Guyanese hospitality can be experienced through our delicious home cooked food or creole food as it is often referred as. It is not simply the cooking of the meal that makes the experience unique but the way Guyanese people welcome strangers and visitors with food.
When I was a child, my mom always cooked more food than we could eat. She said the extra food was there in case someone stops by. In fact, on Saturdays and Sundays, when it was most likely that a relative or friend would stop by, we made meals that were easy to “stretch.” Cook-up rice, was a Saturday staple, with all its trimmings —fried ripe plantains, fried fish, and a simple salad of lettuce, tomatoes and pickled cucumber, a little bit of shredded carrots if my mom was feeling fancy. Sometimes our cousins came by after church and my mom blessed and shared that cook-up rice like Jesus with the five loaves and two fish, no one went hungry.
On Sundays we made chow mein or fried rice, with baked or fried chicken, potato salad or corn salad and of course, lettuce, tomatoes and a slice or two of cucumber. My mom was also champion at making homemade fruit drink. Swank (Guyanese limeade) was the number one, easy to make, but still refreshing drink of choice. Cherry drink followed closely behind, but required a bit of extra work, to get it just right and pulp free. However, my all-time favorite was mango drink. We had a mango tree, so whenever mango was in season my mom, blended some ripe mangoes together and made a deliciously tangy and slightly sweet drink, perfect for the hot Guyanese days.
We offered anyone that visited our home a meal and a drink. If they visited at a time when the meal wasn’t quite ready, we offered them a drink and a piece of cake. Guyanese people always seem to have sweet sponge cake at hand. Don’t believe me? Ask any Guyanese person.I know you’re thinking this must just be how my mother raised me, but this is Guyanese hospitality. It happens with any Guyanese home you visit, whether they were expecting you or not.
I remember visiting my husband’s family for the first time. It was during one of my trips home, when my husband and I had just started dating. He wasn’t with me, but I wanted to meet his extended family, who lived on the West Bank of Demarara. A mutual friend of ours happily decided to accompany me. By now I had gotten used to American customs and since I wasn’t going for lunch or dinner I ate before leaving for the trip. Before we got there my friend said, “I hope you didn’t eat, cause country people like feed yah.”
How could I forget that this was Guyanese hospitality. I can’t remember a time when I ate so much, and don’t forget I had already eaten before I got to their house. I couldn’t refuse their offerings of food. To do so would have been an insult. So here I am, meeting my future in-laws without my then boyfriend / now husband, years before my husband and I are even thinking about marriage, and the food just keeps coming. First they offer me a piping hot plate of black-eye cook-up and fried fish. The fish was so good, well-seasoned and fried to perfection. About an hour later, my husband’s aunt brings out a bowl of freshly made pholourie and mango sour, as if that’s not bad enough, she then brings fudge and guava cheese (my kryptonite). She follows this with Guyanese sponge cake and cherry drink. Then packs me up with goodies for our trip back to town, which I might add just took about 45 minutes. That day, I ate my weight in food, and I’m nowhere near skinny, but at the end of the visit, I knew I had been welcomed into their family and through food they had shown their love. I had reciprocated my love and appreciation by accepting and eating everything they offered. It was a good day.
This is Guyanese hospitality. This is our culture. We show our love through food. It is why on holidays and birthdays we prefer to cook large meals for our loved ones rather than go to a restaurant. It is why most of my childhood memories are about my mom teaching me how to make a particular dish or about my grandmother’s baking or the sweet and sour chicken she made once when I was visiting for August vacation that I am still trying to replicate. Or the coconut biscuits that I insist my aunt make for me, every time I go home. Guyanese food is comfort food. The kind of, put your foot in it, feed your inner fat child food that you want to cuddle up in bed with and kiss good night. Okay, I might have gone a bit far with that one, but you get the idea. It is damn good food and if you are lucky to visit a Guyanese home, go hungry because you are sure to be fed. So why not take a trip to Guyana, go knock on some doors and tell them, I sent you to experience Guyanese hospitality
-Althea Brown is the owner of a blog about good Guyanese home cooking. Check it out here: http://metemgee.com