Monday, April 26, 2010

Guyana's Indian/Caribbean cuisine

For 10 days, my wife Neeta and I were basically treated like royalty by the great people in her family and fed constantly. It was pretty easy to get used to! The above professional looking birthday cake was the work of a local woman who baked in her home for different occasions as requested. There really isn't any "food industry" in Guyana-only the cooking of local entrepreneurs, the small Chinese restaurants that are found along many streets and the few places of business at the airport or in Georgetown, the principal city. Oh! And I saw one Kentucky Fried Chicken (which we ordered from as a treat for our hosts). Principally, the food of Guyana is made at home, often grown at home and most often, locally produced.

Here's a local housewife giving the once over to the local produce. See those small red peppers? I promise you, they are hot! About the only way to sample such delicacies here in the states would be to have someone sneak them in for you in their suitcases, not that I would ever do such a thing!

Open 6 days a week, you share the street with Caribbean hip hop vendors, dogs, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens. It's definitely more fun than the local supermarket at the mall.

Food is seemingly always being prepared, but meals take place just when you're hungry. Here is one of my beautiful nieces eating in the coolest part of the house. Most homes have these spaces under the house where meals are eaten at leisure.

As Guyana becomes more prosperous, kitchens now include refrigerators and gas stoves. This is Neeta's older sister's house with it's very cheerful kitchen.

Every meal is served either with rice or roti. There are 3 kinds of roti. This one, called soda roti is the simplest, just flour water and baking powder. It's accompanying some bagee which is a spinach like green which is  eaten a lot and some roasted pork which I made along with an onion, pineapple chutney. For the pork, it was the first time they had lit their oven! Since everyone grew up cooking meals outside, they have no recipes for the oven. I  sent some recipes to them after we got home, but I had to convert all the oven settings I know to Centigrade first.

This is my sister-in-law, Indira making my favorite roti called "bus-up-shot" by the Trinidadians and paratha by the Indians. No measuring here, she knows by touch when the dough is right.

After mixing the flour and water with a pinch or two of baking powder, she rolls the dough out.

Next, she adds the right amount of oil.

Then, the dough is rolled up...

...and cut into portions. No, she didn't miscalculate; the little one is for her grandson. She places these rolled portions back in the flour where they rise a little (I guess) during the 5 minutes or so it takes to heat up the griddle.

They then get rolled out again and cooked on the griddle. They are flipped by delicately picking them up by the edge (without burning yourself) and turning them, brushing them again with oil.

This is the "bus(t) up" part. Again, without burning yourself, you take the roti off the griddle, fold it in quarters and roughly clap it between your hands about 6 or 7 times. (The observant reader will by the way, notice the Guyanese penchant for gold.)

The finished roti has a flaky exterior due to the beating it's taken. This stuff could almost replace pasta for me. It also serves the locals who use pieces of it to pick up food as a fork.

Finally,here I am playing the apprentice baker applying oil to the third kind of roti served in Guyana. Dahl puri as it is called, has a filling of dahl (a mixture of boiled split peas and spices which is milled into a dry powder). When done correctly the roti expands like a bladder while being cooked with the filling in it.

Bigan Choka which I have my version of here.

Pumpkin curry which I also cook at home.

Something called palori which I thought my wife would be able to tell me about but apparently hasn't a clue as to how it's made. It was some kind of fried dough nicely spiced. Anyone know anything about it?

We had tiny little fish fried with equally small crabs which we netted on a trip to the sea wall.

This post has gotten ridiculously long. I'll leave it with this picture of Neeta offering a lotus leaf filled with, you guessed it,  food which she sent on its way floating on the water to the Mother. If you aren't totally bored by my tedious prose and want to see and read more about Guyana, here's a link to one of my other blogs, Signals From Outer Space. Stay well.


  1. This must have been a fantastic visit. If ever you choose not to cook you could become a tour guide, Joe. This is a wonderful post. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  2. Thanks Mary. I love to travel too.

  3. Im loving this super long post! ;) its not everyday we get to see ethnic food like this!

  4. Thank you, Jana. I wish I had your photography skills, but if you enjoy the Guyana stuff, click on the link to my other blog.

  5. This makes me miss home (Guyana) so much. I'm from Essequibo and it exactly like this. It was great growning up there and Christmas time is the best. That's when all the food come out. Post was great and thank you. PS. Polori reciepes are hard to find.

  6. Nice hearing from you, Maida. Thanks for posting