Guyana stands unique in the Caribbean. It’s the only nation that is not an island, instead, it is connected to South America. However, Guyana is unmistakably Caribbean. It shares similar histories with the rest of the region. In the late 17th to early 18th century, the Dutch colonized the land driving out the native Amerindian population. The British colonized the land in 1796 and then utilized African slave labor to till the soil. Following emancipation, East Indian indentured laborers filled the void along with European migrants looking for a new start.
This brief history lesson gives context for Guyana’s culture – a blend of influences that have produced one-of-a-kind dishes. Here are a few dishes that are Christmas staples in Guyana.
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Pepperpot is the dish most synonymous with Guyanese cooking. Pepperpot includes the same spices and aromatics that the Amerindians were versed in, and combines them with the tough scraps of meat that planters allowed their slaves.
This is common throughout a lot of Caribbean dishes, but what makes Pepperpot unique is the cooking time. These tough cuts are cooked with cinnamon, cloves, peppers, and cassareep (derived from cassava or yuca). In between stewing, the dish is left out at room temperature.
The cassareep keeps the dish safe from becoming a breeding ground for bacteria. After days of prep, the result is a thick, meaty, spicy stew with a bit of funk from the aging.
In Guyana, Pepperpot is usually served on the first day of Christmas.
The Guyanese have a claim to slow cooking, but they’ve also been practicing picking and dry-aging for centuries. Garlic Pork is a classic dish that, similar to Pepperpot, sits out for longer than you might be comfortable.
A mix of garlic and Guyanese thyme is massaged into the pork, which is then covered in a salt and vinegar solution. The pork is naturally preserved by salt and vinegar, locking in flavor. After a week or two, the meat is fried, crisping up the skin, resulting in an incredible alternative to Christmas ham.
Guyana has similar staples to the rest of the Caribbean – fruit cake, sorrel, etc. But, in keeping with the team of aging and fermenting, the final recipe is Guyanese Ginger Beer.
To make Ginger Beer, grated ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and orange peel are soaked in water for days. The drink ferments, and when ready, foam is skimmed from the top and the mixture is strained.
Guyanese ginger beer is bright, spicy and alcohol optional.
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