Guamanian cuisine may not be as well-known as others, but it is nonetheless worth taking note of. The island prides itself on food that is bright and bold, and always made fresh with locally sourced ingredients. Indeed, with its colorful history reflected in many local dishes, every meal in Guam is a not-to-be-missed adventure. Here are 7 quintessentially Guamanian delicacies that you should know about.
This refreshing ceviche-like dish is emblematic of the islands: light and packed with hot, tropical flavors. Kelaguen is derived from the Filipino dish kilawin and shares many similarities with it. However, while kilawin is mostly denatured with vinegar, the base of the Chamorro dish is a tart pickling marinade made with fresh coconut, lemon juice, salt, and spices, poured over a protein such as cooked chicken or raw seafood or beef. It can be served as an appetizer, side dish, or main course. To distinguish between variations, the name of the protein can be appended to the end of the dish: kelaguen mannok for chicken, kelaguen uhang for shrimp, and so on. By far, broiled chicken is the most popular meat for kelaguen. It’s a hit among locals and foreigners alike!
Rice is one of the most important staple foods in Guam. Its history in the territory dates all the way back to ancient times, with many archaeological digs containing unearthed pottery shards that had impressions of rice grains on them. Indeed, it was once considered a ceremonial ingredient, used in dishes and beverages made for important events.
One of the most popular and enduring ways to prepare the grain is red rice, a Guamanian favorite. Short-grain rice is cooked in water colored red with annatto seeds, producing a vibrant dish that immediately draws the eye. Other ingredients such as garlic, onions, peas or bacon bits can be included to flavor the rice.
This delightful Chamorro dessert was first brought to Guam by the Spanish as natillas, a dessert custard commonly eaten with finger sponge cake. A frequent party and fiesta staple, latiya is made by covering a sponge cake base with a sweet and thick vanilla custard before being topped generously with cinnamon powder. The most laborious component of the dessert is the sponge cake, but most people simply buy it from any one of the many bakeries in Guam to save themselves the trouble of making it from scratch.
Kadon pika is a creamy, spicy Chamorro stew most often made with chicken. The protein is marinated in soy sauce, vinegar, onions and garlic and then braised until the meat is tender. To finish, coconut milk is added, along with hot peppers for a distinctive kick of heat. The best version of kadon pika is made at home, and every Guamanian cook has their own distinct take on the dish. It can be as spicy or as mild as desired. Once prepared, it is typically served on a warm bed of regular or red rice.
These traditional Chamorro cookies earned the nickname “Chamorro jawbreakers” due to their rock-hard texture. They’re so hard that they probably qualify as dangerous weapons! Like most cookies, they are made with flour, sugar, butter, and salt. Coconut milk adds a distinctly creamy, nutty flavor reminiscent of tropical flavors.
Guyuria are deep-fried, not baked.After drying, they are glazed with a very thick sugar syrup that eventually hardens, similar to candy. For softer, more accommodating guyuria, some recipes call for the addition of baking powder and eggs. They are, however, traditionally made without these. Guamanians will often tell you that suffering the cookie’s unforgiving hadrness is part of the fun.
Guam and the Philippines share a very close relationship, as Guam used to be an important resting stop for trade ships coming from Manila during the age of the galleon trade, which lasted from the middle of the 16th century up to the early 19th century. As a result, it is not uncommon to find numerous similarities between Filipino and Guamanian cuisine. For example, estufao is a dish similar to the Filipino adobo. It is made by slowly braising your choice of protein in garlic and a salty and sour mixture of vinegar and either salt or soy sauce. For best results, it should be made with tuba or coconut vinegar, also a Filipino export. For a thicker sauce, most Guamanians use a cornstarch slurry. It’s perfect with white rice!
Almost every cuisine in the world has its own version of barbecue asusing open fire to cook food is an absolute no-brainer. Modern Chamorro barbecue is a real treat, though. Chicken, beef, pork and other proteins are made more tender and flavorful with marinades that make use of soy sauce and vinegar, as well as garlic, onions, salt, and black pepper. Guamanians like to marinade their proteins for at least an entire day before grilling them over tangan-tangan wood, which imparts its own unique smoke and flavor to the finished dish. The island front-runner for favorite grill is an appliance that showcases the people of Guam’s ingenuity and resourcefulness: locals usually commandeer a 55-gallon metal drum called a tanke for the purpose, cut lengthwise or left standing.
This list represents only a small fraction of the amazing food that can be found in Guam. Seek them out when you visit the island!