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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Suriname

Historic Diet

Suriname 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 fish and other sea animals found in the nearby Atlantic Ocean.

The plants found in Suriname include cassava (yuca), edoes, guava, and mango. These foods were important in the diets of the historic people as they grew easily in the region and were readily available. The lands also provided fruits and vegetables, but most of the foods available in the country today came with these early settlers or arrived later.

Due to the dense forests in Suriname's interior most people remained close to the coast so their diets were in part tied to the seas and the animals found in the ocean. Among the most popular sea animals for food were catfish, gilbaka, hassa, and some crustaceans like crabs. Some mammals and birds were also consumed by the region's earliest settlers, but not in significant numbers.

Culinary Influences

The first great change in the diet of the people of Suriname 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. Many of the foods from Central America and South America likely made their way to the region with the help of settlers and travelers, coming from all directions. 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 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. During this time the people truly lived off the land as hunters, gathers, fishers, and later as farmers.

The next great change to the diet came with the arrival of the Europeans in the late 1400s and their settlement in the 1600s and later. Instead of adopting the local cuisine, many of these Europeans sought to maintain their diet from Europe, 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 Suriname, 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 great Caribbean influence (although not sitting directly on the Caribbean), as the British controlled much of the Caribbean as well as Suriname 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 Suriname today reflects that of India, the Caribbean, and other foreign lands more than it reflects the historic diet. There are definite influences and staples from the region that remain popular, but the foods in Suriname 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.

While the dishes imported to Suriname 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. Although 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 foods. 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 Suriname 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 Suriname 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.

When & Where to Eat

Most people in Suriname begin the day with breakfast, but this can be as simple as a cup of coffee or more filling as breads, cheeses, cereals, and yogurt are all common breakfast foods. In the morning many people also take a coffee break, then lunch usually takes place at about noon to about 1:30 pm. Lunch varies greatly in what is eaten and can include sandwiches, soups, salads, Indian foods, and any number of other foods. The afternoon is again broken up by many people with tea, especially if working. After the work day many people eat dinner at home sometime between 5:30 and 7:00 pm; dinner tends to be the largest meal of the day in Suriname. 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 curries, masalas, and other Indian foods are more common.

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
Roti: a thin Indian bread that is not leavened; similar to naan
Sweet Potatoes: the most common type of potato found in Guyana and used extensively

Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes

Moksi-alesi: meat or seafood mixed with rice and vegetables

Dining Etiquette

If you're lucky enough to be invited to a local's home in Suriname, 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 and 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 above 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 be quickly 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, look for a service charge on the bill, which is generally included in the amount of 10-15%; no additional tip is required or expected. If no service charge is included a tip is not expected, but you may tip at your discretion.


Suriname has all the world's most popular non-alcoholic drinks, such as tea, coffee, soft drinks, and juices. These also tend to be the favorite drinks in the country as tea and coffee are commonly drunk throughout the day and juices are common, especially with breakfast. Perhaps the most authentic local drink is mauby, which is made from the bark of a local tree then sweetened, boiled, and strained.

Suriname isn't known for producing great alcoholic beverages so much of what is available is imported, including internationally popular beers, liquors, and wines, most particularly South American wines. However, there are local drinks, including the local rums: "Borgoe" and "Black Cat." The most popular local beer is "Parbo-beer."

Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in Suriname, but check with locals for any particular regional differences. Also, many people may have troubles adjusting to the local tap water as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to.

This page was last updated: April, 2013