Sunday, November 25, 2012

Guam Nom Nom

We've been here for some time now, and we've now had a chance to experience a considerable part of the local culture.  Naturally, we begin sharing this with you by discussing the most important part of any culture: food. 

As noted in our earlier post about Guam's history, Guam has been a center for cross-cultural contact, having been exposed to Filipino, Spanish, Japanese, American, and other Pacific Islander cultures just in the past 500 years.  As a consequence, the local cuisine draws from many sources and influences.

America's contribution: the Great Wall of Spam.
The food is generally quite healthy.  That is, if you consider the typical human from any point in history, scarcity and lack of sufficient calories was a big problem.  So, for that Typical Human From History, Guam food is tremendously healthy.  If, on the other hand, you are a typical person from a developed country, as we imagine most of our readers are, then the food is the opposite of healthy.  There are three basic food groups: Fried, Grilled Meat, and Rich Coconut Milk Broth'ed.  It's a bad sign, healthwise, when the best choice is meat.

The average ex-pat after three months on island.
But as they say, the circulatory system's loss in the form of catastrophic arterial blockage is the taste buds' gain.  The food is delicious, as you might expect from the groupings above.  Here are some of the primary dishes.  We haven't delved too deeply into making them ourselves yet.  When we do, and if we find something successful, we will share the recipe.  Until then, we'll include a link to whatever recipe we found online, without being able to vouch for it.  Still, that plus the description should give you some idea if you wish to try it on your own.  Let us know if you do try to make any of these and how they turn out.

Boonie Peppers
Few ingredients are more identifiable with Chamorro culture than the boonie pepper, also known on Guam as "Donne Sali".  Originally a catch-all term for any local wild pepper, the pepper plant is now domesticated and grown commercially, or by individuals for personal use.  The "standard" pepper here is small and quite hot, approximately the same on the Scoville Scale as jalapeno peppers.  They show up in many dishes, but personally our new favorite way to eat boonie peppers is as part of "boonie pepper jelly."  A merchant at the Mangilao Night Market introduced us to this wonderful creation, which is delicious on crackers, bread, with eggs, or in making Mediterranean turkey burgers (so far; we plan to try many more concoctions).  Here's a video about the woman who makes it.

Finadene (or fina'denne)

Finadene (pronounced fin-uh-denn-ee) is Guam's favorite all-purpose sauce.  It is especially common on rice, but can be used on or with anything, either as a topper or dipping sauce.  It consists of soy sauce, vinegar, lemon juice or, if you are trying to be especially Chamorro, lemon powder, green onion, garlic, and boonie peppers (you can substitute jalapeño or other standard hot pepper).  We love it.


Usually beef, it is browned with garlic and onions, then stewed in coconut milk with tomatoes, peppers, and lemon juice.  Sometimes green beans are added as well.  Rich and hearty, it would be the perfect meal for a cold winter's day, if such a thing existed here.

BBQ meat (chicken, beef, pork, etc)

Any fiesta, gathering, festival, cookout, or other event is almost sure to have grilled meat, usually served on skewers or over a bed of rice.  Pork ribs are also very common.  There's not much to say about this beyond that; grilled meat = delicious.

Chicken kelaguen

Pronounced kel-uh-gwin (and chik-en), this is a mixture of chicken, lemon juice (or lemon powder), salt, grated coconut, and peppers.  The meat need not be chicken: beef, shrimp, fish, octopus, and even Spam can be substituted.  It is then served over rice or in a wrap.  While we have not prepared it, wikipedia tells us that other than for chicken, the meat is raw, "cooked" only by the acids of the lemon juice as a marinade.  Flank steak is apparently the preferred beef choice.

Spam is extremely popular here in Guam.  As is true of many Pacific Islands, including Hawaii, the product was popularized during World War II.  Fresh meat was hard to come by, so Spam kind of took off.  According to wikipedia, Guamanians consume 16 cans per capita per year.  It is used in all manner of dishes: spam fried rice, spam sushi, spam kelaguen (pictued below), and spam and eggs.  Unlike on the mainland, where there is something of a stigma attached to it, consuming Spam is mainstream, meaning that local hipsters have to eat real meat, we guess (we haven't encountered many hipsters here).
There's even a recipe on the can.

Similar to spring or eggs rolls, these are popular all over Southeast Asia.  The guess is that they came to Guam via the Phillipines.  According the Guampedia:

"Lumpia consists of a thin rice or wheat flour wrapper filled with a mixture of meat (most often ground pork or ground beef), cabbage, carrots, onions, and garlic. An egg wash is used to seal the lumpia wrapper to ensure none of the filling escapes when it is deep fried. A sweet and sour sauce or vinegar-based fina’denne‘ may be used as a dipping sauce."

Our best experience thus far was at the Mangilao Night Market, where we just wanted one each for a snack, but had to go back for more before we made it to the car.

Red Rice

Rice has been a staple in the Chamorro diet for centuries, but it was not until the Spanish introduced the achote (or achiote) plant to Guam that red rice was born.  Achote seeds, when soaked in water or powdered, give off a red dye, which can be used to give the rice its vibrant appearance.  The rice can also be prepared with bacon, onion, garlic, and peas, although we have neither witnessed peas used in this manner, nor do we see a reason for harming an otherwise excellent recipe.

BBQ eggplant

This is a popular side dish that we have eaten many times, mostly at the Chamorro Village Night Market.  The eggplant is grilled (bbq'ed), then mixed in with a concoction consisting of coconut milk, onion, lemon, and boonie peppers.  Usually served cold, or at least it has been when we've eaten it.


Another Filipino import, this is a fried noodle dish.  A popular side dish at almost every banquet and party we have been to.


A sponge-caked-based dessert.  It is topped with a topping consisting of condensed milk, cinnamon, eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, and cornstarch.

Buñelos Aga

Banana donuts.  Pretty much just banana, flour, sugar, and good ol' fashioned deep frying.  Topped with powdered sugar or cinnamon, and can be dipped in syrup.

As we mentioned before, we've eaten many of these plenty of times by now.  We haven't, however, ventured into the making of any of these dishes (except the fina'denne', which was delicious).  We have, on the other hand, managed to go to quite a few local farmers markets and roadside stands to buy local produce.  We've made a few very successful non-traditional Chamorro dishes using things like calamansi, long beans, local eggplant, and boonie peppers. In fact, our Thanksgiving "green bean casserole" was made with the local long beans this year (very tasty!).  Our current favorite thing to make with local produce is a Calamansi Poppy-seed Vinaigrette. 

All this talk of food has made us hungry and the leftover pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving is beckoning us from across the room.  Before we sign off and go raid the fridge, Amanda wanted to leave you with a special treat.  This treat combines three things she loves: history, family, and food. The following is a recipe developed by her grandpa (Colonel Thomas S. Hutto) during his time stationed on Guam and perfected over his many years of grilling. Use this recipe to marinade and then grill your meat to your preferred done-ness.  Once the meat is removed from the marinade, you can return the marinade to the stove-top and cook it down a bit into a delicious dipping sauce for the meat.

Hutto's Island Marinade

3-4 green onions
1-2 celery ribs
5-6 boonie peppers
1/2 stick of butter
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup soy sauce
1 bottle of your favorite beer

Finely chop onions, celery, and peppers.  Use small fry pan to saute in butter at low to medium heat, until vegetables are soft (do not burn).  Pour in soy sauce and lemon juice, bring to simmer.  The sauce should be "thinned", by adding a cup of beer with the soy sauce. 


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