TIme to veg out on Guam!
Sure, thrill-seekers may be quick to explore Guam’s jungles and dive sites, and foodies will find more restaurants to revel in than imagined. But what about that challenge that has intimidated even the foolhardy since childhood: Vegetables?
Some here may even seem as foreign as that first bite of Brussels sprout?
Take heart. Whether eating out, or dining in, there is a cornucopia of reasons to make Guam’s tasty veggies a part of your culinary routine. For starters, the amount of time – and who knows what else – it takes to ship most of those more familiar varieties from the States is enough to rekindle childhood flora phobias.
Luckily, there are probably as many varieties of vegetables grown on this produce paradise in the Pacific as there are ways to enjoy them.
The fiesta of freshness ranges from local versions of bok choy, okra, “pechay” (Chinese cabbage), eggplant, sweet corn and squashes, to the lesser known bittermelon, wing bean, long been and “doné,” or “boonie pepper” (watch out!). There are arrays of tastes and textures right under your nose that are guaranteed to inspire a whole new meaning to the term “veg out.”
Secondly, what better way to thank your host territory than by supporting its farmers who grow and pick their own crops? Many not only offer their wares at local markets and produce stands – they’ll throw in complementary details on fruits and veggies that are less familiar to off-islanders, along with prep and cooking tips.
That’s not to say you have to do all your own shopping and cooking to reap the culinary benefits of Guam’ local veggies. They cannot only be found in stores like American Grocery and Pay-Less Supermarkets, but more and more restaurants have been serving them up in recent years. Just check the menu, or ask your server or chef.
Recent menu items range from “Triton Farms locally grown mixed baby greens with panko-crusted buffalo mozzarella cheese and marinated tomatoes” at PROA Restaurant, to an Athena’s Wrap with “local cucumber and dill ‘tzatziki,’ local eggplant, red onions, olives and tomatoes and feta cheese” at Pika’s Café.
How about a plate of Tinak Attack Pasta with ground sirloin and locally grown eggplant, green beans and cherry tomatoes in coconut cream sauce at Meskla Chamorro Fusion Bistro. Many eateries may not even tout their use of local produce – so ask.
The movement to get Guam-grown greens and other veggies served up in local restaurants took root in 2011 with the first Farmer Chef Grill Night cook-off in which chefs used mostly local ingredients.
“This was an historic event, marking the beginning of an exciting new era in bringing high-quality fresh produce from our local farms to restaurant tables,” said Ken “The Food Guy” Stewart, a hotel and restaurant supplier and the man behind GuamDiner.com. “When I say fresh, I’m talking about the ‘fresh’ you can feel, smell and taste!”
The event was the result of a five-year project whereby the Farmer’s Cooperative Association of Guam, University of Guam Extension Service, and Micronesian Chef’s Association assessed eateries’ produce needs then helped local farmers start producing them. But the push for restaurant quality, and quantity, local produce started long before then.
“It actually started out with only a few products like watermelon, green onions, local eggplant, mangos, papayas, and bananas, and maybe corn,” said Stewart. “However, we’ve made some amazing progress in growing and diversifying local produce. Can you believe that our local farmers have been able to grow enough cherry tomatoes so that we don’t have to rely on imported cherry tomatoes?”
Now Guam’s fresh-grown produce is ripe for the picking at locales like Chamorro Village and Agat and Dededo markets, as well as from restaurant menus ranging from fine dining to corner diners. Perhaps the best part is that a lot of it grows here year round. There are even a handful of eateries on island making vegetarian cuisine – much of it locally grown and organic – their claim to fame. (See pages 6-9).
So take the challenge, taste the difference, and veg out today?
Tips on choosing local produce
Bittermelon: Best when the color is dark and the ridges are pronounced
Cucumbers: Freshest when firm (not limp); avoid when scarred (could indicate pests)
Eggplant: Best when firm, seedless and color is dark purple
Hot peppers: Watch out! Local varieties can be very hot; sample first, and avoid bagged peppers with even one that is spoiled.
Long beans: Check for bugs and clean by soaking
Kangkong (water spinach): Look for tender tips and firm stems.
Pechay (Chinese cabbage): Best when color is green/white (not yellowed)
Sweet potatoes: Avoid blemishes (may indicate pests)
Taro: Avoid if left out in the sun or other warm places
Produce pick'n at the market place
By Peyton Roberts
The Guam Guide
It seems really silly to me that it took going all the way to Thailand to get my first taste of produce local to Guam. In hindsight, I suppose I had a lot of questions but didn’t know who to ask.
Today I want to share with you the basics of what I’ve learned about the process
of buying local produce on our island. Here are some of the questions I’ve been asked by friends, which were many of the same questions I had when I started buying local.
Q: Where do you buy local produce?
A: I buy local produce wherever it’s available, preferably from local growers directly, but secondly from supermarkets that I know have a great selection. For starters, Chamorro Village, Dededo market, and the Tuesday night Agat market are probably the most frequented, but produce stands pop up all over the place when certain items are in season. As for supermarkets, Pay-Less Supermarkets, Agat Kimchee Market, and the base commissaries have a healthy selection as well.
Q: How do you know when the markets are open?
A: It’s true, one of the frustrating things about shopping local is that you can’t always get the exact item you’re looking for when you’re looking for it. Learning the schedules of the farmers you buy from is key for consumer happiness, and the easiest way to learn the schedule (if there is one!) is to ask the grower. One little produce stand in Piti was hit and miss for a while. Finally I asked when they’re open, and just like that, I had a schedule to work with!
The farmer’s market at Chamorro Village is my go-to on Wednesdays when they have their biggest selection of items and growers. They also usually have a good showing on Mondays and Fridays. The Tuesday night (after 3 p.m.) market in Agat is a great place too. I have learned to plan and adjust my produce shopping based on when and where I know my favorite growers will be. I make my trip to the regular supermarkets last, giving produce stands a chance to fill my grocery list first.
Q: I don’t recognize a lot of the produce they sell here. How do you know what to buy?
A: This was perhaps the biggest initial obstacle standing between me and Guam freshness. Looking at the array of produce wondering, why are those tomatoes green? Why is that eggplant so skinny? Or more likely, what the heck is that and what would I do with it once I got it in my kitchen? My best piece of advice is, well, just ask!
While I hope to cover more here about the specifics of cooking with banana hearts, opo squash, and yes, even bitter melon, the best way to find out about things you aren’t familiar with is to ask those who are. You won’t offend the growers by asking, “What’s that?” And if you take the plunge and take something spiny, rooty, or fruity home you’re still not sure about, Google is a great place to turn to as well. Chances are someone out there has blogged about it and posted fabulous recipes and even photo tutorials to remove a lot of the guesswork.
Q: Why should I go to the trouble to buy local produce?
A: Well that’s easy. Locally grown produce tastes so much better and is so much better for you and our island! Many of Guam’s growers use organic fertilizers, natural pesticide methods, and zero preservatives, resulting in coveted organic produce that’s hands down more nutrient packed.
It’s also a heck of a lot better for our global environment that we haven’t expounded thousands of gallons of fuel to get a banana from its tree across an ocean somewhere to your kitchen counter here. Plus, those same couple of bucks you’re dishing out stays right here on Guam and gets invested back in the farming industry, which only means great things for the future of local produce.
So if you haven’t already, give it a go! Ask a lot of questions and have fun with it. Play around with some recipes and, hey, if you get inspired, share the wealth (at Guam.Stripes.com).