I am pleased to be able to include this foreword, which appeared as an Introduction to Dr.Ishmael's personal recipe collection "A Little Taste of Guyana" (incomplete and unpublished). Dr. Ishmael has kindly donated his recipes for incorporation into this Recipe web site. -- W.M.
Guyanese are very proud to have a very wide variety of dishes in their cooking repertoire. This is mainly due to the fact that people from various cultures settled in Guyana over the past three centuries. For an understanding of this, it is necessary to take a brief walk back into the history of Guyana.
Before the coming of Columbus to the Americas, the Amerindians, the original people of Guyana (and also of the Americas), lived in the vast tropical forests and savanna land of Guyana. Many of their descendants still live there. They developed their own special dishes like the famous pepper-pot and alcoholic drinks like cassiri and paiwari.
With the arrival of Europeans, a period of colonization began. Sugar became the main source of the thriving economy at that period. This demanded a large labor force on the plantations, so the Dutch, the first colonizers, and later the British who succeeded them, brought Africans as slaves to work on these large farms.
After the emancipation of the African slaves in 1838, there was a shortage of labor, since the Africans preferred to settle as peasant farmers or to migrate to Georgetown, the capital, in search of other forms of employment. In an effort to fill the void, the plantation owners transported Madeiran Portuguese to Guyana as indentured workers, but they proved to be unsuitable to the harsh conditions of plantation life that existed then. These Portuguese who did not return to Madeira settled among the Africans in the villages or moved to the capital where they managed to set up small businesses.
The plantation owners eventually found suitable indentured labor in India, and from 1838 to 1918, over 100,000 Indians were transported to Guyana to work on the plantations. At the end of their five-year contract, most of these Indians opted to settle in the country.
During this period of indenture, a few thousand Chinese were also transported to work as indentured workers on the plantation. The Chinese, on the completion of their contract, migrated to the capital and to larger villages where they established themselves in the retail trade.
When these different groups of people came they brought with them their respective religions and forms of cultures, including their indigenous foods. Consequently, today, the variety of dishes traverse over a wide culinary range. Of course, over the years, blending of the varying dishes of different cultures occurred. Thus, a typical Indian dish of curried chicken is prepared and eaten by Guyanese of all ethnic backgrounds; similarly, a Chinese dish of chowmein or an African dish of mettem is prepared and eaten with great relish by all Guyanese. Pepperpot, which is Amerindian in origin, is also prepared and enjoyed by all Guyanese.
This collection includes a number of typical Guyanese dishes (and beverages) which are relatively easy to prepare. As you experiment with them, you will certainly experience a little taste of Guyana.