Spice of Guam
Guam has perfected “pika” – Chamorro for that spicy red-hot kick. So prevalent is the penchant for pika here that the word can be found everywhere from Pika’s Café (famed for its Chamorro-fusion food) to Pika Magazine (“A guide to spice up your life”) to myriad of local recip Writer and ninja historian Antony Cummins and translation partner Yoshie Minami have recently completed the first full English translation of the text. The Book of Ninja (Watkins Publishing, 2013, 544pp, ¥4,981) is available from Amazon and in bookstores. s like “monnok kadon pika,” or spicy chicken stew.
This island delights in “donne,” or peppers, so much that it boasts its own indigenous boonie pepper, has more local dishes that use them than you can shake a stick at, and hosts an annual festival in honor of the almighty pepper. What’s more, Guam has been the pride and proving grounds of a couple of big-name pika peddlers. In short, when it comes to spice, Guam is hot.
The real proof, however, lies in the aftertaste test, and the common condiment for Guamanians comes with a kick. You can find hot sauces in every home, on every table, at every barbeque and in local restaurants, lunch boxes and even a purse or two. The island’s signature dipping sauce – “finadene” (pronounced fin-ah-den-ee) – is a spicy homemade staple.
Just how much do Guamanians love hot spicy foods? Consider this: Guam placed No. 1 for per capita consumption of Tabasco hot sauce out of more than 165 countries at the 2013 Tabasco Brand Sales and Marketing Conference for the Asia-Pacific Region in Phuket, Thailand.
On average, Guamanians consume almost two 2-ounce bottles of Tabasco per person annually, according to Michelle Bengco, a sales director for Market Wholesale Distributors, Inc. which distributes the product on Guam. Mmainland America placed a distant second with a consumption per capita of just 0.75 ounces per person – five times less than Guam.
“If you ask anyone in Guam why they love tabasco the common answer is because it gives a kick on spice and flavor in any meal,” said Bengco. “It is very common for Guamanians to carry along a small bottle of tabasco in their purses and have an emergency bottle in their cars.
“Chamorro’s love hot and spicy flavors that are added on before eating, not during the process of cooking,” he added. “Guam’s fixation with Tabasco is believed to have started during Word War II when the Americans brought it over to Guam as a flavor kicker.”
Guam’s love of the world-renowned hot sauce may be rivalled only by its taste for Spam. It’s something Tabasco and Spam took into account when they united to create a line of Hot & Spicy Spam products that bear the logos of both companies. Now sold worldwide, the product debuted right here, “where America’s day begins” and came with a recipe for Spam fried rice from Guam-based Shirley’s Coffee Shop, according to Bengco.
In recent years, the entire village of Mangilao has sought to capitalize on the local love for all things hot and spice with Mangilao Donne (Pepper) Festival. In its fourth year running, the popular festival is held the second week in September to promote a variety of hot peppers and their use in a wide range of local and international dishes.
“In Guam, every village has a different festival: Talafofo has a banana festival and Agana Heights has coconut festival,” said Mangilao’s Mayor Nito Blas. “In Mangilao, most people are planting donne and it is very popular. You don’t have to be farmer to grow donne. They grow donne in the yard. … So, that’s why I decided to celebrate a donne festival in Mangilao.
“And another thing is that when I became a mayor people – especially women – they think I am so hot,” he added with a laugh.
More than 60 local vendors were on hand at last year’s festival. Booths were decorated with coconut leaves and hot peppers, and attendees were able to sample and/or buy pepper plants, homemade finadene, “donne dinanche,” or hot pepper paste, pika jelly made from hot peppers, barbecue, beverages and more.
Vendors touted their own special recipes. There were also contests to determine the best chili, best donne dinanche and best pepper. But the annual event is as much a celebration of local culture as it is cuisine.
“The donne is an appetizer that the local culture must have on their table when eating, be it in finadene or just the hot pepper itself,” explained Blas. “There are many varieties and they are used in different dishes. For the locals, eating a meal without finadene is like eating a meal with a flat taste, they just have to have finadene, or just the donne, on their plate for added spiciness.”
To hear the mayor tell it, the Mangilao Donne Festival is the finadene of Guam festivals without which no on-island experience will be compete. And everyone who’s ever spent any time here knows that if you haven’t tasted finadene – you haven’t tasted Guam.
“It is a must that one should participate in to experience the excitement of all the different varieties of donne plants and other displays, contest as well as entertainment,” said Blas. “You can buy whatever appeals to you, or just to browse around.
If you grow donne and have more than enough and want some extra cash, bring them to the Donne Festival and sell them.”
Demise of the true 'donne'
There are two main types of hot “donne,” or peppers, native to Guam: “Donne’sali” with small, bright red and very pungent fruit and “donne’ ti’au” a long, red and pungent pepper, according to Mari Marutani, a professor at the University of Guam’s College of Natural and Applied Sciences.
“They belong to different genera. Donne’sali has long been harvested from the wild, it is also called the bonnie pepper. And donne’ ti’au is mainly grown in the backyard garden,” said Marutani. The first has been labeled “Guam super hot,” while the second is “Guam regular hot.”
“Guam super hot is very pungent, having Scoville heat unit of 4000-4250, while ‘Guam regular hot’ was reported to have an average of 3450,” said Marutani. “However, unfortunately original specimens of both Guam super hot’ and Guam regular hot have been lost and we will not be able to examine these specimens any longer.”
Purebred native peppers may be hard to come by, but the varieties sold in markets and by roadside vendors on Guam today are rich and varied – with a “pika” (hot) punch that’s all their own. It’s a good thing, because according to Marutani folks around here need their peppers.
“Pacific islanders consider Capsicum spp. (species of hot pepers) as a must ingredient to add pungency to island cuisine,” she said. “While we have many diseases and pests, hot Capsicum spp. can be grown year-round.”
You may have heard of “finadene” (or fina’denne), Guam’s signature homemade hot sauce, and “dinanche,” the popular local pepper paste. But what about Fina’denne’ Dinanche?
Unlike its homemade counterparts, Fina’denne’ Dinanche is an Everything Guam brand name pepper paste that is sold in stores.
It can be added to finadene for added spice or used as a dip for beef, chicken, fish or added to soup. Be careful, though. This is considered to have a very spicy kick and should be used sparingly.
According to Everything Guam, the word “dinanche” comes from a word that Chamorro elders refer to as “perfect,” an aptly suited name for its product. It’s made from local boonie peppers with no additives or preservatives.
Everything Guam Fina’denne’ Dinanche can be found at DFS Guam in Tumon or at the Navy Exchange.
For more on this fall's Mangilao Donne Festival, call 734-2163.
How Guam takes its Tabasco
Editor’s note: Last year, Tabasco determined that Guam was the No. 1 consumer per capita of its hot sauce out of some 165 countries. Here’re the top six ways Guamanians take all that Tabasco.
- As an ingredient in finadene sauce – Guam’s most common dipping sauce also known as “the Island sauce for everything.”
- Tabasco dip – Tabasco with salt used as a dip for eating green mangoes.
- Tabasco fried rice – You can’t make the perfect fried rice without the dynamic duo: Hot and Spicy Spam and Tabasco.
- As an ingredient in barbecue marinade – used to marinate everything including chicken, beef, fish, sausage, pork, oysters, and more. (The basic marinade is soy sauce and lemon or vinegar with tons of onions, garlic, and black pepper. From there, everyone adds their own special ingredients and tabasco tops the list.)
- As an ingredient in kelaguen - A popular dish at fiestas and elsewhere that consist of meat, fish or seafood cooked entirely or in part in lemon or other citric juice.
- Tabasco with (canned) corned beef and Cabbage – a much-lived local dish of corned beef stir fried with cabbage and a dash of tabasco.
– Market Wholesale Distributors, Inc.