My (Dafne's) dear grandmother is from Surinam. Like a real Surinamese, she is an amazing cook! She also taught my parents how to cook. When we are with my grandmother in Suriname, there is always plenty of food. She is in the kitchen all the time where she prepares the most delicious dishes. But what makes food so important in Suriname and how is it possible that everyone can cook so well? Grandma Carmen explains.
Carmen would describe the Surinamese food culture as “the best in the world!”. Despite the fact that she has traveled a lot in her life, she remains devoted to the Surinamese cuisine. After a holiday, she is always happy to be home again, so that she can get back to work in the kitchen. Many different population groups live in Suriname, which makes Surinamese cuisine very varied. Each population has its own input. Hence, one day you can eat Javanese and the next day Hindustani or Creole. Besides being very tasty, food is also very important in Suriname, explains Carmen. “It is a form of social interaction with each other. Everything is organized around the meal. I really like that, being hospitable. You never have to ask someone to come and eat with you. No, when you come by you always get food. That’s why, in Suriname you never cook exactly for the number of people who live in the house, because you never know who might drop by unexpectedly. You ensure that you always have a meal to offer. ”
“That is why you never cook exactly for the number of people who live in the house, because you never know who might drop by unexpectedly. You ensure that you always have a meal to offer.”
Carmen really missed that hospitality when she lived in the Netherlands, she tells us. But also there, she showed her hospitality: “Every Sunday afternoon after the church service, the whole house was full! I really enjoyed that. Now I am unfortunately alone, but I never cook for myself. I just can't! ” This is also the reason that she is happy to grow old in Suriname. In Suriname you never know what the day will bring in the morning. “The other day, I was sitting outside on the balcony when I suddenly heard a car honking, a friend and her husband suddenly stood in front of the house. They were nearby and came to see me. Of course, I had already cooked enough and we had a very pleasant evening. And yesterday, for example, I suddenly received a call from my friend if I wanted to play a game of Rummikub. Actually, I had no choice, because it turned out she was already on her way! That's how it works here in Suriname, and food plays a major role in this." In Suriname, they never eat at a fixed time, as in the Netherlands. There is no such thing as "dinner time", explains Carmen. She often starts cooking in the morning, so that everyone can eat whenever they want.
"Food is the center of everything."
Dafne does recognize this from the times she visited Suriname. There is always plenty of food and Grandma is busy in the kitchen all day. She got her fantastic cooking skills from her mother. “I remember it so well. When we were little kids we all got a piece of salted meat, a strip of cod, fresh vegetables from the garden, some rice, and a little oil. Then we could make our own 'popki patoe' (roughly translated: a 'mini dish'). Then we went out and made a fire ourselves, cook the rice and fry the meat. Yes, we loved that!” This is how Carmen learned to cook from an early age. Later she often helped her mother in the kitchen. In the past, it was mainly the women who cooked, so it was important that this skill was passed on. Nowadays, men are also increasingly cooking.
“We never eat at 6 am as we do in the Netherlands. There is no such thing as ‘dinner time’ here. Often I start cooking in the morning, so that everyone can eat whenever they want.
And when Carmen is in the kitchen, a number of things should not be missing. A Surinamese kitchen, a mortar is essential. In addition, you should always have a wok pan and a roti pan in your kitchen. They also do a lot by hand. In terms of ingredients, you need onions, garlic, tomato, white pepper, allspice (also called: jamaican pepper), djinten and ginger as a base. So make sure you always have this at home! Contrary to popular belief, Surinamese food does not always have to be spicy, this differs per population group.
Finally, we asked Carmen how she would briefly describe what food means to the Surinamese. Her answer is clear: “Food is central to everything. When you visit someone, offering food is a gesture that you are welcome. I would feel so embarrassed not to be able to offer a meal when someone comes to visit me. No, I would rather give away my own plate... ”