Taste of Guam: Much ado about island's yummy kadu

Taste of Guam: Much ado about island's yummy kadu

Stripes Guam

There’s nothing like lifting the lid off a hot pot of steaming yumminess and breathing in the savory smell of spices, vegetables, meat or even coconut. For me, that mouth-watering steam is not the only heat; I am also warmed by fond memories of my grandmother’s homemade soup.

Whether nostalgic or not, there is something universally heart, as well as belly, warming about a piping hot bowl of soup or stew simmered to perfection. It’s no different even on Guam where temperatures rarely dip below the 70s.

Even on this tropical island, where almost anything cooked and served up in a broth is called “kadu” or “kadon,” it’s never too warm for a tasty hot bowl of homemade soup or stew – a mainstay of Chamorro comfort food.

“I grew up with my grandfather and a lot of times he would make kadu. He would pick from the farm what would go into the soup,” says Tessie Bordallo, owner of Terry’s Local Comfort Food restaurant. “I think a lot of people grow up like that here on the island.

“We had fresh kadu all the time. It would be hot outside and they worked all day in the yard and they were sweating when they came in – and they would want good kadu,” she reminisces with a laugh.

Kadu is basically meat, or sometimes seafood, and lots of (often green) vegetables cooked in broth. It can be as simple as chicken, onions, garlic and water. Or it can be combination of other meats and fresh vegetables, such as braised ox tails and taro or pumpkin tips stewed in seasonings, which may also include coconut milk. The variations are endless.

They range from kadon “katne” (beef shank), kadon “mannok” (chicken) and kadun “pika” (spicy) to kadon “guihan” (fish) and even kadon “gamson” (octopus) – or it could be some other variation being created at this very moment. And not all these traditional Chamorro dishes are labeled “kadon.”

“Chalakiles,” for example, is a kind of creamy chicken soup made with ground toasted rice. The less common “fritada,” on the other hand, is a hearty stew made with pork, beef or venison blood and entrails. No matter how you stir it, however, this is an essential part of the local island fare.

As much culture food as it is comfort food, each family has its own story to tell about kadu. Often it is about how their mother, father, grandmother or grandfather makes the best, be it with oxtails or beef shanks, chicken or shrimp.

“Most often, my mom would make kadon mannok, using the chickens raised in our yard, of course. She’d also add whatever vegetables my dad happened to be growing at our ranch, or vegetables growing in the back yard,” says Annette “Annie” Merfalen, author of the popular cooking website, Annie’s Chamorro Kitchen. “My favorite vegetables to add to kadu were squash and pumpkin tips, and if we had some potatoes and onions, into the pot they went as well. Freshly squeezed coconut milk was a must as well; that was usually my job when I was younger; grating the coconut then pressing out the thick and creamy milk.”

For family meals, the dish is usually severed as the main course alongside steamed rice and “finadene” sauce, Guam’s ever-present spicy condiment. Whereas at parties, it’s usually something more along the lines of a drinkable soup, such as Chamorro corn soup or beef soup with noodles and vegetables, according to Merfalen.

Fairly quick and easy to prepare, kadu is also economical and healthy because it contains lots of vegetables. Fresh seasonal vegetables are always popular ingredients for homemade kadu.

(Pumpkin tip) leaves are very similar to spinach and they are just delicious with kadu,” says Bordallo. “The fresh vegetables are must in kadu.” And while Kadu is a simple staple of home cooking and family gatherings, it is also a popular menu item found at many a local restaurants on island.

In fact, kadu is such an essential part of the Guamanian diet that when locals find themselves off island a good soup or stew can be the best remedy for homesickness.

“For me, kadu is something for when I’m off island and I eat out a lot in different restaurants, I really feel I need comfort food.” says Bordallo. “It is kind of very reminiscent of home to me. When I eat ham hocks and mongo beans far away from home, it brings me into a comfort zone. It just makes you feel so warm.”

So don’t be fooled by Guam’s tropical climate. The weather may seem better suited to major Guam dishes such “kalaguen,” fried rice or barbeque but a tasty local kadu is always in season, too. Try one today for bonafide taste of Guam.


Kaddon uhang (shrimp kadu)
“Shrimp kadu is traditionally made with shrimp that still has the head and shell on, which adds so much more flavor to the dish. I actually prefer to cook this dish with headless, shell-on shrimp, but you can use shrimp that has been shelled. One thing is certain, however. You MUST use raw shrimp in this dish; it just won’t taste the same if you use pre-cooked shrimp.”

– Annette “Annie” Merfalen, Annie’s Chamorro Kitchen

Chicken chalakiles
“Chicken chalakiles is one of my favorite Chamorro comfort foods. It’s a soup made with chicken, onions and garlic, thickened with toasted ground rice, and made even more rich with the addition of coconut milk. Chalakiles can be served as your main dish or as a soup served before your entrée.”

– Annette “Annie” Merfalen, Annie’s Chamorro Kitchen

Oxtail kadu
“The oxtail is generally boiled and then simmered in onions and garlic until completely tender and just about to fall apart from the bones.  This kadu also includes fresh ginger, bok choy and potatoes, and is served with white rice and finadene (soy sauce, lemon and peppers).  The broth from Ox Tail provides a very particular taste, and makes this kadu an especially appealing dish.” 

- Tessie Bordallo, Terry’s Local Comfort Food restaurant

Ham hocks & mongo bean
“Ham hocks and mongo bean is also a typical comfort dish served in family homes. The ham hock is boiled and simmered in onions and garlic until very tender. The mongo beans are boiled separately until relatively soft and then added to the ham hock broth.  The uniqueness of this dish is the addition of a few cups of achiote water (water extracted from soaking achiote seeds) and immediately prior to completion, the addition of coconut milk. The ham hock and mongo beans is served over white rice, and is a particularly filling dish. I must admit that it is sometimes difficult to go back to work after eating this dish!”

- Tessie Bordallo, Terry’s Local Comfort Food restaurant

Kaddon beef shank
“I use beef shanks (with bones) for this kadu, but you can use any lean cuts of beef you like. I like shanks because the bone marrow in the bones give the broth an extra rich and concentrated beef flavor. Most shanks are marbled with sinew. If I’m pressed for time, I’ll cook the meat in a pressure cooker, along with some onions, garlic and water, just long enough to break down the sinew and tenderize the meat. If you don’t braise the meat long enough, the sinew in the meat won’t break down enough and you’ll end up with tough, dry meat in your soup.”

– Annette “Annie” Merfalen, Annie’s Chamorro Kitchen

Asian: Bowls of bliss from not-so-Far East

Suphan Thai Restaurant in Tamuning
All the rainy weather and cool temperatures we recently experienced had us craving for some hot soup! We decided to try what was recommended by several people who had the Noodle Soup ($9.00), which is Thum’s specialty.

This soup is a little misleading because there are enough rice noodles, minced chicken, and soup broth to feed two or three people.

I guess it could be a meal for a big guy with an appetite. You can season this to your liking and add a lot of peppers.

This is a Thai version of our proverbial chicken soup for the soul. Another soup I’ve had a few times is Suphan’s spicy Tom Yum Goong (hot and sour soup with lemongrass and shrimp).

Tel: 646-6033

Menkui Ramen in Tumon
When I am asked to recommend a spot for great ramen, I suggest Menkui Ramen without hesitation! I have been enjoying their authentic ramen dishes for nearly four years.

My “usual” has been the green onion-laden Special Negi Ramen ($10.50) before I became addicted to Menkui’s Chasyu Men ($10.50), which has the most tender and tastiest pork loin slices. WIth no MSG in the broth and superb noodles, this is a soup you love to savor as you eat! Try Menkui for a mouthful of that lovin’ feelin’!

Tel: 649-0212

Of course there are some other restaurants I’ve gone to for that soup fix. The Chicken Tinola at Nayon Turo Turo has been a favorite go to soup, especially when it has malungay! The Kalbi Soup at Uri Jip has also worked wonders.

Lemai Cafe and Restaurant in Maithas got one of the best beef shank kadu’s on island. For $10, you get a large bowl of savory broth with lots of boiled cabbage and potato chunks floating above a huge thick slice of tender beef. You also get two big scoops of steamed rice, and finadene. If you ask nicely they’ll give you some donne.

The Curry Kebab’s has a wonderful tomato soup, an exquisite mushroom soup, and a mean Mulligatawny Soup. Kar Kar (formerly May’s) does a great won ton soup as well a savory hot and sour soup. King’s and Denny’s feature soups that run out before you can get there – beef shank and tinola. Great soups provide therapy – they are definitely soul-nourishing and sustaining!

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