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Prepare to embark on a culinary discovery of truly epic proportions with these Guyanese foods, bringing the colors and flavors of the Atlantic Ocean and the thick rainforest to the foray in many creative and flavorsome ways.
An eclectic mix of Caribbean, Latin American, Indian, and European cuisines, built on an ancient foundation of indigenous cooking techniques, makes Guyanese cuisine one of the most diverse, colorful, and fascinating throughout the Americas.
Let your mouth water and your mind boggle as together we put the spotlight on 20 iconic dishes from this vast and beautiful country.
1 – Pholourie
Popular in Caribbean cuisines, including in Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname, and in South American cuisines, these flavourful split pea fritters are an excellent crowd-pleaser at any Guyanese gathering.
Whether it’s a religious event, a birthday celebration, or just a group of friends hanging out, you can be sure that pholourie will be served as an appetizer.
Hearty enough to also be eaten as a main meal, pholourie is made with a split pea batter that has been seasoned with geera(cumin), turmeric, garlic, salt, and hot pepper. Once prepared, dollops of batter are dropped into hot oil and fried till golden brown.
These mildly spicy split pea and flour dough balls are often served alongside a spicy and sour sauce known as mango sour. Of course, some individuals prefer these fritters on their own, without any dipping sauces, because they are that delicious!
2 – Cheese Straws
Cheese straws are thin strips of pastry that are flaky, buttery, light in texture, and loaded with cheesy flavor. These golden crispy delights are pretty irresistible, simple to make, and ideal for serving at gatherings.
While this hearty treat is not unique to Guyana, it is a Guyanese favorite, commonly made for weddings, parties, and other events. Cheese straws are made from sharp cheddar cheese, flour, butter, salt, and a dash of spice from the local wiri wiri pepper, a little red pepper unique to Guyana, well-known for its spicy punch.
Guyanese cheese straws wouldn’t be complete without their signature patterns, created using a star pastry tip to pipe the perfectly smooth dough onto a baking sheet. The cheese straws are then baked until lightly brown.
3 – Cassava Bread
Cassava bread is a well-known Caribbean delicacy. In Guyana, it is associated with Guyana’s indigenous people, the Amerindians. The recipe for this crunchy flatbread prepared from ground cassava has been passed down through generations.
The dish is made from grated cassava root that has been squeezed dry in a Matapee, which is a woven sieve made of braided reeds or vines used as a strainer. When dried and thoroughly squeezed, grated cassava resembles flour but has an off-white hue.
A sizeable scoop is poured onto a circular platform or tray set over an open flame to cook. The cassava then has to be flipped over so the other side can finish cooking. The cassava should be firm and solid at this point, with no loose pieces.
After cooking, the cassava is left to dry outdoors in the sun, at which point the cassava bread is complete. Cassava bread is renowned for its lengthy storage time and is commonly eaten as a snack, at breakfast or dinner.
It pairs beautifully with Guyana’s national dish, pepper pot, a rich meat stew made with cassareep which was also given to us by the Amerindians.
4 – Fish Cakes
The savory dish known as a “fish cake” is made of crushed filleted fish combined with a starchy ingredient, commonly potatoes, seasoned with herbs, and fried until golden.
Guyanese fish cakes have a somewhat crisp exterior, while the fish itself is flaky and buttery soft. Traditionally the fish cakes are made from saltfish, potatoes, onion, garlic, wiri wiri peppers, and fresh thyme leaves.
Guyanese fish cakes are usually oval or cylindrical in shape but can also be flattened into patty-like shapes. They are perfect for serving as bite-sized appetizers, often with a side of mango sour. A dollop of this tangy sauce with a bite of spicy fish cake is simply divine.
5 – Pepperpot
Pepperpot is a flavourful meat-based stew prepared with cassareep, a thick, sticky sauce derived from cassava root that gives the meal its renowned aromatic flavor. It is traditionally served around the Christmas season but may be made any time of year.
This national dish of Amerindian origin is the pride and joy of the Guyanese people. Everything about this dish is unique. The flavor of pepperpot is more on the sweet side, with a savory and spicy undertone, as its name suggests. Pepperpot’s unique flavor comes from the cassareep, which is essential to the dish’s preparation. The cassareep also works as a natural preservative for the stew.
Depending on the type of meat chosen, pepperpot normally takes at least a couple of hours to cook. Beef and pork are two of the most common meats for pepperpot, although there are many alternatives. Cow heels, which naturally contain high amounts of collagen, are a favorite addition because they enhance and thicken the stew’s consistency as their high quantities of collagen melt into lip-sticking gelatine.
Due to their varying cooking durations, the meats in this dish are pressure cooked individually before being mixed in a single large pot. The meat is then infused with cinnamon, clove, thyme, and wiri wiri pepper.
Slowly simmered in the aromatic cassareep sauce, the meat becomes delightfully soft and tender. Many Guyanese also agree that the distinctive feature of pepperpot tastes even more divine when consumed a few days after preparation. Hence, it is a Christmas tradition in Guyana for people to prepare the dish a few days in advance so they may savor the dish’s intensified flavor on Christmas morning with a side of plait bread.
6 – Garlic Pork
Garlic pork is a delicacy enjoyed by many Guyanese people. “Pickled pork” is the best way to describe Guyanese garlic pork, which is typically served as part of Christmas morning breakfast with warm bread. This dish has Portuguese origins and was brought to Guyana by the Portuguese, who arrived as indentured workers and settled in Guyana.
It takes a fair amount of skill to prepare this dish. Pork flesh is diced and heavily seasoned with pepper, thyme, and lots of garlic before being pickled in vinegar to give the garlic pork its truly unique flavor. The meat is typically pickled and left for four or more days; the longer it is pickled, the better it tastes.
When the meat is ready to cook, the brine is drained, and the meat is then cooked until browned but still tender in its fat. The smell of garlic pork is truly something to savor, especially when being fried!
7 – Bake and Saltfish
There is no breakfast combo more iconic to Guyanese cuisine than the delicious bake and saltfish. Bake is a deep-fried, sweet, and soft dough with a crispy exterior served with fried saltfish, made from flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.
The dough is fried in hot oil until golden brown on both sides. Some bakes are made with a large air pocket in the center, which Guyanese call “float.” These fluffy and airy fried dough treats are just waiting to be stuffed with a delicious blend of saltfish sautéed with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and thyme. This classic Guyanese breakfast goes well with a hot cup of tea.
8 – Cook-Up Rice
Cook-up rice is one of Guyana’s national dishes and a weekend favorite in most households. Guyanese across the country enjoy this dish and savor every single bite.
A dish of African origin, cook-up rice is a hearty rice-based meal made with coconut milk, peas or beans, and a variety of meats. Cook-up rice does not have a single recipe and is a versatile dish in terms of the types of beans and meat that may be used.
The dish commonly consists of chicken, beef, or pork, although some people may choose to top it with a piece of fried fish. Any one or two of a variety of legumes, including split peas, black-eyed peas, red peas, kidney beans, pigeon peas, and kidney beans may be used. If you don’t like peas or beans, you can substitute callaloo for peas.
Hearing the whistle of pressure pots as the legumes cook and smelling the aroma of a fresh pot of cooked-up rice being boiled is a delight for so many Guyanese. The meal is made even more enticing by the milky flavor, the succulent meat, the fresh herbs, and the variety of legumes that are cooked with the rice.
This dish is a staple of Guyanese cuisine, and no matter whether it is prepared with or without meat or whatever legume is preferred, the meal is always flavourful and extremely delicious.
9 – Metemgee
Metemgee is a hearty one-pot dish made of ground provisions like sweet potatoes, yams, plantains, and cassava, along with onions, garlic, and sometimes meat such as chicken or beef.
Traditionally, saltfish or fried fish is served as a side dish with the metemgee along with duff, a light and fluffy form of dumpling that is the absolute favorite part of the dish for most Guyanese. It is all cooked in a savory broth of coconut milk and spices until tender.
This African-inspired dish that has been passed down through generations is both filling and nutritious due to its starchy root provisions, which are high in a range of vitamins and minerals. It is usually cooked on a Sunday and eaten with the family during lunchtime.
10 – Curry and Roti
With origins in Indian cuisine, Guyanese curry and roti is a popular dish served at family gatherings, parties, special occasions, weeknight dinners, and even as a light lunch.
For many of us natives, nothing beats a delicious Guyanese curry and roti! The dish is an amazing explosion of flavors and an incredibly popular dish in Guyana.
The Guyanese curry is a stew that is made by simmering meat or vegetables in a curry powder, geera, and masala mixture topped with garlic, thyme, and the desired amount of wiri wiri pepper until some of the liquid evaporates, leaving a thick stock. And the curry is typically made with chicken, beef, duck, goat, fish, shrimp, or crab.
It is usually served with roti, a flatbread made of flour, baking powder, salt, water, and oil that is kneaded to form a soft dough that is layered with ghee or oil and cooked on a cast iron griddle to create flaky layers.
The curry’s rich and aromatic flavor complements the light, flaky flatbread so well. The best way to enjoy this dish is to eat it using your fingers.
11 – Dhal
Another dish with origins in Indian cuisine, dhal is a yellow split pea gravy made with roasted spices, curry powder, and turmeric. Dhal comes in a wide range of flavors and textures, but one thing is for sure – they are all utterly sumptuous! Regardless of their ethnicity, many Guyanese enjoy dhal as a staple in their diets.
In Guyana, dhal is made by boiling yellow split peas with onions, garlic, wiri wiri pepper, and various spices. The dhal is then smoothed with a swizzle stick, commonly known as a dhal ghutney, or some other kitchen utensil or appliance.
In a metal ladle or a very small pot, oil is heated, and sliced garlic and geera are fried until they are almost burnt and then added to the already-cooked dhal. Guyanese refer to this technique as “chunkaying.” This step enhances the flavor by creating a hint of smokiness that is delectable and unique to the taste of Guyanese dhal.
12 – Seven Curry
Seven curry is a traditional Indo-Guyanese delicacy that is prepared and served at Hindu religious functions. This dish consists of seven different types of vegetarian curry, all prepared to perfection.
Pumpkin, mango, bhajee (callaloo), baigan (eggplant/boulanger), catahar (breadnut), and potato and channa (chickpeas) are all curried and served inside a large water lily leaf with rice and dhal.
Seven curry is simply made by preparing each type of curry separately. Each is made by combining curry powder with the selected ingredients, cooking them, and bringing the curries together at the end.
Eating mouth-watering seven curry from a water lily leaf balanced in the palm of your hand while using the other hand to eat is truly a unique experience.
13 – Dhal Puri
Another favorite dish among Guyanese is dhal puri. It is a soft Indian-inspired flatbread made from a flour dough packed with ground split peas which have been seasoned with onion, garlic, and roasted geera (cumin).
A soft, delicious yellow flatbread is created by rolling the dough with a rolling pin to flatten it and then cooking it in a hot pan. The dish can be eaten as a breakfast item, a light lunch, or a snack in between meals. It goes well with mango sour or any type of curry.
14 – Black Cake
Black cake is a flavourful and irresistible Guyanese delicacy. This moist, dense cake is packed with rum-soaked fruits and nuts and is famous for its dense texture, dark color, and robust flavor. It is a staple dessert in the Guyanese household and popular at Christmas and weddings.
The cake’s key ingredient is a jar of rum-soaked fruits. Prunes, currants, raisins, dried mix citrus peel, and glacé cherries are chopped finely and soaked, sometimes for months, before the cake is made in red wine and dark rum.
Once ready, the fruit mixture, aromatic flavorings, and warm spices are mixed into the cake batter. Burnt sugar is also used in the cake batter, which helps it achieve its signature dark hue.
There is a festive aroma in the air as homes across the country are fragranced with the sweet and citrusy notes of the cake whilst baking. Once baked, the cake is soaked in rum on a weekly basis and will keep for up to a month without being refrigerated if you keep adding alcohol. This will not only keep the cake moist but also preserve it.
15 – Vermicelli Cake
Vermicelli cake is a creamy dessert made with sautéed vermicelli noodles simmered in milk and sugar and flavored with nutmeg, cinnamon, and other spices or extracts. Raisins may also be added to this dish.
Once the noodles are cooked and the mixture has reached a pudding-like consistency, it is placed on a platter and allowed to cool and firm up before being cut into squares. This sweet, delightful noodle cake is then topped with cherries.
16 – Cassava Pone
Cassava pone is a Guyanese delicacy made primarily from cassava and coconuts. It is a delicious dessert that falls somewhere between a cake and a pudding, and contrary to what most people think of when they hear the word “cake,” cassava pone instead has a dense, gooey texture.
The starch released by the cassava during the cooking process contributes to the gelatinous texture that has become synonymous with pone. Grated cassava, grated coconut, milk, unsalted butter, and a few spices are used to make this pone.
With its rich and fulfilling flavors, this recipe will satisfy your cravings, whether you prefer something sweet or savory, once it has been baked to a golden brown color.
Cassava pone is sold at a variety of bakeries and snackettes throughout Guyana. There’s generally some fuss over eating the inside of the pone versus the crusty edge. Some people prefer the sticky and gooey middle of the pone, while others prefer the caramelized edges, which results in a pleasantly chewier and sweeter taste.
17 – Pine Tart
Pine tarts are short-crust pastry pockets stuffed with pineapple jam. They are a Guyanese classic and quite delightful, and only pineapple jam and a buttery short-crust pastry dough are required to make pine tarts.
A mixture of sugar and spices, typically cinnamon and cloves, are caramelized to create the pineapple jam, which is typically created by slowly boiling freshly grated pineapple. In Guyana, pine tarts are mostly eaten as a dessert or an afternoon or evening snack, though some Guyanese enjoy them for lunch.
18 – Mithai
Mithai is a spiced dough that is fried until golden brown and crispy, then covered with sugar syrup. This delicious sweet treat can be found almost anywhere in Guyana.
A dish of Indian origin, a perfectly kneaded dough enhanced with grated coconut and mild spices is the key to making crispy mithai. Once a firm ball of spicy, buttery dough is formed, it is important to give the dough at least 30 minutes to rest. From there, it is sliced into strips, rolled thin, and deep-fried to golden perfection.
If this delicious treat is not dusted with a thin layer of crystallized sugar, it is simply not a mithai. The mithai must be shaken vigorously after the syrup has been poured over them in order for the crystallized sugar to create a thin layer that covers the crunchy deep-fried dough strips. This is a popular sweet treat served at birthday parties because it is enjoyed by both children and adults.
19 – Sugar Cake
Sugar cake is a confection made with grated coconut and sugar, and almost everyone in Guyana knows about it! It’s irresistible with its flaky, sweet deliciousness and intense coconut flavor.
The cake is made by simmering water, grated coconut, and sugar with a touch of ginger and flavoring in a saucepan over low heat. After the sugar dissolves and the water is reduced, the grated coconut is spooned into small chunks on a baking sheet and allowed to cool and harden to make bite-sized cakes. If brown sugar is used, the sugar cakes will be brown.
To make a more eye-catching, colorful treat, white sugar can be tinted with pink, red, yellow, or any other color food coloring. It is a popular sweet treat among children, but that doesn’t stop adults from enjoying it either!
20 – Custard Block
A popular frozen treat in Guyanese cuisine is custard block. This dessert is similar to ice cream, but the texture is more like a creamy block of ice.
Custard powder is the unique ingredient that distinguishes custard block from any other frozen delight. It is made by boiling evaporated milk, custard powder, and a generous amount of nutmeg and cinnamon. This delectable treat takes a while to melt, but once it does, it’s slushy, creamy, and absolutely irresistible!
Guyanese Food Summary
I truly hope that trip through some of the most popular Guyanese dishes opened your eyes, stimulated your imagination, and got your stomach growling!
The fresh waters of the Atlantic and the dense tropical rainforests that cover a vast area of the country provide the perfect environment for some of the freshest seafood and juiciest produce to make their way into the country’s food.
Combining indigenous dishes with a vast array of influences, from the sweetness and flair of the Caribbean to the heat and spice of Indian food, has made for some truly unique and delicious food.
Guyanese food is a culinary experience like no other, and whether you try these foods in Guyana yourself or get inspired to make them at home, I hope you and your family, friends, and loved ones find a little place in your hearts (and stomachs) for our one-of-a-kind cuisine.
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Contributor: Faeith Tiffany Blyden is an academic writer, passionate about Guyanese cuisine and culture, and she is keen to share more about it through her writing.
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