My love and curiosity for cooking is what motivates me to learn about the foods of other cultures, which vary from the traditional flavors of Hispanic foods IâÂÂm accustomed to. Luckily for me, my downstairs neighbors, the Bissessar family, are friendly natives from Guyana, a country in the upper region of South America. Chaitram Bissessar constantly offered to show me how to cook the delicious foods that he once greeted my family with nine years ago when we first moved in.
As a welcoming gesture, Bissessar showed up at our door with a bright yellow-orange plump pumpkin pie, a bowl of tossed spinach salad filled with many healthy greens, a spicy bowl of dark brown jerk chicken and a luscious mountain of creamy potatoes. All of those foods gave off distinct scents that stimulated my imagination, causing a mouth-watering world of wonderment. However, the smell didnâÂÂt captivate me as much as the kind gesture did.
A lot of BissessarâÂÂs foods are influenced by the West Indies, also known as the Caribbean Islands, and Asian cuisines. One of my favorites is a Guyanese-style chicken chow mein. I became his apprentice one evening so he could show me how to make this dish. The meal takes 45-50 minutes to cook so we first put the water to boil for the noodles and used that time to prep the rest of the ingredients.
He washed all the vegetables and chopped up the ginger, a small hot pepper, 4 cloves of garlic, cilantro, half of a yellow onion and the bottom of a bunch of scallions. We saved the top of the scallions, along with the green and red peppers he diced, to give a crunchy texture at the end. He also defrosted diced carrots and peas which were added during the final stages.
We mixed all the ingredients in a large pot with a thin layer of olive oil. As soon as it started to simmer we added salt, black pepper and square chunks of chicken that I had diced. Once the chicken became tender, Bissessar added a lot of a dark brown spicy liquid labeled Chinese Sauce, a little bit of water and dark thick sauce called Cassareep, which he explained to me was a spice that was used a lot in Guyana and gives the chicken a dark brown color and its flavor.
The LamâÂÂs chow mein noodles were put to boil for five to six minutes. We had to watch the time closely because nobody likes soggy noodles. After I strained the noodles, I mixed them with the rest of the ingredients in the pot. After stirring it all together I added the final touches and topped it with the peppers, scallion, peas and carrots. Our masterpiece was colorful, with voluptuous pieces of dark chicken, long tender yellow noodles and scattered bits of orange squares.
I let it flavors combine for a few minutes before digging in. IâÂÂm happy to report that it was a delightful success.