'Tis the season to feast a la Guam
White sands and swimsuits may replace snow and fur coats during the holiday season on Guam, but holiday foods are no less festive here than anywhere else.
Home to a unique blend of culinary cultures, Guamanians ring in Christmas and New Year’s with feasts ranging from seaside barbecues to high-end hotel restaurant banquets. But like all great fiestas on island, it all starts at home.
“Guam’s holiday food is special because it brings family together,” says Geoffrey Perez, executive chef at the popular Chamorro eatery, PROA Restaurant. “The heart of the house here on the island is the kitchen. There will always be someone in this area of the home. Families come together during each holiday or celebration and create the food and drink that they love.”
During the holidays, freshly caught fish may be seasoned with different aromatic herbs and spices to infuse them with flavor. They’ll be accompanied by salads with local vegetables such as bitter melon, sweet potato leaves, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes or beans - all harvested fresh that very morning by uncles island-wide, Perez says.
“And aunties will be working in tandem,” he adds, “to get all the ‘manha’ (coconut) pies, ‘roskette’ (cornstarch) cookies, ‘ahu’ (sweet coconut soup) or their famous ‘bunelos dagu’ (yam donuts) ready and prepped for their feasts.”
And what holiday season would be complete without those traditional sweets?
“Bunelos dagu is a special treat during the holiday season,” says Josh Tyquiengco, a Guam Visitors Bureau spokesman. “The yams used to make these fried donuts are usually harvested during the Christmas season.”
Just like on the Continental U.S., he adds, expect to see anything pumpkin related featured in eateries ranging from coffee shops to hotel restaurants during the holidays. This includes pumpkin shakes, pumpkin-spice coffee drinks and plenty of pumpkin pie varieties to choose from.
To be sure, there will be a lot of festive sweets adorning holiday tables. But first and foremost, according to barbecuing and fishing aficionado Rueben Olivas, are the meat dishes.
“The standard on all tables is white rice, red rice and homemade flour tortillas made with coconut milk,” says Olivas, author of the BBQGuam blog. “Assorted barbecue meats such as chicken, beef and pork as well as fish are always served, along with the island delicacies like ‘kadon fanihi’ (fruit bat soup) and turtle soup.”
Nothing says special holiday feast on Guam, however, like the “lechon,” or whole roast pig, which when prepared is the centerpiece of the holiday fiesta table. Once roasted over an open fire on a handmade spit with select local woods, this time-honored tradition can still be seen – and tasted – thanks to more modern methods.
“Back in the 1950s, the roast pig was pretty straight forward for the most part on Guam,” says Olivas. “Nowadays, they are roasted in large ovens and stainless steel outdoor spits turned by electric motors. Some roasting is also still done in the traditional way on occasion.”
Guam being the tropical paradise that it is, every day is a good day to barbecue. But when it comes to holiday season feasts, it is indispensable.
“‘Let’s barbeque!’ is a phrase heard on Guam that is just as popular as ‘Hafa Adai’,” says Joe Okada, pit master and owner of TUNU barbecue takeout shop.
“Each individual group or barbeque specialists and families pride themselves on their secret marinade and their ability to create the best-tasting or champion barbecue. The menu items found at barbeques around the island can be just as exotic as our locale.”
Like TUNU (the Chamorro word for barbecue), many of the island’s hotels and restaurants will also be offering barbecue takeout packages for family holiday fiesta tables.
“I usually order barbecue for around $70 from In & Out BBQ near Guam’s airport two days before Christmas,” says Toshio Akigami, a Guam resident for more than 40 years. “I also recommend the elegant wood-roasted herb ‘porchetta’ (pork roast) at TUNU for $120.”
Many restaurants, especially those at major high-end hotels, are already nearly – or fully – booked for the holidays – especial on Christmas and New Year’s and their respective eves. So anyone planning to splurge on a nice holiday meal out had better make reservations soon if they haven’t already.
Many of these restaurants had not yet published their holiday menus by press time, but they range from New Year’s Eve soba (Japanese buckwheat) noodles with tempura at Caffé Cino ($17), to a five-course Christmas seafood buffet dinner at Roy’s Lounge ($70) to a “night in Paris” five-course bash at Westine Resort Guam’s Prego on New Year’s Eve ($150). PROA offers four-course Christmas and New Year’s meals ($55.00) that feature its Proa Patisserie Holiday Pastries. Many of these holiday feasts include free-flowing adult beverages.
So whether you are planning family-style fiesta or dining out in style for the holidays, there’s plenty on island to help you do it with a taste of Guam.