Monday, March 24, 2008

Childhood on Guam

Zola: I've got to admit, I've been pretty down on the blog lately. We're at the end of the 3rd month and just not getting enough people submitting food stories to keep us going through the end of the year. Oh, we've got a few stories in back-up but at the rate they're coming in, either you're going to have to listen to even more of my crappy stories or we're not going to make it. Let's just say that if you see Betha's fruitcake story and recipe published in May (instead of Nov/Dec when you want to think about making the world's most delicious fruitcake) you'll know the end is freaking nigh.

That being said, the story and recipe below re-charged me a bit. As you'll undoubtedly infer from her post, I don't know Whitney--and it's always a thrill to open the old inbox and see a message from someone I don't know. The other thing that was really cool about this post was that I don't know jack about Guamese food. It was just what I needed to try to create something that tasted good without any clue what it should taste like.

Whitney: Sharon passed along your incredibly cool blog to me about 20 minutes ago and I'm inspired to look like I'm working hard but to write about food memories. The first that popped into my head was a visit to Sorrento in 2006 where I had THE MOST AMAZING MEAL of my life. But I'm still reeling from it and can't quite put it into words. So instead I'll tell you about my (food) memories of childhood spent on the tropical island of Guam.

We arrived in 1974 when I was 8 - so all the memories are colored with a kid's perspective. Every village had a patron saint and a chosen month to celebrate said patron saint with fiestas. I'm not sure how they swapped hosting duties but someone was ALWAYS having a party. As in most polynesian (or in this case, micronesian but let's not split tropical hairs) a big part of the culture seems to be generosity. Back in those days (folks tell me it's different now), any stranger was welcome to walk in and share the bounty.

It would go something like this, my incredibly beautiful, blonde haole (= white person) mom would get an invitation from some random person to a fiesta. My mom, my brother (age 6) and I would show up and be welcomed like royalty. I remember hearing something about strangers being considered good luck.

THE FOOD! Was an amazing combo of the island culture Guamanian/Chamorro, Spanish and Filipino food. Favorites of mine:

Bistek: some sort of marinated thinly sliced steak

Kelaguen of ALL sorts of meat - chicken, beef & spam being my favorites: Kelaguen was cool because we got to help shred the coconut. Imagine sitting astride a wooden sawhorse with a rusty grater (a rod with a bent-up sharp end to open the coconut) and a flat, round serrated end. The kids would do this for hours to get enough coconut for everyone. I remember the meat being 'raw' (only partially cooked and then cooked with vinegar but I could be wrong).

Red Rice: always!

Chicken adobo: the BEST chicken I've ever had in my life.

Corn soup with THICK corn tortillas: I've never been able to figure out those 1/2 inch thick corn tortillas. They had grill marks on them.

Lumpia: The Filipino folks said this was a Filipino recipe. Tiny little spring roll-esque fried bits of heaven. A pain to make but SO SO SO yummy. Actually verging on addictive.

Pancit: Another "Pilipino Pood" (so our friends described it). VERY yummy noodle dish - not sure if they're buckwheat? But the texture was very different. I remember chicken and celery with fresh lemon flavors.

Finadene Sauce with the tiny red peppers: HOT to be added to everything.

Pickled Green Papaya - HOT HOT HOT and addictive. Kids would bring baggies of these to sell at the bake sales

Roast Pork - We had neighbors with pigs and I stumbled across them slaughtering a pig for a fiesta. I didn't get to see much but I saw it hanging so the blood could drain.

The adults would all chew betel nut by making a little pouch of banana leaves and filling it with the SUPER bitter nut and some limestone. I tasted it once and WOW. I spit it right out. Everyone laughed at the little haole girl with her white hair...

Zola: So, not having a village to feed or a patron saint to celebrate (I guess it was Easter. Hm. Never mind), I decided to just try a couple things off the list. I went with Kelaguen, which required making Finadene sauce, and then some titiyas which are the thick tortillas Whitney mentions. I was also a cheater and bought some Lumpia because I love them but really don't need 2 dozen fried springs rolls in belly.

My guiding principle with the Kelaguen was this sentence from Wikipedia: "Though a simple dish, kelaguen reflects the complex history of the Micronesian archipelago's Hispanic-Asian-influenced native culture. It is similar to South American Ceviche and Filipino Kinilaw/Kilawin." I looked at a few different recipes and this is what I came up with:

Finidene (or also spelled Finidi) sauce: Mix a cup of soy sauce with a cup of lemon juice (lime juice or a good vinegar will also do). Add a large, finely chopped shallot and two birds eye chili peppers.

Marinate about a pound of chicken in this sauce overnight.

Fry up your chicken, basting in the sauce, and let it cool. Shred the chicken and mix with lemon juice, salt, shredded fresh coconut, finely chopped onion and more chilis to taste. Serve over titiyas. I used this recipe for titiyas but was not crazy about it. they were good but I felt like the dough should have been firmer. I'll keep looking for one with corn meal.


Peggy Holcomb said...

Hi Zola- Did Whitney also pass along the receipts for Pancit, Lumpia, and Chicken Adobo ? A few of my favorite foods from the past. Peg

Zola said...

She didn't send any recipes with her story but I will look into it!

Anonymous said...

Hi Zola - I came upon your site by accident and love the idea behind it. As a native, I really enjoyed Whitney's memories of her time in Guam. I think it's great you made kelaguen and wanted to add some notes for anyone else may want to try it in the future.

Coconut is optional in kelaguen and usually used in the chicken and shrimp versions.

Coconut also tends to make the dish spoil faster. (We won't eat it after a day if there is coconut in it.) Reserve a portion (and refrigerate it) without the coconut if you would like it to last more than a day. You can always add it later.

We also use green onions or scallions instead of the regular white or yellow onions to add color to the dish.

Never use aluminum foil to cover, serve or store any type of kelaguen.

Zola said...

Ah! Very helpful--thank you!

Winky said...

Hey Zola, Whitney here. I just received my copy of A Taste of Guam from Paula. There are oodles of great recipes in it and I could probably dig up some that we brought back if you're interested...

Anonymous said...


Sorry you didn't like the titiyas recipe I put up on Chamorro recipes. I like my titiyas sweeter and more bread like.

Hey but I did run into a recipe that may interest you, its from

Aloha and Hafa Adai!

Pete - Chamorro Recipes

Flour Titiyas - Submitted by Perl Hudson of Olympia, WA

* 4 cups of flour
* 1\2 a cup of sugar
* 1\4cup of oil
* 3\4 to 1 cup of milk


Combine all ingredients to make the dough. Separated it into balls depending on the size you want. Get your rolling pin and flatten it. Cook it on a no-stick Teflon pan at medium heat until is a little brown.

Anonymous said...

Hey Zola,

Corn meal titiyas are similar to the recipe on almost any package of Maize tortilla mix or'Masa Harina' packages.

If you like you can add a bit of Achote (Achiote, Annato) (Mama Sita's is great if you can find it) powder to the water.

Hafa Adai and Aloha!

Pete - Chamorro Recipes

Zola said...

NO! Not an issue of not liking! Only any issue of lack of time! However, I will ABSOLUTELY be getting around to these recipes. Thank you so much for sending them and my apologies for being so slow!

paula said...

Hi Zola! I am so glad to see more input on this blog!! I LOVE IT! I LOVE GUAM FOOD! Remember Guam should be done by the Summer. In it you will find 21 recipes not included in A TASTE OF GUAM.....and, the book will include a cd/dvd of me making the food! Have a delicious day! paula

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