Guyanese food is simple, earthy, tasty and comforting.
Guyana is considered to be part of the Caribbean (at least, its coast is!) and in fact its population and the ethnic mix is very similar to that of other Caribbean countries, such as Antigua. The flavors of Guyana reflect its varied culture, with people of African, Creole, East Indian, Amerindian, Portuguese, Chinese and even European (British) descent, and its colonial history.
By the way, you can read more about culture in Guyana on my post “How 3 Tiny Villages Are Helping To Preserve Indigenous Culture In Guyana.”
Sure enough, I didn’t miss the chance to try traditional Guyanese food when I visited, and I truly enjoyed its clean flavors. Yet, what I loved the most about it is the freshness of the ingredients used to create seemingly simple yet delicious meals. This is the kind of place where chances are that what’s 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 imagine – they are different in shape, flavor, texture (one really has to try them to appreciate them, and by the way, they are all so good). Pineapple, papaya and mango are as sweet as one 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.
I know 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 when in South America). Yet, I do recommend trying at least some Guyanese dishes and sampling the local ingredients such as all the delicious fruit as one of the things to there. For anyone who is planning to visit, I thought I’d write a little something about the nicest Guyanese food – the one that you really should try when you visit. Keep in mind that my list is absolutely not exhaustive!
For more things to do in Guyana, check my post “13 Amazing Things To Do In Guyana.”
21 Delicious Guyanese Food And Drinks You Must Try
Bake is a kind of bread that I have mostly seen served for breakfast. The most interesting thing about it is that it isn’t baked at all. This is a traditional Guyanese food: it is a plain white flour dough lightly fried. It’s usually served nice and warm. I tried it with peanut butter, and it was simply mouthwatering.
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 (they have something similar in Central America countries such as Nicaragua and Costa Rica, which however is saltier and more spicy). It is a one pot dish made with rice and pretty much any kind of peas available (can be pigeon peas, chickpeas, beans). Meat is also added to it. As far as Guyanese food goes, this is an absolute must try.
Cassava is known in other countries as yuca or manioc. I was quite sure I could recognize the taste of it, and it was only when I read the international names that I finally understood why! Anyways – cassava bread is another staple traditional Guyanese food. It’s a kind of flat bread made with grated cassava, that is commonly used to accompany meals or to be eaten as a snack. It’s fantastic with peanut butter or with avocado.
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 meals, much like rice and cous cous. It’s omnipresent on Guyanese tables, so it’s easy to see why this is a must try Guyanese food.
Another staple in Guyanese cuisine is salt fish. I have mostly seen it 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.
This must be one of the ultimates Guyanese dishes. Whenever I asked any local about their favorite food or their comfort food, they’d mention pepperpot. Apparently, it’s a must for Christmas or any celebrations, too. It’s a dish 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 to make it – 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 (though I have a feeling most locals would eat it with farine).
Another popular sort of stew is metemgee. This is made with corn, dumplings, cassava, plantains, okra and hot peppery coconut milk sauce. Traditional Guyanese food is very earthy, and this is not different: it has lots of root vegetables such as potatoes, edoes or yam. It’s served with salt fish or fried chicken.
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.
With such a large part of the population whose ancestors are from the West Indies, it’s only obvious that among the most popular dishes in Guyanese cuisine there is curry. 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, which is sometimes unbearably hot for me!). It’s usually served with roti.
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. All I can say is that I liked it, and that I noticed it is quite common in Guyanese cuisine.
Not a day went by when I visited Guyana without having chicken. It’s practically always on the table, in one form or the other. A favorite among Guyanese dishes is definitely fried chicken, whereby chicken is covered in a light batter and then fried until golden, crispy yet moist. It’s a common international dish, but Guyanese people definitely love it.
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. It’s one of the most popular Guyanese food.
A common snacks 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. As far as snacks, this is my favorite food from Guyana.
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.
The most popular fast food in Guyanese cuisine is egg balls. To be fair, the preparation isn’t that fast at all, but since it is a street food most people grab it on the go. A boiled egg is covered with a mix of boiled, mashed cassava and raw eggs, butter and pepper, and then fried. The result is, needless to say, delicious.
In the list of snacks among Guyanese food, there has to be pholourie. It’s (guess what) fried, spiced dough balls that are generally served with a chutney. Not the healthiest, but definitely yummy.
Other Delicious Guyanese 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 people of the northern hemisphere get over the counter at the grocery store. It is real food, so much so that I want to classify it among the Guyanese food that has to be tried when visiting.
It is 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!
With so much water, it’s quite obvious that one of the staples in Guyanese cuisine is fish. 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. I tried piranhas and vampire fish.
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.
One of the things I always to whenever I am in a new country is trying the local lager – I just look for the kind that is sold over the counter at local stores and in the local bars. Guyana beer of choice is Banks. It’s perfect when icy cold, and a fantastic way to accompany local snacks.
One of the things I enjoyed the most, and which is regularly used to accompany Guyanese food, is a good fruit juice. Other than my favorite – icy cold coconut water – I enjoyed trying 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 ice.
Where To Have The Most Delicious Guyanese Food
There is no doubt that the best Guyanese food is that served by the Backyard Café in Georgetown. This is not just a restaurant, it is an overall cultural and social experience. A visit can include a tour of the market in the company of the incredible chef, Delven Adams, 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 back yard, in a small, cozy and lovely garden where the trendy looking furniture has been made using recycled materials, and passion fruit vines provide much needed shade.
In an effort to revive and give new life to a neighborhood that was burdened by crime, he made sure to involve all the local community in his project. And there’s more: this is the kind of restaurant where the staff keeps an eye on customers to make sure that, should they have too many celebratory drinks, they don’t drive home. It’s much in line with the rest of the country’s effort to increase community conscience, and deserves to be praised for this.
Needless to say, food at the Backyard Café is delicious: fresh, made to order, according to customers’s tastes and dietary requirements and using local ingredients, it really is the best place to try some Guyanese food, though cooked with a modern, creative twist.
Further readings about international cuisine
Does food move you to travel? Then make sure to read these posts!
Have you ever been to Guyana? What is your favorite Guyanese food?
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.