Guam is an island that is brimming with diversity; from the wide-eyed tourists enjoying their experience in tropical paradise, to the diverse residents who call Guam their home. Guam’s population consists of unique people from Japan, China, South Korea, India, Philippines, Europe, Americas, Africa, Polynesia, Micronesia (including the Marianas Islands), and many more!
As America’s first and foremost line of defense in the East, Guam is a hub of globalized activity. With diversity, there are diverse cultures—- and with diverse cultures, there is always a diversity of food!
Here are 5 great local style treats you should not miss out on during the holidays!
01. COCONUT CANDY
For those who were born in or have lived in the Marianas for a long time, coconut candy may be extremely familiar to them. With just two ingredients, and a little over an hour of cooking, it is an easy dish to prepare!
Coconut candy tastes best with freshly-grated coconut. My father often used a homemade coconut grater—- you know the ones: a small wooden seat, about a foot in length, and on one end of the little bench is a spoon-grater welded to the wood.
Typically, to make a large party-size bowl of coconut candy we would need to collect six or ten coconuts. We collected them from public areas. Of course, store-bought is perfectly fine, but perhaps much more expensive unless you are only hosting a small group.
Pure sugar cane is ideal as the second ingredient. Some people will insist that brown sugar is healthier, and they are correct; substituting cane sugar with brown sugar is fine. However, we use pure cane sugar because it gives a better texture, and caramelizes well in the pan.
02. CHICKEN KELAGUEN & COCONUT TITIYAS
Chicken Kaleguen is incredibly popular on Guam, and the rest of the Marianas. People who grew up in the islands, and especially in a family of Asian Pacific Islanders, most likely helped their parents or relatives rip the meat off of barbequed chicken legs and thighs, gathering each savory piece into a large bowl to be mixed with aji-no-moto, pepper, lemon juice, diced red onions, diced green onions, and diced hot peppers.
My family, who are of Chamorro-Paluan heritage, typically barbeque our chicken over a grill after marinating it with vinegar, aji-nomoto, salt, and pepper for thirty minutes or an hour. It’s quicker, without compromising flavor. However, for smaller portions of chicken kaleguen meant for two people, a rotisserie chicken from your local grocery store is just as good, and even quicker to prepare!
The salty-savory tang of chicken kaleguen is balanced with the soft-sweetness of coconut titiyas. Homemade coconut titiyas is truly delicious, but the people who sell coconut titiyas certainly know what they are doing, as well! Store-bought, as usual, is an adequate substitute.
03. RED RICE
Red rice is a side-dish that has become a popular dish in itself throughout the Marianas Islands. Guam’s barbeques would not be complete without it! There are different kinds of methods to making red rice; it was initially a cuisine known as Spanish Rice or arroz rojo, and people from Mexico and Persia enjoy their own version of red rice.
Some people are content with rice that is simply colored red, either from food coloring or achiote seeds. The red rice my father makes is packed with flavor, and popular at parties; he cooks two bags of bacon while boiling the rice with achiote seeds in a large pot, cooked steadily over a burning stove. The bacon strips are cut into bite-sized pieces, and the burned fat is poured and stirred into the pot of red rice.
The inherent savoriness of the bacon bits and natural fat adds a lot of flavor to the red rice!
04. LATIYA CAKE
Latiya cake is a beloved treat on Guam that is usually prepared for special occasions, such as birthdays, weddings and, of course, the holidays! It is easy, takes about an hour to make, and there are a few different ways to make it.
Some people use actual sponge cake or cupcake batter as the foundation from which the sweet custard topping will be glazed on, while others use soft biscuit cookies or graham crackers. A sprinkling of cinnamon on top of the cake is a must, or it just won’t feel like a real latiya cake! It really depends on how sweet you want your latiya cake, too. Some people want sweetness galore, while others enjoy more subtlety to their sweets.
Latiya, and especially its custard-cream topping, is typically homemade. But a quick and dirty latiya cake can be made with condensed milk to quicken the process or store-bought custard pudding altogether, pre-made powder packets, and store-bought sponge cakes.
Quick recipes are the best kind of recipes during the holidays. As an island full of family-oriented cultures and traditions, we don’t want to spend hours sweating in the kitchen preparing complex meals, we want to enjoy the company of our family and friends, a cool drink in our hand as we share gossip and conversation topics.