The Cuisine of Suriname

Ingredients, Influences, and Recipes

Fried Plantain with Spicy Peanut Sauce - Surinamese Bakabana
Bakabana - a popular Suriname dish.

The Spruce / Marian Blazes

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 those from 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. 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. African populations were brought against their will to Suriname to work as enslaved people under inhumane conditions. When the Dutch freed over 33,000 enslaved people in 1863, however, many Indonesian and East Indian people were brought to Suriname as indentured workers—another form of enslavement in which a person works without pay for a set amount of time, and once the indenture (forced contract) expires the worker is finally free. These indentured workers made their favorite dishes with locally available ingredients: their cooking gradually blended with European dishes, along with Chinese, African, Indonesian, Jewish, Portuguese, and Indigenous recipes. All of this together became modern Surinamese cuisine.

Suriname's Main Foods

Suriname is tropical and coastal, so fruits (such as coconuts and plantains) and seafood (particularly shrimp) feature highly in the cuisine. Other basic ingredients include cassava (the 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. 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 Portuguese-Jewish enslaved people and landowners as a potato casserole, but since potatoes needed to be imported, this ingredient was replaced with the tayer root. The tayer root comes from the native plant Xanthosoma sagittifolium, also called arrowleaf elephant ear. The pom dish includes chicken and shredded tayer root. It is often served at celebrations, along with roti, an Indonesian grilled flatbread, this is stuffed with chicken masala, potato, and vegetable. Pom has also become popular in the Netherlands.

Pastei, a Creole-style chicken pot pie, is also a common meal that was brought to Suriname by Jewish settlers.

Moksi-alesi (which means mixed rice) is a well-known dish made with rice, salted meat, shrimp or fish, and vegetables. The Javenese dish of mie goreng, a spicy fried noodle dish, is popular in Suriname.

Peanuts figure in vegetables with peanut sauce (gado-gado) comes to Suriname from Indonesia and bakbana, which are fried plantains with peanut sauce.

Coconuts are found in goedangan, a mixed vegetable salad with coconut dressing. As well, Suriname is known for coconut desserts like the bojo cake which is made with coconut and cassava.