I’m kicking off my black history month work with an interview with my mum and her twin sister, who talk about growing up with their grandmother, the smells of their childhood and their their interpretation of Guyanese culture.
Mum recalls her early childhood to be lively, playing outside with her cousins, the smell of freshly cooked rice putting a smile on everyone’s faces. Family members were constantly in and out during the day, and it would end with everyone sharing a meal at her grandmother’s house where she lived with her sister. Family parties were just as lively, soca and reggae music would be playing, and she would be greeted by a variety of “aunties” who may or may not be related to her. She recalls eating pepperpot at Christmas, and loving chow mein. Her sister remembered a lot more food, barley soup, souse (but only when it was hot!) and egg custard.
Traditionally, you’d pass on the family recipes to your children, but as their gran was ill and the family didn’t have much money, actively passing culture down wasn’t as important as day to day living was. Thanks to a strong family support and trial and error however, they was able to remember the food and comforts of their childhood. Mum reckons she’s been semi successful in passing down Guyanese culture to us (her four amazing children, that is). Though she wonders looking back if she could have done any more. For both sisters, it’s less about culture and traditions and more about family. They take pride in the music they listen to (soca and calypso and others), and the food that they eat. They love talking about growing up, and the memories with their cousins and aunties.
Their gran was a lovely person. I had the pleasure of knowing her for the first 6 years of my life, and while she wasn’t as lively as she was when my mum was my age, she was incredibly caring and looked after me a lot. Mum and auntie both agreed she had an infectious laugh, steely determination and infinite wisdom. (As expected of a Guyanese matriarch, I think.) They lived with her growing up, and she was a central pillar in their lives.
And finally, the money question. I looked at her deep in the eyes, and said, “Mum, how do you pronounce this food?”
She replied quickly, no hesitation.
I didn’t have to ask auntie over the phone, she just blurted it out unprovoked, “By the way, it’s pronounced plan-tin, not the other way, Zak.”
We’re going to cook mum’s favourite food. Spinach and prawns with dhal, coley and rice. It’s a great dish, full of flavour and colour. Secretly I’m glad she didn’t pick something “modern” with lots of elements and techniques. Sometimes the best food is traditional, and this dish shows it. From my experience, the best food is comfort food, and Guyanese cuisine proves it. Metemgee and cook up rice are great examples of this, but me and mum and auntie share the same disdain for coconut. We eat hard food a lot at home though, so not all is lost.
Thanks for reading! Have a lovely day.