Delicious Guyanese Christmas Foods & Drinks You Must Try
Guyana may be a small nation in South America but it is big in flavors. This melting pot of traditions and cultures includes foods with influences from all around the world. Year-round you can find delicious and heartwarming meals, and Christmas time is no different.
The Christmas holiday season is always a busy time in Guyana. Most people start their Christmas cleaning and decorating as early as October/November. By now, some are also working on their Christmas menu and setting up their ingredients for their Christmas day feast.
You’ll always find Guyanese, home and abroad, saying there is no Christmas quite like a Guyanese Christmas. So why do they say this? The main reason is the traditional food and drinks you’ll find during the holidays.
A Guyanese Christmas would be incomplete without some of their traditional foods. The smell and taste will tantalize your senses and instantly put you in a festive mood. This is why the tradition of crafting these specific dishes continues to this day.
Here are some of the most popular traditional foods and drinks you can find in Guyana during the festive season.
Pepperpot is the national dish of Guyana and comes from the Amerindians, the nation’s first people. They came up with this rich stew since it preserves the meat without needing refrigeration, all thanks to its star ingredient, cassareep.
Cassereep comes from the root vegetable cassava. The cassava is peeled, washed, and grated. Once grated, the cassava juice is extracted using a local instrument, called a matapee, and boiled until a dark syrup forms. The finished product has a burnt sugar smell and has the consistency of molasses.
Pepperpot is made from a wide variety of meats including beef, chicken, mutton, etc. This stew is prepared before Christmas day because it is a must on Christmas morning for breakfast.
The meat goes into a pot with a bunch of local and traditional seasonings and is left to slow cook so all the flavors are infused in the meat. It is then left out and reheated when you’re ready to eat. Most people enjoy pepperpot with some homemade bread to get their Christmas day started.
2. Garlic Pork
Garlic pork is similar to Madeira Carne Vinha D’Alhos. However, Guyanese garlic pork contains no wine. The similarity is in the method of pickling the pork by having it sit in a marinade for a few days.
Guyanese start by cutting the pork into bite-sized pieces. These are then seasoned with loads of garlic, pepper, and fresh herbs. Once well seasoned, they are placed in a brine solution of vinegar and water for up to 4 days or longer.
The brine adds additional flavor and texture to the meat. The pork is then boiled in a little of the brine until the liquid evaporates. This leaves the pork pieces in their own fat.
They are then fried in the fat until brown. In the end, you are left with tender succulent pieces of pork with a hint of tanginess and sweetness. Garlic pork is usually eaten with plait bread, which also has Portuguese origins.
3. Black Cake
Black cake is a staple in Guyana at Christmas. Referred to as fruit cake or Christmas cake in some parts of the Caribbean, these are not the same as they differ in texture and composition.
Guyanese black cake can easily be mistaken for a chocolate cake. However, the taste and texture is far different. Black cake gets its dark color from its main ingredient, macerated fruits. Its color also comes from the addition of caramelized sugar.
The cake consists of various fruit combinations such as raisins, prunes, maraschino (cocktail) cherries, and mixed peel. The fruits are chopped finely and soaked in red wine and dark rum for months before Christmas. The fruit combination is added to cake batter with aromatic flavorings and warm spices then baked.
What you’re left with is a sinful treat with macerated fruit pieces and the taste of wine and dark rum. The Guyanese enjoy this delectable treat throughout the Christmas season. The cake is soaked in rum weekly and will keep for up to a month without refrigeration as long as alcohol is added. This not only preserves the cake but keeps it moist as well.
4. Guyanese Fruit Cake
Guyanese fruit cake is unlike its North American cousins that contain huge chunks of fruit and nuts. The only similarity they share is the name.
Guyanese fruit cake is a mash up between pound cake and black cake. Unlike black cake, fruit cake does not have any added rum and uses less fruit than black cake. The result is a light and fluffy golden brown cake with an assortment of fruits.
Like black cake, fruit cake is available all through the festive season. It can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner or anytime you’re craving something savory. Guyanese usually pair it with one of their local drinks like ginger beer.
5. Ginger Beer
Guyana has a tropical climate and is warm all year round. To combat the heat, Guyanese enjoy a variety of local beverages, ginger beer being one of them.
This delicious fermented beverage first appeared around the mid-1700s in England. It was initially made as a fermented alcoholic beverage using ginger, sugar, and water.
Guyana has two versions, alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Ginger beer is made by soaking grated ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and orange peel in water. It is then left to ferment in a cool dry place for a few days.
When it is ready to serve, the mixture is passed through a sieve, sweetened, and served with or without ice cubes. Ginger beer has a spicy ginger taste with fruity notes from the citrus peel. Some people add alcohol for an extra kick while others add pineapple juice to cut the spicy ginger taste. Regardless of how you have it, ginger beer with a slice of black cake or fruit cake is a must at Christmas.
6. Sorrel Drink
While sorrel drink has its origin in West Africa, it’s now one of the most popular drinks in the Caribbean and Guyana makes no exception. This plant is known as Roselle or by it’s scientific name Hibiscus Sabdariffa. That’s right, sorrel is a species of the hibiscus family. The sepals keep the petals of the flower together before it blooms. As the flower matures, the sepals become bright red and fleshy.
The sepals are removed from the ovary and used to make sorrel drink. They are boiled in a pot with water and spices to extract their color and flavor. What you get is a vibrant red liquid which looks very Christmas-y.
The liquid is then cooled, sweetened to taste and left to sit overnight. When it is time to serve, it is passed through a sieve, then poured in a tall glass over ice. Some people add alcohol to take this refreshing beverage to the next level.
You always know when it’s Christmas time in Guyana. The tantalizing smell of various food and drinks coming from people’s homes is a sure fire way to let you know the festive season is here.
Were we to introduce you to all the foods of a Guyanese Christmas, this would be a very long article. Instead, we have focused on the most popular. These are all sure to surprise your taste buds, satisfy those cravings, and keep you happy during the Christmas holidays.
Related: Most Delicious Guyanese Desserts