After slavery was outlawed the British encouraged workers from India
to settle the lands and today there is a large Indian minority, who maintains a
diet much more similar to that of India than to the rest of
South America or the Caribbean. The Indonesians,
Chinese, and other groups who have immigrated to the region
have also substantially altered the diet or added to it in the form of new foods
and cooking styles.
Due to the immigration of various people and the small indigenous population, the
diet in Guyana today reflects that of India,
the Caribbean, and other foreign lands more than it reflects the historic diet,
although there are significant exceptions, like that of the national dish, pepperpot.
There are definite influences and staples from the region that remain popular, but
the foods in Guyana are vastly different from that of much of
South America and this is primarily due to their history and large immigration
numbers in the past.
Although the dishes imported to Guyana by the immigrants
are important, what may be even more important is that these people also brought
with them foods from their homelands in order to prepare these dishes. While hundreds
of plants and animals were introduced to the region by these foreigners, a few of
the most important were wheat, rice, pigs, chicken, and cattle. Others were also
introduced and are now common, although they differ in terms of popularity and in
terms of who eats them. For example the ethnic Indian population grows and heavily
consumes many spices such as black pepper, cumin, turmeric, and cinnamon, while
other ethnic groups rarely use these spices. Among the many foods introduced to
the region from outside the Americas are onions, cilantro, garlic, lemons, limes,
broccoli, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, olives, grapes, bananas, apples, and oranges
In the late 1800s, and continuing to today, the food in Guyana
has changed in a number of ways, but most importantly in terms of production, transportation,
and availability. Due to advances in technology, better transportation and storage
techniques have allowed for the importation (and exportation) of foreign foods and
better preservation methods have increased the shelf life of foods as the people
of Guyana now have access to foods that are not in season. Despite the technological
changes, the people have not truly altered what they eat so much as they have changed
how they eat as fast food and street side vendors are now common in many neighborhoods.
In recent years new foods have and styles of eating have taken hold. Take out is
growing in popularity as Indian Foods,
fried chicken, and Chinese Foods seem
to be the foods of choice for these quick service locales.
When & Where to Eat
Most people in Guyana begin the day with breakfast, but this
can be as simple as a cup of coffee; some people have a larger breakfast and eat
breads, cheeses, cereals, or yogurt, among other foods. In the morning many people
also take a coffee or tea break before lunch; lunch is usually about noon to 1:30
pm. This meal varies greatly in what is eaten and can include sandwiches, curry,
soups, salads, as well as any number of other foods. The afternoon is again broken
up with another coffee or tea break, especially if working. After the work day many
people eat dinner at home, although going out to a restaurant is growing in popularity.
Dinner is generally served sometime between 5:30 and 7:00 pm and tends to be the
largest meal of the day in Guyana. This meal usually consists of a meat, vegetables
or beans, and a starch, most commonly potatoes, rice, or cassava. However, for the
ethnic Indian population the food tends to lean more towards vegetarian foods and
chicken as curries, beans, lentils, and other common Indian foods are common in
Beans: usually served as a side or mixed with rice
Cassava: a common food found in dishes or used as a side dish or
Rice: often served as a side or mixed with beans
Sweet Potatoes: the most common type of potato found in Guyana
and used extensively
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Curry: because of the large Indian population curries
of all kinds are common including those with meat, seafood, or vegetarian
Metamgee: corn dumplings, yams, cassava, and plantains
served in coconut milk
Pepperpot: the national dish is a meat stew seasoned with
cinnamon, cassava, and hot peppers
If you're lucky enough to be invited to a local's home in
Guyana, be sure to bring a gift like wine, chocolates, or a cake. Dress
nicely if you're meeting locals in their home or are meeting business acquaintances.
If you are simply eating at a restaurant with friends the dress is a bit more casual,
but should still be nice clothing.
When meeting locals for a meal be sure to arrive about 15 minutes late, although
for business meals you may want to get there on time or just a few minutes late.
As you begin socializing avoid sensitive subjects like religion, politics, money,
and even business; if you are meeting local business associates let them be the
first to bring up the subject of business.
When you are directed to the table, let your host seat you as they may have a place
for you, then stand beside your chair until everyone else sits. In a restaurant
you may be seated at the same table as other people; politely ignore them, although
some people may engage you in conversation if they realize you're foreign.
Dinner may begin with a drink and a toast. The meal itself should begin as the drink,
on your host's indication. Before eating or drinking, place your napkin in your
lap, keep your hands on the table by resting your wrists on the table, and never
place your elbows on the table. Eating is done in the continental style, meaning
the knife should remain in your right hand and the fork in your left; get used to
this style as everything but bread and sandwiches are eaten with utensils, including
fruits among others. The bread should be placed on your plate or on the table itself
as bread plates are rare. You should try everything offered to you and if you enjoy
something compliment the host and you will probably be offered more; if you are
offered additional food, initially turn it down then accept it after your host insists.
When you're done eating place your fork and knife together with the tines down,
handles pointing to the right, and facing to about the 10:00 position. Once everyone
is done eating you may be offered dessert or a drink, like coffee, as the conversation
will likely continue.
If you're eating at a restaurant, the host, or you if with other foreigners,
should call the server over by making eye contact; if you need the bill you must
specifically ask for it. The host is expected to pay for everyone present, but guests
should offer to assist, something that will likely be turned down. If you're
the host, check the bill for a service charge, which is often included in the amount
of 10%; if there is a service charge there is no need to leave an additional tip.
If there is no service charge a tip is not expected, but appreciated so tip at your
Celebrations & Events
For celebrations and special events the most common dish in Guyana
is pepperpot. This, the national dish, takes hours to cook so is rarely prepared
other than for certain events and holidays. It is most common on Christmas tables,
but can also be found for other celebrations and events.
Although all popular international beverages can be found in Guyana,
including tea, coffee, and soft drinks, local juices are among the most popular.
It seems everyone squeezes their own juice as "lime water" (like lemonade,
but made with limes) is one of the more common juices. Another popular local drink
is mauby, which is made from the bark of a local tree then sweetened, boiled,
Guyana offers nearly every popular alcoholic beverage from
wines and beers to hard liquors of all sorts. However, most of these are imported
as the country isn't well known for producing alcoholic beverages. For a local
taste, "Demerara" is perhaps the most popular rum and "Banks"
is the most popular beer.
The tap water is generally not safe to drink in Guyana, although
in very limited areas it might be. The most cautious course of action is to entirely
avoid the tap water and items that could be made from or with the water, such as
ice, fruits, and salads. If you do decide to drink the local tap water first check
with your hotel or guesthouse to learn the cleanliness of the water in that area.
If the water is safe, remember that many people may have trouble adjusting to the
local tap water as it will most certainly be different from what your system is
used to if you are not from the region.