” that are small, brown, skinny, crunchy chips. I’m unsure what they are made of, but not actual chicken feet, I suspect they’re a flour based snack. The chips are almost always served with a sauce referred to as “sour” made from sour mangoes, peppers, and a variety of spices that is delicious and addicting. I still prefer the potato fries (especially when they put mustard and I’m not sure what else on before the fry them), but sweet potato are my favorite chips.

Tea

Tea here is any beverage that isn’t water, juice, or soda. So tea includes what we would call tea at home – referred to as teabags here,  mobi  (a bark tea/juice), coffee, olvaltine, milo – a choclateyer version of ovaltine, and other various beverages.

The below picture is my host brother from region 2 making tea (milo) for us. He mixes the milo powder, sugar, and milk powder into hot water.

Seasonings/Flavor additives 

So there is a sweet flavoring you can add to things known as “essence.” I was told it was the same as vanilla, it is not, but it’s yummy if you don’t go into thinking it’s going to taste like vanilla. Usually  when people just say “essence” they are referring to the brown liquid, but there is also clear essence also known also as almond essence. This will be one of the first flavors you taste in most baked goods here.  

The most common seasons added are probably salt and sugar, and lots of it. Even when someone tells you they only put a little bit – don’t believe them. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard ” oh I just add a little” and then see them pouring from the bag. 

Green seasoning: This seems to be one of the most frequently reoccurring seasonings across cultures, each with their own spin. Guyanese green seasoning has a very Caribbean zest. It is blended (or finely chopped) onions, green peppers, garlic, sometimes celery, and other local seasonings for flavor.

Tummarac, garlic, ginseng, curry, saffron, ground or shaved/chipped coconut, masala, cumin, shallots, other onions, thyme, and hot peppers are common flavors in Guyanese food. 

Most foods here have a similar spice pallet, on the milder side of Caribbean food, heavily influenced by Indian food,  but a lot of the spices are grown locally so even the traditional Indian dishes are a Caribbean version.

Guyanese Chinese food 

There is a small population of Chinese immigrants in Guyana. Most of the Chinese food is more Guyanese flavored versions of things like Chow Mein. When you’re in or near Georgetown they have some Chinese restaurants that are closer to americanized-Chinese food. 

“American” food

The closer you get to Georgetown, the more common what is here considered American foods become in people’s diets. Whether it’s just because it more readily available, or because this area is more developed so it’s easier to get items to, or catering to foreigners, or its some sort of status symbol, or more people in this area have seemed of visit the US and Canada than other areas of Guyana, or because there are more high(er) paying jobs in town, or another reason I haven’t considered, or some combination of the above reasons I’m unsure. But regardless of why they are more common, American food is more readily available and consumed, even if it’s usually overpriced.

This includes imported fruits (yay apples and grapes!) and vegetables  (broccoli and canned vegies like peas, corn, green beans,etc) and other items like American name brand cereal (Raisen Bran, Cheerios, etc.), Kraft cheese, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, Jiff peanut butter, etc. There are still some things I can’t find – like bagels, pintos, salsa, hot sauce (they have something called hot sauce but think Indian food flavor instead of Hispanic), but the list is narrowing and is still till haven’t gone grocery shopping in town yet where there is supposed to be more variety.

Outside of Georgetown, pizza is typically a casserole type dish. With a thick bread bottom,  sparse sauce and cheese,and then random toppings, often including onions and corn. In Georgetown there is Pizza Hut and similar restaurants that are actually pretty close to the taste at home. 

Burgers aren’t the same here typically either. For one, a burger can be anything on a hamburger bun, hamburger, a chicken breast, fish, tofu,etc.  Even the beef burgers usually taste different than they do in the states (I’m not sure why). For what we would refer to as a burger Johnny Rockets, in Georgetown, is your best bet. The burgers there are a step up from a fast food burger,  but priced like a steakhouse burger. Their shakes are good-but Georgetown also has a Marble Slab if you want a shake-and their fries are kind of similar to steak and shake. The bacon is like pho bacon-what they make bacon bits out of, but overall good if you ignore the pricetag.

Hot dogs are basically the same, just with different garnishes. The typical Guyanese garnishes include ketchup, mayo, shredded cheese, shredded carrots, and onion.  I skip the onions and mayo. The carrots are a surprisingly yummy addition and definitely a Guyanese habit I’ll be bringing back with me to the US (along with sour and roti).

There are several other “American” restaurants, Dairy Queen (with no burgers or chocolate ice cream), Church’s and Popeyes being among the most popular. Most of these are located in Georgetown, but a few have arrived in Vreed en Hoop and Parika in Region 3 and in New Amsterdam in Region 6.

Where are all my photos of this delicious food?

I recently lost all my photos that I’ve taken with my cellphone camera. So I don’t have any food pictures to post. I’ll start replinishing them and when I get enough I’ll make a post of common Guyanese food dishes pictures labeled.

Anything else you’d like to read about concerning Guyana? Let me know in the comments

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