Guam Kitchen: Spotlight on 3 delightful Chamorro dishes

Guam Kitchen: Spotlight on 3 delightful Chamorro dishes



Kelaguen is usually chopped chicken, beef or seafood prepared with lemon juice, peppers, onions and often grated coconut. The acidic lemon juice is used to “cook” fish, seafood and beef kaleguen. This food preparation method is common to many Pacific islands people. It probably originated in Southeast Asia and was spread through migrations of people throughout the Pacific.

The first people in the Marianas likely used the kelaguen method primarily with fish. In the early 1900s Georg Fritz, who served as the German District Officer of Saipan, described a Chamorro dish “fala” that is similar to the modern version of fish kelaguen.

The banana flower (fafalu), when chopped, soaked in saltwater and boiled, is also prepared as a kelaguen dish; and probably was used in ancient times.  Other seafood such as clams and shrimp are prepared in this manner.  As meats were introduced by the Spanish administration in the 17th century, the principle of “cooking” in lemon juice adapted to the properties of these new foods. Today, Spam has become an accepted kelaguen dish, especially as a beer chaser.

Chamorros are known for kelaguen making skills. This dish is considered a signature local dish. Kelaguen’s popularity is evidenced when it is served as an appetizer or as part of the salad bar in several restaurants throughout the island whether or not they specialize in local food. One Chamorro family is known for preparing chicken kelaguen wrapped in taco-shell shaped titiyas (a Mexican tortilla) and selling them at local mom and pop stores and other establishments.

Tamales Gisu

Tamales Gisu are Chamorro tamales in which the filling is red and spicy on one side and a white and not spicy on the other. This distinguishes it from the more well-known Mexican version.

In 1819 French explorer Louis Freycinet described a traditional way of preparing the local tamales from a bouillie (puree) of maize known as atolé mixed with pork or chicken, pimento, tomatoes and lard, as well as achote. These ingredients were then cooked in an oven and served on a banana leaf.  It was a food served only on special occasions and with great ceremony.

The tamales gisu itself is made of corn meal and “masa harina” (corn flour) but each half is flavored differently. The orange half is colored by achote (annatto) seed extract and flavored with meat such as bacon or chicken. The white half represents the “starch” portion of the tamale and has no distinctive meat flavor. Unlike Mexican tamales, which are wrapped in corn husks, tamales gisu are often presented at the fiesta table wrapped in aluminum foil or banana leaves.


Latiya is a dessert made of vanilla custard sprinkled with cinnamon on a sponge cake base. Latiya, or natiya, originated in Spain from “natillas,” traditional dessert custard normally eaten with “bizcocho genovesa,” a golden brown sponge finger cake.

Since the traditional Chamorro diet did not include milk, sugar or cinnamon it is probable that latiya was first introduced to the Marianas during the Spanish period (17-19th centuries). The practice of thickening a sauce with starch and baking cakes was also introduced during this time.

Some believe it is a more recent addition to the local diet being introduced after World War II. It is possible that after World War II, the ingredients to make this dish were more readily available to the general public where previously only residents with means to obtain the scarce ingredients were able to make it.

Today, Latiya is a traditional Chamorro dessert that is popular among Guamanians and visitors alike.

Since the traditional Chamorro diet did not include milk, sugar or cinnamon it is probable that latiya was first introduced to the Marianas during the Spanish period (17-19th centuries).

- Source: Guampedia

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