Curry: Guyana’s Best Kept Secret

So before you cook a Guyanese curry, you have to know where it comes from. First, let me introduce you to Guyana. As most of my experience telling people where my family is from they have no idea where it is, so like the majority of the population I have interacted with I will assume you too know nothing about Guyana. Here we go; a quick and concise tour of the country I call home. Guyana is located in the northernmost tip of South America; north of Brazil, east of Venezuela, and west of Suriname. Even though we recognize that we are one of the smaller ones on the continent, we hold ourselves high for being the largest in the Caribbean. In fact our main river Essequibo is so large that you can fit the entire of Barbados into one small part of it. Now, you may be confused. Is Guyana in the Caribbean or South America? That’s a complicated question, and to answer it simply; we are both. Our tie to the Caribbean was formed during colonization. Unbeknownst to many, the origin of ‘the Caribbean’ is not only geographic, it’s political. If you ask many people they will say Colombia or Brazil is also Caribbean. What ties these spaces together is one thing; slavery. Guyana has a stronger tie to these places today because we are the one English speaking country in South America (we are West Indian), so though we align and identify with our South American Brothers and Sisters, half the time we don’t know what they are saying. 

The culture of Guyana is a blend of so many. In fact we are not only the land of many waters, we are also the land of six nations. I know it’s weird, but we hold a lot of pride in being a diverse country. The six nations include black, amerindian/indigenous, Chinese, Indian, Portuguese, and European. Indigenous people are the original inhabitants of the land, black people were transported during slavery, European (dutch, english, and spanish) colonized the country, and Indian, Chinese and Portuguese were transported as indentured labourers. It’s a long history and a tumultuous one. For most Guyanese people it’s pretty normal to be descended from more than one of the nations; I happen to be from all six. Though in North America you are often forced to choose which race to identify with, in Guyana the mixing and matching of different peoples is often normalized and accepted. ‘Mix up’ is literally a racial identity used by most Guyanese that in Canada would translate to = too complicated to explain. When in doubt, they’re probably just ‘mix up’. 

But this mixing and matching, the blending of cultures has left Guyanese people with a weird and eclectic blend of cuisines. We have chow mein from the Chinese, black pudding from the P8ortuguese, and pepper pot from the Amerindian. My personal favourite, and the one I am going to show you how to make is the classic Guyanese curry. Transported with the Indian labourers, Guyanese curry has been altered by the many families who left everything in India for a better life in Guyana. My grandfather, whose family migrated to Guyana in the 1860s, came all the way from northern India. For many indentured labourers they converted to Catholicism, and attempted to assimilate. My dad’s family doesn’t know where in India they are from, they know nothing about the Hindu religion, and they speak English and only English. It’s funny because Indo-Guyanese people like my grandfather may look like they’re Indian while knowing little to nothing about India. Ah, the beauty of colonialism. 

Pictured: My paternal grandfather who was of Indian descent. My dad was raised by his mother (‘ma’) who taught my dad how to make roti and curry.

The one thing that we did keep all these years was our food. Passed down through generations, my dad learned how to cook roti and curry from his grandmother whose parents would have been the first in the family to come to Guyana. The authenticity and uniqueness of a Guyanese curry may be a trope as a part of our overly prideful nationalism, but I like to believe that the superiority of a Guyanese curry is true. I couldn’t tell you what makes it so special to be honest, but I know it tastes great.

 Now, in doing this full disclaimer: I am not the queen of curry, In fact I’m probably like the duke or like the distant cousin. I could be paying more attention, but for a 21 year old who likes to eat more than she likes to cook, this recipe is good enough. It’s a step in the door, and I hope you enjoy it. 

Step 1: Decide what kind of curry you are making. Every curry needs a base.Traditional curry would use a meat base, but the beauty of making a Guyanese Curry is you can kind of add anything. If you are a meat eater I recommend chicken or beef. Nothing too complicated for your first time. If you are vegetarian I would recommend cauliflower, and if you are that rare pescetarian I would recommend shrimp or fish. 

Great…. I gave you a second to decide I hope you have made up your mind. 

Step 2: Go to the grocery store and get these ingredients. 

Ingredients: 

  • Onion 
  • Garlic 
  • Thyme 
  • (optional) Scotch Bonnet 
  • Base – however much you want
  • Potatoes 
  • 4 tbsp Garam masala
  • ½ tsp Ground cumin 
  • 3 tbsp Curry powder
  • Tomato paste
  • (any) oil 

Materials: 

  • Pot 
  • Wooden spoon 
  • Blender 

Step 3: Great, now that you are back we start the cooking! 

(optional) First what we want to do is put half of an onion, 3 cloves of garlic, scotch bonnet pepper, and a bit of thyme into a blender and… blend! Take the paste out and rub your base in the seasoning paste. 

Step 4: 

Combine the Garam Masala, Cumin, and Curry Powder in a bowl and add ⅓ cup boiling water. Stir until it turns to a paste. Set aside. 

Step 5: Chop an onion and 3 cloves of garlic. Set the pot at medium heat and add oil. Cook onion and garlic, stirring constantly until the onion becomes clear. 

Step 6: Add the paste to the pot and stir for 2 minutes. This is when it will start smelling really good. 

Step 7: Place your base in the pot and leave for 5 minutes. 

Step 8: Add a cup of water, tomato paste, and chopped potatoes and cover with lid. 

There is no time limit to this. A good Guyanese likes their curry thick, so they will leave the stew boiling for a while, but to each their own. When it’s ready, you boil your rice and enjoy! 

OR if you do want to go a step further try making a roti. I asked my dad for his recipe and he refused to give it to me. Instead he sent me these links and said, “These are the best I have seen” 

Paratha/Oil Roti 

Guyanese Roti

Roti (Paratha)

Enjoy these two photos I stole from Alicia’s Pepper pot and Metemgee… two sites I highly recommend for all your Guyanese cooking if you want something a little harder.

P.S. I apologize for the inauthenticity of my photos. As much as I like to eat I am just a bad foodographer.

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