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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Guyana

Historic Diet

Guyana is covered with forests and plants, including many edible plants that have been used in the diet of the people for centuries. The earliest settlers used these plants as the base of their diet, but they also used many of the local animals to supplement these plants, especially sea food as most people settled along the coast.

The plants found in Guyana are fairly diverse, but lack some of the staples found in many other South American countries. Among the most common of these plants are many more associated with the Caribbean than with South America, including cassava (yuca), edoes, guava, and mango.

Due to the dense forests of Guyana most early settlers, and even settlers today, stayed along the coast so the most significant animals used in the historic diet were fish and other seafood, as mammals, birds, and other animals were consumed, but on a much smaller scale. Among the most popular sea animals for food were catfish, gilbaka, hassa, and some crustaceans like crabs.

Culinary Influences

The first great change in the diet of the people of Guyana came with the foods from the Americas that arrived to the region. These foods came from other parts of South America as well as from Central America via winds, animals, and people. In fact many of the foods from Central America likely came with the first settlers in the region. This spread of foods included tomatoes, peppers, corn (maize), potatoes, peanuts, melons, squash, papayas, chocolate, vanilla, avocado, and others.

These new foods supplemented the existing foods in the region and over time they formed the base of the people's diet. These early settlers used both these plants as well as native animals to form the bulk of their diet and from this point into the 1400s, little changed in the diet other than in food combinations and cooking techniques as the people truly lived off the land as hunters, gathers, fishers, and later as farmers.

The next great change to the diet in the region came with the arrival of the Europeans in the late 1400s and their later settlement of the region. Instead of adopting the local cuisine, many of these Europeans sought to maintain their diet from their home countries, which led to the introduction of European dishes, cooking techniques, and ingredients. However, as many of the ingredients in Europe were not readily available in South America at the time, many local substitutes were found.

Among these European dishes and foods that were brought to Guyana, most came from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, although the later importation of slaves from Africa gave the region a significant African flavor. The country also gained a distinct Caribbean influence (although not sitting directly on the Caribbean), as the British controlled much of the Caribbean as well as Guyana so foods and people were often exchanged between the two regions.

After slavery was outlawed the British encouraged workers from India to settle the lands and today there is a large Indian minority, who maintains a diet much more similar to that of India than to the rest of South America or the Caribbean. The Indonesians, Chinese, and other groups who have immigrated to the region have also substantially altered the diet or added to it in the form of new foods and cooking styles.

Due to the immigration of various people and the small indigenous population, the diet in Guyana today reflects that of India, the Caribbean, and other foreign lands more than it reflects the historic diet, although there are significant exceptions, like that of the national dish, pepperpot. There are definite influences and staples from the region that remain popular, but the foods in Guyana are vastly different from that of much of South America and this is primarily due to their history and large immigration numbers in the past.

Although the dishes imported to Guyana by the immigrants are important, what may be even more important is that these people also brought with them foods from their homelands in order to prepare these dishes. While hundreds of plants and animals were introduced to the region by these foreigners, a few of the most important were wheat, rice, pigs, chicken, and cattle. Others were also introduced and are now common, although they differ in terms of popularity and in terms of who eats them. For example the ethnic Indian population grows and heavily consumes many spices such as black pepper, cumin, turmeric, and cinnamon, while other ethnic groups rarely use these spices. Among the many foods introduced to the region from outside the Americas are onions, cilantro, garlic, lemons, limes, broccoli, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, olives, grapes, bananas, apples, and oranges among others.

In the late 1800s, and continuing to today, the food in Guyana has changed in a number of ways, but most importantly in terms of production, transportation, and availability. Due to advances in technology, better transportation and storage techniques have allowed for the importation (and exportation) of foreign foods and better preservation methods have increased the shelf life of foods as the people of Guyana now have access to foods that are not in season. Despite the technological changes, the people have not truly altered what they eat so much as they have changed how they eat as fast food and street side vendors are now common in many neighborhoods.

In recent years new foods have and styles of eating have taken hold. Take out is growing in popularity as Indian Foods, fried chicken, and Chinese Foods seem to be the foods of choice for these quick service locales.

When & Where to Eat

Most people in Guyana begin the day with breakfast, but this can be as simple as a cup of coffee; some people have a larger breakfast and eat breads, cheeses, cereals, or yogurt, among other foods. In the morning many people also take a coffee or tea break before lunch; lunch is usually about noon to 1:30 pm. This meal varies greatly in what is eaten and can include sandwiches, curry, soups, salads, as well as any number of other foods. The afternoon is again broken up with another coffee or tea break, especially if working. After the work day many people eat dinner at home, although going out to a restaurant is growing in popularity. Dinner is generally served sometime between 5:30 and 7:00 pm and tends to be the largest meal of the day in Guyana. This meal usually consists of a meat, vegetables or beans, and a starch, most commonly potatoes, rice, or cassava. However, for the ethnic Indian population the food tends to lean more towards vegetarian foods and chicken as curries, beans, lentils, and other common Indian foods are common in Guyana.

Staple Foods

Beans: usually served as a side or mixed with rice
Cassava: a common food found in dishes or used as a side dish or snack
Rice: often served as a side or mixed with beans
Sweet Potatoes: the most common type of potato found in Guyana and used extensively

Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes

Curry: because of the large Indian population curries of all kinds are common including those with meat, seafood, or vegetarian
Metamgee: corn dumplings, yams, cassava, and plantains served in coconut milk
Pepperpot: the national dish is a meat stew seasoned with cinnamon, cassava, and hot peppers

Dining Etiquette

If you're lucky enough to be invited to a local's home in Guyana, be sure to bring a gift like wine, chocolates, or a cake. Dress nicely if you're meeting locals in their home or are meeting business acquaintances. If you are simply eating at a restaurant with friends the dress is a bit more casual, but should still be nice clothing.

When meeting locals for a meal be sure to arrive about 15 minutes late, although for business meals you may want to get there on time or just a few minutes late. As you begin socializing avoid sensitive subjects like religion, politics, money, and even business; if you are meeting local business associates let them be the first to bring up the subject of business.

When you are directed to the table, let your host seat you as they may have a place for you, then stand beside your chair until everyone else sits. In a restaurant you may be seated at the same table as other people; politely ignore them, although some people may engage you in conversation if they realize you're foreign.

Dinner may begin with a drink and a toast. The meal itself should begin as the drink, on your host's indication. Before eating or drinking, place your napkin in your lap, keep your hands on the table by resting your wrists on the table, and never place your elbows on the table. Eating is done in the continental style, meaning the knife should remain in your right hand and the fork in your left; get used to this style as everything but bread and sandwiches are eaten with utensils, including fruits among others. The bread should be placed on your plate or on the table itself as bread plates are rare. You should try everything offered to you and if you enjoy something compliment the host and you will probably be offered more; if you are offered additional food, initially turn it down then accept it after your host insists.

When you're done eating place your fork and knife together with the tines down, handles pointing to the right, and facing to about the 10:00 position. Once everyone is done eating you may be offered dessert or a drink, like coffee, as the conversation will likely continue.

If you're eating at a restaurant, the host, or you if with other foreigners, should call the server over by making eye contact; if you need the bill you must specifically ask for it. The host is expected to pay for everyone present, but guests should offer to assist, something that will likely be turned down. If you're the host, check the bill for a service charge, which is often included in the amount of 10%; if there is a service charge there is no need to leave an additional tip. If there is no service charge a tip is not expected, but appreciated so tip at your discretion.

Celebrations & Events

For celebrations and special events the most common dish in Guyana is pepperpot. This, the national dish, takes hours to cook so is rarely prepared other than for certain events and holidays. It is most common on Christmas tables, but can also be found for other celebrations and events.


Although all popular international beverages can be found in Guyana, including tea, coffee, and soft drinks, local juices are among the most popular. It seems everyone squeezes their own juice as "lime water" (like lemonade, but made with limes) is one of the more common juices. Another popular local drink is mauby, which is made from the bark of a local tree then sweetened, boiled, and strained.

Guyana offers nearly every popular alcoholic beverage from wines and beers to hard liquors of all sorts. However, most of these are imported as the country isn't well known for producing alcoholic beverages. For a local taste, "Demerara" is perhaps the most popular rum and "Banks" is the most popular beer.

The tap water is generally not safe to drink in Guyana, although in very limited areas it might be. The most cautious course of action is to entirely avoid the tap water and items that could be made from or with the water, such as ice, fruits, and salads. If you do decide to drink the local tap water first check with your hotel or guesthouse to learn the cleanliness of the water in that area. If the water is safe, remember that many people may have trouble adjusting to the local tap water as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to if you are not from the region.

This page was last updated: April, 2013