Must-Try Traditional Food In Guyana

traditional food in guyana
| 5 min read

What makes Guyanese cuisine interesting is that it provides an idea about which resources are abundant in the country, mostly cassava, split peas and lime. Maybe not all ingredients are in the same dish but these ingredients help in giving a spin to other variants of fusion cuisine, unique to this side of the Caribbean. So when a tourist or food historian is out to research the roots of traditional food in Guyana, the common ingredients would be the aforementioned items. This is when you realize that going traditional means finding a way to utilize resources found in the area. So, without the locals realizing it, they have cultivated an African pastry sub-culture and catered to a demand for gluten-free dishes and ketogenic recipes. Read on to learn about the traditional food in Guyana.

1. Cassava pone

Cassava Pone
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Tom Eppenberger Jr. used under CC BY 2.0

A native dessert that’s unique to Guyana, a pleasant surprise to this dish is finding that it is a cake that has nutmeg, cinnamon and grated coconut mixed with grated pumpkin, ginger, butter, brown sugar, raisins, evaporated milk, and grated cassava. Baking powder and other ingredients are a given since this is done in the oven. The best versions involve using fresh pumpkin and the cassava variant called Yuca. Most tourists from South America end up liking the cassava pone due to the familiarity with the taste of Yuca. But with a touch of Guyanese culinary skills, it became a delectable baked treat unique to this side of the world.

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2. Pholourie (Split-pea pastry)

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Grueslayer used under CC BY-SA 3.0

One treat that has been exported from Guyana successfully is the pholourie. Either as a dish cooked in American homes by immigrants from Guyana or the Caribbean, or as a snack found in Guyana itself by adventurous tourists, pholourie has become the best way to introduce people to Guyanese cuisine. A bowl of bite-sized pastries has become an instant favorite for vegans and health-conscious foodies due to its unique ingredient - split peas. It is packed with nutrients since the split peas are blended with garlic, pepper, turmeric and cumin. A blended concoction of healthy ingredients indeed to start your gluten-free meal plan.

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3. Metemgee (Cassava soup)

Metemgee (Cassava soup)
Source: Pixabay

At first glance, it looks like some culinary experiment until you realize that you are in Guyana where they cook almost anything with cassava. While locals call it metemgee, tourists are quick to call it metemgee soup since it is a soup. Who would have thought that cassava, sweet potatoes and plantains would taste great in a coconut milk-based soup with fish fillet? Before you make comparisons with the Malaysian dish “laksa” (which in itself has South Asian roots), what makes Guyana’s version, is the use of a local breed of edible fish called Banga Mary. The fish is often served fried and topped on the soup.

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4. Garlic pork

Garlic pork
Source: Pixabay

The Guyanese may call it garlic pork but the blend of ingredients obviously pays attention to the aroma too. Also, upon closer look, you’ll realize that the spices used to make this dish are the safest preservatives ever used in meat - garlic, basil, thyme, white vinegar and pepper. And that’s the original purpose behind the soaking of the slices of pork in the spice mix for three days, since refrigeration was not an option in the past, to avoid meat from spoiling. Now, it has become the signature holiday dish for the Guyanese. South American tourists are fond of the version that used habanero pepper.

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5. Bake

Yes, bake. It’s what they’re called. Fluffy pastries hand-crafted to tasty goodness. The Guyanese are known for using their own hands in making pastries and it’s no different with making bake. From mixing the ingredients to creating the dough to forming and shaping the dough into little pieces. These pieces are then kneaded using a Guyanese rolling pin. Now while the pastry is called bake, others have called it “float” since that is how they are actually cooked - by making them float in cooking oil using a deep-frying pan atop a stove.

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6. Cassava bread

Cassava bread
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user ChildofMidnight used under CC BY 3.0

Cassava bread has become the kind of pastry in Guyana that makes tourists discover a new way to cook bread even if you don’t have an oven. It’s fried bread made of homemade cassava flour. It is the best way to introduce a gluten-free pastry to health-conscious travelers that happened to drop by in Guyana. Cooked over little oil, what makes the Guyanese version is the use of a cake tray atop a frying pan. Some versions use the egg tray to make cookie-like cassava bread thins, pack them and sell in the souvenir shops for tourists to take on their way home.

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7. Farine (Cassava flour)

Source: Pixabay

Technically, this is a food ingredient that Guyana has started exporting through local trade fairs. The trade fairs serve as an opportunity to educate the public about farine, a gluten-free, handmade type of flour from cassava that derived its name from the Portuguese word for “flour”. Grated, dehydrated and packed, those who buy the flour cook them into cassava bread, bake and other pastries as seen on the previous examples mentioned in this article. With the rise in popularity of gluten-free and ketogenic recipes, people have started buying farine in bulk in order to sell pastries made from it.

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8. Fried bora (Fried long beans)

Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing

Bora is the Guyanese word for long beans. Other cooks call it string beans as featured in Indian dishes. This might be one of the few sitr-fry Guyanese dishes not dependent on cassava. Most versions of this dish consist purely of vegetables and are served with a side dish. Due to the abundance of cassava in the area, the common side dish is bake. Other versions have meat but instead of pork, beef or chicken, the meat added is either shrimp or scallion slices. Locals would often go for the spicy version. So some food joints make it a point to add the Wiri Wiri pepper to boost the dish’s hotness.

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9. Lime cookies

Lime macarons
Source: Pixabay

This is one of the most duplicated pastry recipes online, of all Guyanese treats. But this is a holiday staple in Guyanese homes, that soon made its way to other bakeshops abroad where lime is also farmed. The best cookies have even the lime zest in them. Other variants go as far as making lime cream to top the cookies and sprinkle further with lime zest leftovers. So it becomes a lime overload in cookie form. Just like cassava, the Guyanese have made memorable treats out of abundant resources that they have in their area and made a cookie version of their own.

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10. Bara

Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing

While this pastry can be served on its own, since it is also made up of pulverized split peas, it is occasionally served with pholourie. The main difference between the two ingredients, though, is the use of conventional flour with bara to make it fluffy upon frying. So once served, you can tell the bara apart from the pholourie. A complete meal of protein and carbs is fulfilled whenever restaurants serve bara as a side dish to some meat-based stew. Stew, pholourie and bara on your plate equals a hearty lunch worth munching on. As a snack, it tastes best with some tamarind paste as a dip.

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Delectable Guyanese cuisine

Subgum chow mein
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user pelican used under CC BY-SA 2.0

With flavors of the Caribbean, South Asia and South America spun altogether, traditional food in Guyana became a food genre in itself that gained popularity, thanks to the continuously rising demand for gluten-free food. With coconut milk and grated coconut contributing to the versatility of this food genre, even the neophyte ketogenics have found a way to upgrade their meal plans in terms of nutritional value. In other words, the Guyanese have been eating healthily long before eating healthy itself became cool. Happy eating.

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My name is Jing, a freelance writer online since late 2013. I enjoy writing about memorable experiences brought by traveling around. I find fulfillment in exploring areas that make a tourist...Read more

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