Guyanese food is simple, earthy, tasty and comforting.
Food isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Guyana (most think of its wild beauty, that really makes it a must see destination in South America). Yet, food is such an important part of a country’s culture and even its history that even when in Guyana you should really make it a point to try its cuisine.
If you are curious to find out more about the food of this unique country, you are in the right place. Let me start by giving you a few quick pointers about Guyana and we’ll then focus on the dishes and drinks you should try.
A Brief Overview Of Guyana
Guyana became officially independent from British rule in May 1966. The long British influence means that the official language of the country is English – which is spoken along 9 other regional languages, which include Guyanese Creole.
Part of the Caribbean (at least, its coast is!), the population of Guyana in 2019 was not even one million (in fact, it amounted to less than 800000 people), spread over a surface of around 83000 square miles bust mostly concentrted in the Hilly Sand and Clay Regions.
The people of Guyana are an ethnic mix very similar to that of other Caribbean countries, such as Antigua, with 6 different ethnic groups. The flavors you’ll find reflect its varied culture, with people of African, Creole, East Indian, Amerindian, Portuguese, Chinese and even European (British) descent, and its colonial history.
Finally, continue reading to discover the best dishes to try in Guyana.
21 Delicious Guyanese Food And Drinks You Must Try
Food in Guyana is all about fresh ingredients, which are used to create seemingly simple yet delicious meals. What you’ll see on your plate is locally sourced and seasonal, probably bought fresh at the local market – where there is an incredible selection of produce.
A trip to the food markets of Georgetown reveals more kinds of bananas that any European would ever imagine – different in shape, flavor, texture. Pineapple, papaya and mango are as sweet as you could hope for, and avocados are ridiculously big (I have a photo of one next to a pineapple, to give it perspective, and they are almost the same size!) and have the softest texture.
Bake is a kind of bread that is typically served for breakfast. Despite its name, it isn’t baked at all! It is a plain white flour dough lightly fried, and served nice and warm.Try it with local peanut butter!
Cook-up rice is a nice reminder of what part of the world you are in. In its various forms, this rice dish is seen in many Caribbean countries such as Antigua. It is a one pot dish made with rice and pretty much any kind of peas available (can be pigeon peas, chickpeas, beans). One of the most common kinds is Channa (chikpea) cookup. Meat is also added to it. It’s an absolute must try.
Another staple of Guyanese cuisine, cassava bread is a kind of flat bread made with grated cassava, and that is commonly used to accompany meals or to be eaten as a snack. It’s fantastic with peanut butter or with avocado.
Cassava is known in other countries as yuca or manioc. There are two common kinds of cassava: bitter and sweet. The bitter contains high levels of toxic cyanide; whereas sweet cassava has a lower amount. Both must be handled properly in order not to be poisonous.
Farine is a derivate of cassava – it’s basically made with the residue of what has been used to make cassava bread. It looks like a sort of thick cous cous in shape, color and texture, and it is used to accompany other dishes, much like rice and cous cous. It’s omnipresent on Guyanese tables – so you won’t have a chance to miss it.
She Bay is another cassava-based dish – it’s a kind of farine mixed with water.
Another staple in Guyanese cuisine is salt fish. It’s typically served for breakfast. It is made with salt fish, which is rinsed and boiled for an hour and a half, and then fried with oil, garlic, onion and pepper. Locals love to eat it with bake.
With so much water in the country, it’s quite obvious that fish is a staple food. A typical fishing expedition in the Amazon basin ends up in a fantastic impromptu barbecue: while the fire gets ready, the fish is washed and cleaned and seasoned with a fantastic spice mix, and then grilled to perfection. Any fish can be used, really. Keep your tastebuds ready for piranhas and vampire fish and, along the coast, for tilapia, butterfish, catfish, gilbaka and crab.
Ask locals about their favorite dish, and you can almost be certain they’ll mention pepperpot. Apparently, it’s a must for Christmas or any celebrations, too. It’s made with stewed meat which is flavored with cinnamon, cassareep (a sauce made from the root of cassava) and other ingredients. Any kind of meat can be used – beef, pork and mutton. Some also use chicken and a vegetarian version is becoming more common.
Pepperpot cooks for several hours and it’s meant to last several days thanks to the preserving properties of cassareep. It’s usually served with rice, roti or home-style bread, as well as farine.
Another popular sort of stew is metemgee. I’s made with corn, dumplings, cassava, plantains, okra and hot peppery coconut milk sauce. Added to this earthy dish there also are root vegetables such as potatoes, eddoes (a root similar to potatoes) or yam. It’s served with salt fish or fried chicken.
Found across the Caribbean, it’s a soup made with salt meat, fresh meat, coconut milk and onion (among other ingredients) and served with dhal and rice or roti.
Known locally as bora, it’s a common side dish made with Chinese long beans chopped into 1 inch pieces, garlic, onion, tomatoes, hot red pepper and cumin.
The International Flavors
Paratha or oil roti is a kind of flat bread that is made with flour, salt, water, baking power and lots of oil (sometimes pea flour is also added to the mix) and it’s used to accompany curries. It’s very fluffy and moist.
This Indian-inspired flatbread is made by stuffing a deep-fried flat bread with ground split peas. It’s typically served with a chutney (locally called sour) and it often accompanies a curry.
With such a large part of the population whose ancestors are from the West Indies, curry is easy to come across in Guyana. This can be made with any sort of meat, though chicken is a favorite. It’s nice, thick, flavorsome and never too spicy (contrary to the food in India). It’s usually served with roti.
Other kinds of curry you may come across are baigan (eggplant) and eddo curry; berry curry with potatoes (which albeit the name does not have berries but is made with beef) and curry pigeon peas.
Guyana style chow mein
Chow mein is a Chinese dish made with noodles, lots of chopped vegetables and usually chicken, all fried in the wok with lots of oil. To be honest, as a complete amateur when it comes to Chinese food, I haven’t really noticed much of a difference between the original recipe and the Guyanese version, which is a dish you’ll commonly find.
Not a day goes by in Guyana without having chicken – or so it seemed to me. Fried chicken is certainly a favorite. Chicken is covered in a light batter and fried until golden, crispy yet moist.
The street food and the snacks
There is actually no chicken in what may well be the most popular snack in Guyana. These are fried strips of a delicious dough made with flour, curry and cumin.
A common snack that is easily found in grocery stores and markets in Guyana, and that is often served freshly made to accompany a good rum punch, is plantain chips.
Hill’s Hot Balls
Similar to spicy cheetos cheese puffs, you will find them at any local store or even sold in the streets.
Methai sticks are prepared by mixing flour, sugar, margarine and baking power. They are then fried in vegetable oil and coated in custard power. They are very crunchy, on the sweet side, but good on the go.
A popular street food locals typically eat on the go, it consists of boiled egg covered with a mix of boiled, mashed cassava and raw eggs, butter and pepper, and then fried. They are usually served with mango sour – a chutney like condiment made with green mango, salt and pepper or, alternatively, with a chutney made with cucumber or pickled cucumber.
Another popular Guyanese snack, it’s made by boiling tamarind and mixing it with seasoning. The end result is sweet and sour.
Another locals’ favorite, it is fried, spiced dough balls that are generally served with a chutney. Not the healthiest, but definitely yummy.
Guyanese Cheese Rolls
Flakey, cheesy, buttery, spicy (they are stuffed with pepper sauce, after all!) rolls baked in the oven and best eaten hot.
Other Delicious Food
Real peanut butter
Ok, this isn’t exactly a dish, but since I mentioned it when I talked about bake, I thought I’d share a few more facts about it. Peanut butter in Guyana isn’t the industrial, sugary, added flavors one that you’d get at your local grocery store. It is real food made in the most traditional way by the Amerindian communities of the North Rupununi region in Guyana.
The bad news is that this delicious peanut butter is only sold in Guyana. The good news is that they are looking to export it. Either way, if I were you I’d stock on it at the local stores before traveling home because trust me, you’ll never be able to go back to the industrial one afterwards.
Pretty much your homemade hot sauce, it’s regularly seen on the table in Guyana.
Tamarind Sour Legume Dip or Chutney
A dip or syrup made with tamarind.
Of course I can’t leave desserts out of the equation, can I? Here are some common desserts in Guyana.
The most decadent, sweetest Guyanese food is typically eaten around Christmas time but also found on special occasions. I actually find it to be quite similar in texture and flavor to British-style Christmas pudding. Indeed it is a rum-soaked cake packed with dried fruit and brown sugar, incredibly moist and rich. It’ll give you a sugar rush but it’s honestly delicious.
Who doesn’t love cheesecake? In Guyana you’ll find it topped with either passionfruit or jamun (more about Guyanese fruit below).
Guava Cheese Dessert
This is actually commonly found across South America. It’s made with a very thick guava jelly topped either with a soft, mild cheese or a dollop of thick cream.
Fruit and Vegetables in Guyana
One of the things tourists appreciate the most when it comes to Guyanese food is the fabulous choice of delicious fruit. I have already mentioned the incredible variety of bananas you will be able to find at local markets; the fresh, sweet pineapple and mango. But here are some other commonly seen vegetables and fruits.
You may already know it as passionfruit. This sweet and sour fruit is very common in Guyana.
Incredibly common to find – not only you can get the fresh fruit to eat, or the incredibly refreshing coconut water off any street vendor in the country. Since coconut is so common, you’ll also find coconut oil to cook or to use as lotion or hair oil.
Known in other places as zapota, it’s incredibly sweet, tasting a bit like caramel, and soft in texture. To eat it you have to slice it and then peel it.
Another incredibly sweet fruit with a thick outer layer, and a light yellow chunky interior.
Other fruits you may commonly find are jamun, also known as Java plum; soursop, which is a typical fruit of the Caribbean region; rambutan, which is more commonly known as leeche; and West Indian cherries (which actually look quite similar to regular cherries).
In the country of Demerara, it’s quite obvious that the spirit of choice is rum. Used to prepare fantastic drinks (the most popular one is rum punch), Guyanese rum is of exceptional quality. Several rum distilleries are located in or near Georgetown, Guyana capital, and they can be visited on guided tours that include also a tasting. The most popular one is El Dorado.
Guyana beer of choice, commonly found in stores and bars across the country, is Banks. It’s perfect when icy cold, and a fantastic way to accompany local snacks.
Regularly used to accompany Guyanese food is a good fruit juice. Other than icy cold coconut water, make sure to try lime juice and mixed juice and watermelon. They are usually made with the pulp of the fruit mixed with cold water and some sugar, and served with lots of ice (you’ll want it, in a country that is so so hot).
Other popular drinks
Other drinks you may come across are soursop drink, sugarcane juice and mauby drink, which is similar to rootbeer.
Where To Have The Most Delicious Guyanese Food
If you are in search of the best Guyanese food when visiting Georgetown, head straight to the Backyard Café. Meeting Chef Delven Adams is an who takes care to show all the best local ingredients (don’t ask him to cook pasta, though I am sure he can pull out the best arrabbiata sauce if you ask him!) and suggests the best ways to use them. Upon request, cooking classes are organized.
The restaurant is literally located in the chef’s Delven Adams back yard; in a small, cozy and lovely garden where passion fruit vines provide much needed shade. Delven started his home restaurant to revive a neighborhood burdened by crime and made it a point to involve the local community.
A visit to the restaurant doesn’t just include a delicious meal prepared with local, fresh, seasonal ingredients; but also a trip to one or more local markets with the chef, with whom you are going to pick the ingredients for your meal. It’s an enlightening experience to learn more about local culture and – obviously – Guyanese food.
Further Readings About Guyana
Make sure to check out my other posts about Guyana:
- How 3 Tiny Villages Are Helping To Preserve Indigenous Culture In Guyana
- The Best Tips For Fishing In Guyana
- 13 Amazing Things To Do In Guyana
Further Readings About International Cuisine
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Legal Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Tourism Board of Guyana during my visit, and wish to thank them for the wonderful welcome and the incredible experiences. The views expressed in this post remain my own.