MYF - Coretta Joe

>> Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Welcome to another installment of the MY FOOD Project!

MY FOOD is an online project of my ongoing research into Caribbean food culture and food heritage. The project seeks to explore how we think about food, what we think about food, and how we use food to connect and communicate. It is also about the importance of food to our identity. For full details of the project and how to participate, click here.

Sharing her food with us this week, is Coretta Joe. Coretta, it is a pleasure to have you at the table.

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MF: Welcome Coretta. Where are you from?
CJ: Guyana
MF: Where do you live?
CJ: I have been living in Barbados for the past 15 years.
MF: How do you self identify?
CJ: I came to Barbados when I was very young and completed all of my schooling here (Barbados). However, I am a Guyanese anyway you look at it.
MF: If you had to choose 1 or 2 dishes that would identify you as Guyanese, what would it or they be?
CJ: Definitely Curried Chicken and Chowmein. There is a special way that Guyanese prepare curried chicken - from the making of the curry paste to the special type of curry powder we use. When a Guyanese is making curry, you can smell it from at least a mile away. Seriously! Chowmein on the other hand, is one of those dishes that I only eat the "Guyanese" way. There is a special order in which the meat and vegetables are stir-fired and maybe I am terribly biased, but I only buy a certain Guyanese brand of Chowmein noodles.
MF: You are Guyanese and you have been living in Barbados for over a decade now, is the food you make purely Guyanese or a combination of Guyanese and Barbadian?
CJ: While I identify as Guyanese, I am a foodie and a true foodie has dishes in his or her arsenal from not only where they come from, but from where they live and other countries as well. On any given Sunday, you can find me in the kitchen preparing traditional Bajan fare (rice and peas, macaroni pie etc.) with Guyanese side dies. My favourite Barbadian dish happens to be Cou-cou (one half of the Barbadian national dish, the other half being Flying Fish). I have not yet mastered the art of making it (Cou-cou) but I always enjoy it when my friends prepare it for me.
MF: What food or drink for you is a taste of home?
CJ: When I was a child and still living in Guyana, my mother would sometimes make a special vermicelli treat for us. I always marvelled at this "sweet chowmein" that was made creamy with milk and flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla or almond extract. A few years ago, my friend, Karen, made some for me and it took me right back to those nights in Guyana when I would sit and savour every mouthful of vermicelli or "vamazelli" as I used to call it. That is my taste of home.
MF: When you are entertaining, whether at the holidays or on general occasions, do you make any dishes from home (Guyana)?
CJ: Any holiday or occasion in my home warrants Guyanese dishes. My speciality is Vegetable Fried Rice, a dish that I have been making for years and always gets rave reviews. I also like to make 'boil and fry' Channa (chick peas) as a side dish. It is always one of the first dishes to disappear. And what is a gathering without roti and curry? These 3 dishes are always winners.
MF: If the people at your gathering are non-Caribbean or from back-home as some would say, do you still make and serve Guyanese food?
CJ: I enjoy showcasing Guyanese dishes to people who are not familiar with it so I have absolutely no qualms about making and explaining Guyanese food to such guests.
MF: When you go to potluck get-togethers, do you make and carry Guyanese food, Barbadian food, or a combination?
CJ: For potlucks, my contribution usually consists of Baked Chicken, Macaroni Pie or finger foods like Fish Cakes - but with a Guyanese twist.
MF: What are some of the rituals, traditions or practices associated with food from Guyana that you upkeep? 
CJ: There has never been a Christmas where there was no Pepperpot in my house or an Old Year's Night where there was no Cook-up Rice on my stove. These two Guyanese traditions will stay with me for a very long time.
MF: What was the food you missed the most when you first moved abroad?
CJ: Black Pudding - it is something that I still miss. I've never tasted Black Pudding made by a Guyanese living in Barbados that quite satisfies that taste of home.
MF: What are some of the must-have pantry items that you always have stocked to make Guyanese food?
CJ: Dried and canned chickpeas, chowmein noodles, curry powder and cassareep all have a special place in my pantry. The chick peas for 'boil 'n fry' channa, the chowmein noodles for the Guyanese-style chowmein and the curry powder for curried chicken and the cassareep, not only for Pepperpot, but I like to add it to meats etc when baking.
MF: What type of food do you make or eat as a part of your everyday food routine?
CJ: Most days it is a mixture of Guyanese and Barbadian food. When I get home from work I usually whip up something quick but satisfying that I can take for lunch the following day. This is usually Salt-fish Rice, Cook-up Rice, Chowmein or a Curry and variations of rice and stew.
MF: What is your favourite Guyanese dish?
CJ: My favourite Guyanese dish is Dhal, with rice and callaloo.
MF: How would you describe Guyanese food?
CJ: Guyanese food is comfort food. Each dish tells a story and brings back fond memories. Guyanese food is art - so complex, yet so simple. Take for example how we cook vegetables and eat it with rice and call it rice and stew. My Bajan friends cannot wrap their heads around that, because for them, rice and stew means rice and peas with a brown gravy. Rice and stew for a Guyanese can mean rice and pumpkin, rice and boulanger (eggplant, baigan) and rice and ochroes (okras)... you get me?
MF: I get you. If you plan to have a family, how important would it be for your children to know the cuisine of your homeland?
CJ: In a few years when I start a family, it will be paramount for my children to learn about the cuisine of Guyana not only because it is important to me, but because I want them to be open-minded. Knowing about the cuisine of different countries can take you to so many places you haven't physically been.
MF: When you visit Guyana and are ready to return to Barbados, what are some of the foods/ingredients that you bring back with you?
CJ: When I visit Guyana, I make sure to bring back cooked Chinese food along with snacks such as mithai and chicken-foot and preserves such as achar and pepper sauce.
MF: Is there any street food or shop-around-the-corner snack that was your favourite or makes you recall a fond memory? If so, do tell.
CJ: Just across the street from my old primary school in Guyana was a lady who had a stall and I used to love her egg-balls. Oh my goodness! Her egg-balls were made with the creamiest cassava and you could taste every single ingredient she used. I would tell her to "put plenty sour". I couldn't wait for Fridays to rush out of school and be the first in line to get my hands on that egg-ball. I made sure to save my money all week along with an extra something to get a drink to wash down my egg-ball on my walk home.
MF: Is there any food or drink of Barbados that you have taken and made your own, either by the use of the ingredients, techniques etc?
CJ: I most definitely add a Guyanese twist to my rice and peas by adding coconut milk and other seasonings.
MF: Finally, is it important for you to keep a connection to Guyana through food? Please explain.
CJ: Food is one of the main things that keeps me connected to Guyana. Preparing a Guyanese meal is therapy for me. Eating a home-cooked Guyanese meal brings me so much joy. Recently, my mother made fried bakes and sago porridge for dinner and I felt so emotional because it reminded me of those evenings when I was called to the dinner table and was greeted with a warm bowl of porridge topped with Carnation milk. I cannot visit as often as I like, so like to surround myself with things that remind me of home.
MF: Thank you so much for sharing Coretta. I think I am going to make myself some bakes and sago porridge for dinner sometime soon!

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Would you like to share your food with MY FOOD? Know someone that does? Leave a comment below or inbox me directly. The project is open to anyone that falls into one of the categories below and you do NOT need to have a blog to participate. This project is also open to people of the Spanish, Dutch and French-speaking Caribbean.


  • Caribbean/West Indian living at home in the region.
  • Caribbean/West Indian living abroad (1st, end, 3rd generation. State which generation you are)
  • Non-Caribbean/West Indian and married/partnered with Caribbean/West Indian folk.
  • Non-Caribbean/West Indian but the region has been home for at least 5 years.

Leave your comments below and don't forget that you too can participate, get the details here. The next installment of MY FOOD is on Wednesday, February 26th.

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