Citizens, today I give you our first recipe from the proud, multi-cultural country of Suriname! Suriname may be the smallest country in South America, but it is without question one of the most diverse, if not THE most and its cuisine and history reflect many different cultures and histories.
Suriname, officially known as the Republic of Suriname (Dutch: Republiek Suriname), is a sovereign state on the northeastern Atlantic coast of South America. It is bordered by French Guiana to the east, Guyana to the west and Brazil to the south. At just under 165,000 square kilometers (64,000 square miles), it is the smallest country in South America and has a population of approximately 560,000 – most of whom live on the country’s north coast, in and around the capital and largest city, Paramaribo.
Long inhabited by numerous cultures of indigenous tribes, Suriname was explored and contested by European powers before coming under Dutch rule in the late 17th century. In 1954, the country became one of the constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. On November 25, 1975, the country of Suriname left the Kingdom of the Netherlands to become an independent state, nonetheless maintaining close economic, diplomatic, and cultural ties to its former colonizer. Its indigenous peoples have been increasingly active in claiming land rights and working to preserve their traditional lands and habitats.
Suriname is considered to be a culturally Caribbean country, and is a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). While Dutch is the official language of government, business, media, and education, Sranan, an English-based creole language, is a widely used lingua franca. Suriname is the only territory outside Europe where Dutch is spoken by a majority of the population. The people of Suriname are among the most diverse in the world, spanning a multitude of ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups.
Considered the national dish, Pom is a casserole of chicken, sometimes chicken sausage, citrus, spices and topped with a grated root vegetable topping – basically a Shepherd’s Pie. The history of this dish is fascinating, because it comes from the large Jewish population of Suriname (thus the use of chicken sausage, to keep it kosher)!
As noted on the excellent site blog.arousingappetites.com:
THE STORY OF POM
According to the research of Dutch food writer Karin Vaneker, nine out of ten of all the Surinamese people living in the Netherlands whom she interviewed named pom as their favorite national dish. It’s big.. and it’s contentious. There is much talk as to the exact lineage of the dish, which is now accepted as being a Jewish-Afro-Surinamese production.
The story of pom will tell you a lot about the history of Suriname itself from its Colonial era. The Dutch took over control of the country from the British in 1667 and stayed over 300 years until 1975. Plantations and cash crops were established that needed both managers and workers. The bosses and landowners all came from Europe – Germans, Swiss, Hungarians, French Huguenots and Jews – while the slave workers came from West Africa. For a point of reference, the laborers outnumbered their employers and other freemen of the country by around 7 to 1.
FROM THE JEWISH PLANTATIONS…
Of the elite communities, the Jews were one of the largest. After the Spanish Inquisition forced many wealthy Jews out of Spain and Portugal and into England and Holland, there was a second wave of migration to the Americas following the Dutch conquests. Based around the village of Jodensavanne, by 1730 they owned about a quarter of all of Suriname’s plantations as well as a large portion of its slave population.
The Jewish immigrants brought with them their culinary traditions, and it seems that the earliest form of pom was a typical meal baked for the Sabbath.
Taking one look at pom’s cooking methods gives you a good hint at its Jewish origins. One very well known technique of the Jewish kitchen is to clean chicken flesh and neutralize its smell with citrus juice, which we’ll see soon enough with pom.
Another clue is the use of ovens, a technique attributable uniquely to Jewish cuisines until only recently. Jewish cooks, however, baked dishes as far back as the Middle Ages, and their houses were some of the few to locally own ovens in Suriname at the turn of the 19th century.
…TO THE AFRO-SURINAMESE KITCHENS
While clues point towards pom’s Jewish origins, it’s clear that the dish fell under a more local influence once it reached South American soil. For starters, potatoes didn’t grow very easily in Suriname’s tropical soil, and it would have been prohibitively costly to import them in large quantities from Europe. Thus, an easier, more local ingredient was called for.
The kitchens of the Jewish plantation owners were staffed by Afro-Surinamese servants and cooks with extensive knowledge of locally-grown plants and vegetables. The root or corm of the indigenous pomtajer required special knowledge for proper preparation and was labor-intensive, so it was likely the Afro-Surinamese cooks in Jewish kitchens who brokered the replacement for the elusive potato with the grated flesh of the pomtajer.
Citizens, my recipe is relentlessly authentic though adjusted to TFD’s personal tastes, of course! I hope you find favor with the flavor of this delicious dish from Suriname!
Battle on – The Generalisssimo