Thursday, January 29, 2015

Chowing Down the Chamorro Way

Guam is an unincorporated territory of the US like American Samoa which I cooked last week. Guam has a long history of colonization and inhabitation. Over 4,000 years ago the Chamorro people first came to the island. Ferdinand Magellan, the famous Portuguese explorer sailing for Spain whose crew was the first to sail all around the world (He actually died, so did not complete the mission.), discovered Guam in 1521. The island was officially claimed for Spain in 1565. After the Spanish- American War, the US took over Guam. It was used as a military station for troops traveling to the Philippines. Japan had claim to Guam for less than 3 years during WW2, and almost a tenth of the Chamorro people were killed as a result of the Japanese's harsh treatment. The Battle of Guam in 1944 returned it to American control. Today Guam is still a territory of the US. Today the Guamanians speak English an Chamorro, the native language with many Filipino and Spanish influences. A lot of them also have Spanish last names.


The cuisine of Guam also has a lot of Spanish, Filipino, and American influence, as you can imagine. I could have made the Filipino pancit (rice noodles with meat) or lumpia (egg rolls), but I chose to go a more traditional Chamorro route, allowing some Spanish influence without letting it overpower my meal. I wasn't quite brave enough to try a fruit bat soup, but I did want to try some specialties such as Bistek Chamorro, red rice, and fina'denne. I rounded everything out with two veggie sides to make my complete Guamanian meal.


Fina’ denne is an essential Chamorro dipping sauce that is served alongside meat. A dark soy sauce version is made for beef, and a light lemon juice based version is traditional for fish. I went the soy sauce version to go with my Chamorro bistek.

¼ cup vinegar
¼ cup soy sauce
1 shopped shallot
¼ cup chopped chile pepper

Mix all the ingredients together and refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the flavors to meld. Serve as a dipping sauce with meat. (I think it would also be great with sushi!)



The difference between this creamy coconut spinach dish and all the others I have made along my Meals Around the World journey is the addition of turmeric. This common spice adds a yellow color to the spinach in the thick milk sauce. I think it would have been really good with a little less turmeric. If I were you, I’d use a bit less. Traditionally the dish is made with taro leaves that are all hacked up and then boiled, but spinach is an adequate substitute.


Gollai Hågun Suni
1-12 ounce bag frozen spinach, thawed (traditionally it’s made with taro leaves)
¾ cup coconut milk
¼ cup chopped onion
2 tsp oil
1 tbsp chopped chili pepper
½ tbsp. turmeric
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt, to taste

Heat the oil over medium heat in a pan. Cook the onion for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add all the remaining ingredients and barely bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and serve.



I couldn’t really figure out the exact name of this dish. Multiple cites either called it padu’ lalu’ or tininun biringenas, but they all had the same idea. The recipe is for a creamy coconut sauce that is poured over grilled eggplants and then left to marinate until all the flavors have soaked it. I really liked it although I had to make a minor substitution. Skinny Asian eggplants are the ones of choice in Guam, but here in Tennessee, all I could find were the large European ones. Oh well, I am sure the taste was pretty similar. (And quite delicious!)

Padu’ Lalu’/ Tininun Biringenas
1 pound Japanese/ Chinese skinny eggplants (I had to substitute a normal European eggplant.)
2/3 cup coconut milk
1 green onion, sliced
½ to 1 tbsp lime juice
¼ cup chopped onion
2 tbsp chopped chili pepper
1 tsp soy sauce
salt and pepper, to taste

Prick the eggplants with a fork and grill or broil until tender. Allow them to cool before peeling. Cut the eggplants in half (or cut a large eggplant into sixths or eighths) and arrange them side by side in a platter. In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients. Pour them over the eggplant, making sure to spread it out evenly. Refrigerate for 2 hours to allow the flavors to meld and the eggplant to cool.



Red rice is a traditional staple on any table in Guam. The red annatto seed gives it a beautiful color that just looks festive. The Spaniards brought this spice to Guam via Mexico. I think that the sharing of spices and cuisines may be the only beneficial result to colonization. What would my Guamanian meal have been like without it?

Red Rice
1 cup rice
2 tbsp red recado paste (annatto/ achiote)
1 small onion, chopped
1 tbsp. oil
2 cups water

Heat the oil and onion in a small pot over medium heat. Cook the onion for about 6 minutes until tender. Break up the recado paste and mix it into the onion, making sure there are no clumps. Add the rice and cook for another minute. Finally, pour in the water and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 20 minutes. Keep the lid on the pot for 10 minutes before serving.


My only issue with this dish was that I was cheap and bought a not-so-great cut of meat. It was super tough, but the flavor was still good, and I enjoyed it. I advise that you go with a sirloin. It will be less chewy, and still packed with spice. This is a common dinner dish in Guam, and has many different variations. I saw some without the annatto, others without the onion, and some that used different veggies. I stuck with this version because I had the annatto on hand and wanted to try it out.


Chamorro Bistek
1 pound steak. sliced into strips
¼ cup vinegar
¼ cup soy sauce
½ cup water
2 tbsp red recado paste (annatto/ achiote)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp oil
½ cup snap peas or green beans

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cook for 6 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Add the meat and brown it on all sides. Meanwhile, whisk together the water, vinegar, soy sauce, and recado paste until there are no lumps. Mix this into the meat and bring to a low simmer. Cook for about 8-10 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. Add the peas and cook for another 5 minutes before serving.


My Chamorro meal reminded me a lot of Belizean cuisine. I guess it was the use of annatto and coconut milk. Like the rest of the world, Guam likes its coconut milk along with leafy greens and eggplants. Is the United States the only place in the world that does not rely on these three common ingredients? I guess Europeans don’t really either, and we get a lot of our culinary heritage from them. We’re just missing out because the rest of the world is in on the creamy coconut sauce covered veggie bandwagon. I’m still not that big of a fan of annatto/ achiote/ red recado/ whatever you want to call it. There is just a little something off with the flavor to me. It’s not awful, though. The steak was really good dipped in the fina’denne sauce. I LOVED the eggplant dish in all its creamy goodness. I would scale back on the amount of turmeric I put into my spinach next time. It was a little too much. (Almost chalky.) I wasn’t a fan at all, but I think it had potential. Maybe ½ a teaspoon of turmeric would do the trick. It may just be that I am still traumatized by turmeric after the turmeric and chicken gizzard sauce from Burundi.

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