November 15, 2012

Suriname and Its Cuisine

My lovely cook in Suriname - she is actually from Guyana and speaks perfect English

Suriname as a land of immigrants reflects a cuisine that is both fusion and distinctly ethnic.  There are Roti shops (Hindustani eateries), warungs (Indonesian restaurants), a profusion of Chinese take-outs, Dutch pancake cafes and in the market stalls, specialized Creole (African) dishes.   Though the official language is Dutch, most people speak enough English to make eating less surprising.  I have decided to include either English or local terminology for your reference when you undertake your own gastronomic adventure.

The most famous and appealing to non-Surinamese is the Javanese Saoto Soup.  Saoto is a shredded chicken soup with white vermicelli, bean sprouts and topped with boiled eggs (an option in most warungs).  It must be always served hot and a scarlet sambal relish (Cayenne pepper) comes along in case you want it hotter!  The soup’s distinct taste emanates from the use of the local dry daun salam leaves and fresh laos (galanga).  Outside Suriname you can substitute lemon grass and ginger.  Sometimes rice is served which you can mix with the soup to make it a more filling meal.

Unlike the varied menu of Indian restaurants in North America or Europe, Indian shops in Suriname focuses on serving the Roti.  A flat bread that is fried in butter, Roti is used as a staple and a manual scoop for the main entrĂ©e, curried chicken or potato masala (alu tarkari).  There are a few places that offer Roti duck, Roti lamb or Roti shrimp instead of the ubiquitous Roti Kip (chicken).  Chopped kouseband or string beans (also known as asparagus bean or snake bean) are a common side vegetable dish.  A washbasin is a must for both pre-and post-Roti meals. 
Suriname has perfected the Roti

During Christmas, New Year and almost every special event, you won’t see roast beef, ham or turkey on the table.  The piece-de-resistance is the Pom, an Afro-Surinamese cuisine.  A friend actually showed me how to make the time-consuming Pom which is a chicken casserole in a yellowish puree of the tayer root.   The puree, sold as Pom in the freezer section, can be bought in any local grocery.
Tayer Root Puree

Last May, I had the wonderful opportunity to go camping with my friend’s family in one of Suriname’s most beautiful locales, Blakawatra (named after a cola-colored but clean stream).  For dinner, her mother made a mixed rice Chinese concoction, Moksie Alesie, and I was bowled over by the combination of steamed rice, green peas and chicken.  The green peas gave the dish a wonderful novelty and texture that blended well with the softness of the rice and added a tad zest to the meat.  No green peas?  You can substitute white, yellow-split or Lima beans.   

Unfortunately, Pom and Moksie Alesie are rarely offered in restaurants and can only be savored in a Surinamese home.

To douse the meal, how about a Dawet, a most unusual drink in color and taste.  Either purple or green, sometimes pink, Dawet is a mixture of coconut milk, water, sugar, agar agar, cola essence or lemon grass and food coloring.  

For dessert, Bakkabana, deep-fried banana plantains covered with an egg-flour-spice batter, are best when crunchy and hot. 

What Makes a Cuisine Surinamese?

Across ethnic lines, Surinamese food does taste distinctly Surinamese.  What makes the flavor so different?  My investigation led me to three major kitchen items:

  • First, Surinamese would often use chicken or vegetable bouillons instead of salt as a seasoning.  I saw a cook put two cubes with diced onion and dried shrimp in a frying pan, prior to mixing it with mashed potatos, mayonnaise and condensed milk!  One of the best potato salads I ever had.

  • When ordering Surinamese food, you will most likely spot Madame Janet.   Madame is not a she but an it – a very hot yellow pepper that is often used whole for flavoring.  Just plucked out the bulbous yellow pepper and the dish will retain its flavors without getting your tongue on fire.

    Nasi Rames
  • Soya or sunflower oil is the most common cooking medium.
    My Guyanese cook prepared this lunch of

Next Time

Though I have talked about some of the most popular Surinamese fares, I have not expounded on other favorites such as Pinda Soep (peanut soup with plantain dumplings), Bami (Indonesian noodles), Nasi Goring (Javanese fried rice with sliced omelet), the native Indian Cassava Bread (with non-poisonous extracts from a poisonous cassava plant) and Bojo (coconut rice flat cake), not to mention seafood!

Please e-mail me if you have any questions or comments.

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