The Cuisine of Suriname

Ingredients, influences, and recipes of this South American country

Dhal Lentil Stew
Dhal Lentil Stew. M.Claassens/Flickr/CC 2.0

The country of Suriname on the northeastern coast of South America has a very rich and interesting cuisine and is quite different from the rest of the continent. This is due to the fact that Suriname is made up of people from many different cultures including India, Africa, Indonesia, China, and the Netherlands. In fact, 90 percent of those established in the country have ancestors from other countries and regions around the world. So it is only natural that the food of Suriname is a combination of many other countries' cuisines, and in turn is unique in its own right.

Suriname's Culinary History

Now considered a Caribbean country, Suriname was a Dutch colony until the 1970s, and the Dutch brought Indonesian and East Indian laborers to work on their plantations. These workers made their favorite dishes with locally available ingredients. Their cooking gradually blended with the native and European dishes, along with Chinese, African, Indonesian, Jewish, Portuguese, and Native American recipes. All of this together became modern Surinamese cuisine.

Suriname's Main Foods

Suriname is tropical and coastal, so exotic fruits (such as coconuts and plantains) and seafood (particularly shrimp) feature highly in the cuisine. Other basic ingredients include cassava (tuber-like root of the manioc plant), potatoes, sweet potatoes, lentils, plantains, and tayer (another tuber). Rice production makes up half of the country's agriculture, and sugar, beef, and chicken are also a large part of Suriname's food production, so naturally, these ingredients play a large part in typical Suriname recipes.

Salted meat and stockfish (called bakkeljauw), which is dried unsalted fish, are often part of Suriname cooking, along with vegetables such as eggplant, okra, and yardlong beans. When a bit of spice is called for in a recipe, Madame Janette peppers are commonly used.

Suriname's Typical Dishes 

From party dishes to everyday meals, Suriname's cuisine features several colorful recipes. The country's only true national dish is chicken and rice. Pom (locally called pomtajer) was introduced by the Portuguese Jewish plantation owners as a potato casserole, but since potatoes needed to be imported, this ingredient was replaced with the tayer root. It includes chicken and elephant ear and is often served at celebrations, along with roti, an Indonesian grilled flatbread, this is stuffed with chicken masala, potato, and vegetable. 

Moksi-alesi is a well-known dish made with rice, salted meat, shrimp or fish, and vegetables, as is the Javenese dish of mie goreng, a spicy fried noodle dish. Pastei, a Creole-style chicken pot pie, is also a common meal, as are vegetables with peanut sauce (gado-gado). Bakbana are fried plantains with peanut sauce, and goedangan is a mixed vegetable salad with coconut dressing. And speaking of coconuts, Suriname is known for their coconut desserts like the bojo cake which is made with coconut and cassava.