I was wondering why I’d put on some weight since arriving in Guyana – or as the locals say, ‘Miss you gat phaaaaat, man!’ Then I realised the answer is in the question: I live in Guyana. I am 100% not complaining as you will soon find out how good the food is, but I wouldn’t say no to a massive salad now and then. Something I never thought I would say… So, here’s your guide to the Guyanese diet.
FRUIT!!!: starting with what should really be the healthiest item on my list, or what would be if everyone didn’t insist on eating it with salt or stock cube. Seriously. People think I’m weird for not dipping my pineapple in salt or coating fresh mango with cubes. When we first arrived we were told that fruit was too expensive in Kwakwani so survived mainly on pears (avocados) from our friends tree and supplements before discovering that A) fruit costs more here than on the coast but is still 489927 times cheaper than in the rest of the interior and B) you don’t really have to buy fruit if you know the right people.
One afternoon during mango season (January time) Bry and I were liming outside in our hammocks chatting with some kids from across the road when suddenly one stopped and cocked his head.
‘Ah hear it fall! Ah comen back miss, ah goin an gettin this ting.’
5 minutes later Keon returned with the mangoes he supposedly heard fall from the tree two streets away. Within half an hour we had eaten 10 mangoes between us with more to spare and our clothing was covered in the juice. They’re so much tastier here than at home. Advantages of having expert fruit pillagers practically living in our yard is that they always include us in their findings.
Every round fruit here is seemingly some variant of an apple – my favourite are custard apples which have a weird bumpy shell you crack open to reveal the mushy banana-like flesh. Owara season is right now, little balls with orange flesh you scrape off with your teeth. Soursop is amazing, I don’t really know how to describe it but it’s really fluffy and juicy. Guava, buck cashew, guinep, jamoon, grapefruit, lime, star apple, cucruit, dong, sugar banana, pine, cherry (different from home), pawpaw, fat poke, five finger, watermelon, plantain, the list goes on…….. Everyone here wants me to send them back berries, though.
Cook up rice (origin Africa): one of my specialities. The girl who lived next to us first term always called us over when she was making it and while mine isn’t quite as good as hers, it did allow me to watch and learn. It’s beans cooked with rice and coconut and if I’m feeling onnit I’ll use an actual coconut which costs $60 (20p) if not free from a neighbours tree. I have to get someone to bash it open with a machete or cutlass, drink out the water then crack the shell off with a knife to get the flesh. The flesh then needs to be grated and strained to get the milk which you cook the rice in, then add whatever else you want – greens, onion, garlic, pepper. Alternatively, I will buy a pack of coconut milk. Less faff.
Curry roti (origin East India): if you tell anyone here you can make roti you earn immediate respect. It’s an Indian flat bread made by kneading the dough, spreading it with oil, rolling it out, spreading it with more oil, rolling it up, rolling it out again… Eventually it is fried on a tawa, or roti pan, a big flat round pan. Once it’s finished cooking you have to clap it – throw it up in the air and catch it in your hands in a clapping motion. This makes it all flakey and floppy. Served with curry like potato and boulanger (aubergine), channa (chickpeas) or pumpkin. No cutlery allowed.
Chow mien (origin China): so easy and so good. Bryher makes it best. Once the noodles are cooked you fry up onions etc with Chinese sauce (a sweet sauce with mysterious contents), sugar, greens and chunks which is a soy meat substitute. They taste gross by themselves but good mixed with this sauce. Mix it into the noodles with chow mien and all purpose seasoning. We always cook too much.
Snackettes (origin Caribbean): Kwakwani and most of the coast is littered with snackettes, little stalls or shops selling the best snacks ever. Channa, egg balls, dahl puri, pillouri, bake and salt fish, pinwheels, scone pizza, cassava balls and cool downs, sandwich bags filled with homemade juice like golden apple, watermelon or cherry. They average at $100 an item, 30p. This is the number one thing I will miss when I go home…. Craving a bag of channa now ugh.
So there is an introduction to a few items in my Guyanese recipe book. Definitely going to need to find a Caribbean importer come August…