One of the most important philosophical questions is; how can people live together? Each individual or collectivist has his or her own thinking and therefore responds differently to this question. Nevertheless, we are all of the opinion that despite all those differences in culture or religion, mutual respect is the basis to live in harmony with each other. If we do not so, we would soon get into conflict with each other.

An important characteristic of man is his social nature. This means that we constantly need one another and consequently we are connected, both locally and worldwide. We often forget that! Fortunately, mankind has invented all sorts of rituals for centuries and between ourselves we have made social, legal and political appointments so that we could live in harmony with our cultural and religious differences. Eating together and using each other’s cuisine, prove to be an important means for the realization of this. Just watch how various TV programs on dining and meals are trying to bring us closer together.

As a result of the colonial history characterized by large-scale forced and small-scale voluntary labor immigration to labor demand, Suriname is a multi-ethnic society with a variety of cultural and religious orientations. The current population consists of Amer-Indians, Maroons, Creoles, Chinese, Javanese, Hindustani, mixed, Lebanese, and others. The last few decades, a large number of migrants migrated to Suriname such as Guyanese, Haitians and Brazilians.

This ethnic diversity manifests itself not only in language and music, but also in the meals. During slavery, the main food existed of tuberous plants. These were prepared with local and imported pro-ducts such as salty fish. On most plantations, West African enslaved people had agricultural plots, on which they cultivated cassava, bananas, corn, napi, yams, tayer and sweet potato. They partly provided themselves in their own nourishment and prepared the meals as they were accustomed in Africa. They had acquired cassava, corn and bananas from the Amer-Indians.

With the arrival of indentured laborers from China, India and the Island of Java, a diversity of herbs and other cooking methods has come in. Plantation owners had to feature a daily ration to Hindustani indentured laborers such as curry and dhal. This per chance applies also for the other indentured laborers. Also the new arrivals, the Guyanese, Brazilians and Haitians, add their herbs and their cooking methods to the Surinamese menu. After the abolition of slavery and the period of the indentured labor, the Surinamese menu is constantly being adapted and expanded and gets a different value. Had salty fish and salt meat been, slave’s food and new elements for the Javanese indentured laborer, meanwhile the use of salty fish has fully become current in the Javanese population, probably because the taste is akin to the ikan asin, the salty fish in Indonesia. Salty fish is eaten among others with fried telo (cassava) and stands on the menu of almost all warungs (Javanese eateries). The then slave diet, heri-heri, now belongs to one of the most beloved dishes of Surinamese and is proudly served.

The Chinese also adds the salty fish, for example, in her stew with egg-plant. It is remarkable that every Surinamese ethnic group prepares its own pom-variation. Pom is a tayer oven meal of Jewish origin. Usually Creoles use butter and salt meat when preparing pom. Because of their religion Hindustani don’t eat beef (salt meat) but do add an attribute of piccalilli, a typical characteristic of Hindustani pom. Javanese, however, add bouillon cubes, ketjap and also tomato ketchup, garlic, mustard, fresh pepper, celery, parsley,(brown) sugar or ajinomoto also known as monosodium glutamate are no exception. In addition to these main dishes there are also hot sauce, assorted vegetables, fruit, nuts or cucumber with onions and pepper on vinegar served with ginger beer, orgeade, (almond drink) or dawet (a Javanese drink of coconut milk with lemon grass and cornstarch cubes).

The beauty of the Surinamese menu is not only its diversity, but mainly the interweaving of that diversity. One uses each other’s herbs, taste and cooking methods and connects this with their own. Because of this, new Suriname meals repeatedly arise, which reflect the Surinamese identity that is based on mutual respect for cultural values and is so recognizable over the geographical and virtual borders.


~published in Victuals Magazine: Second Edition; written by Carla Bakboord, Msc., Illustration by Hedy Tjin~

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