Finding solace and connection with my CHAmoru heritage
As a white woman with green eyes, I don’t wear my CHAmoru heritage from Guam in a way most people see immediately. When I grew up in California, learning about my culture through my mother and her family was a way for me to connect more deeply with this part of my genealogy. A key – and very tasty – part of that education was preparing and eating CHAmoru food.
Like most CHAmorus (also stylized Chamorros), my maternal grandparents loved communicating with family and friends around food, even after moving to the Americas. the course of history, such as chicken adobo, pancit, and lumpia. But others are only CHAmoru: rice drizzled with fina’denne ‘(a chili sauce made from soy sauce) and chicken kelaguen, also known as kelaguen månnok, a recipe my grandmother learned from his own grandmother and passed on to my mother and me. .
On a recent visit home, my mom made a surprise batch of this special dish to celebrate my husband’s birthday. My mouth started salivating as soon as I saw the shredded chicken mound. Taking my first bite, I lingered for a moment to let the cascade of flavors register: a swell of tangy citrus fruits quickly tempered by coconut milk, punctuated by spicy red pepper zest and green onion. The fresh white meat was refreshing and aromatic, waking my palate with a shake, then happily confusing it to the point that I wanted to go for another bite, and another.
A beloved dish with mixed origins
Guam has a rich indigenous culture that continues to thrive despite centuries of foreign occupation, first by Spain, which used Guam as a key stopover on its Mexico-Manila trade route, then the United States and, briefly, Japan. After WWII, Guam became American territory and since then the island has hosted various immigrant communities including Asians (from the Philippines, Korea, China and Japan), Micronesians and White Americans. from the continent. Each of these cultures introduced their own customs to the island; over time, the CHAmorus have incorporated many of these influences into Guamanian cuisine. The resulting culinary landscape is both hyperlocal and a reflection of the world as a whole.
Kelaguen is considered a CHAmoru-only dish, but it is believed to originate from the Philippines, where vinegar or acidic fruit juices are used to “cook” both raw and cooked meats, seafood and the vegetables. In Paleric, a chronicle of Guam history, Pale Eric Forbes speculates that Latin American settlers may have been involved in making the dish, but the historian acknowledges that “like lemons and limes did not grow in our islands before the arrival of the Spaniards, it is more than likely that the basic recipe for kelaguen came from Filipino settlers from the Mariana Islands. “
Judith Selk Flores, PhD suggests that the earliest versions of the dish were probably made with fish and banana blossom (fafalu), but that the application of this method to beef, venison, and chicken coincided with the arrival of the Spaniards, who introduced new animals to the island in the 17e century. Forbes notes that the striking similarity between the word CHAmoru kelaguen and the Filipino kilawin may be an indicator that CHAmorus borrowed the term to describe their own unique approach to the dish. (The letters G and U combine to make the W ring in CHAmoru, as in guiya, guennao, pugua ‘.) However, there is little written evidence of the dish before the 1950s, so it’s hard to know for sure. .
CHAmoru Kelaguen at home
Kelaguen is a local Guam specialty that is served year round, in part because it is so versatile in its preparation. “No other dish represents CHAmoru cuisine like kelaguen månnok”, write Gerard and Mary Aflague in their book, CHAmoru cuisine: a cultural heritage of the Mariånas. While subtle variations of the traditional recipe abound, most start with four key ingredients: finely grated or chopped protein (in this case, chicken), citrus juice or powder, onions, and red peppers. fresh and spicy. Unsweetened grated coconut is almost always added to kelaguen made with chicken and fish, while red onions can be used in red meat versions.
Some people, including my mom, love the convenience and flavor of a store-bought roast chicken, or prefer to use only dark or light meat. For others, the flavor of the fire is key: “A barbecue is pretty crucial for Kelaguen Chicken,” says Shawn Camacho, general manager and co-owner of Prubechu, a CHAmoru restaurant in San Francisco. “The smoke and char are such an important part of this dish’s flavor profile.” As for the other ingredients, Camacho says “the magic is in the ratios”. Whichever route you choose, finely shredding the chicken by hand or cutting it into very small pieces is essential as this allows the flavorful marinade to completely infuse the meat.
Fresh lemon or calamansi juice often creates the acidic profile of the dish, although in Guam Yours brand lemon powder is a popular substitute. My mom and Camacho’s business partner Chef Shawn Naputi only use green onions in their kelaguen, but some cooks like to add white or yellow onions as well. Others like to replace the fresh chili peppers with dinanche (CHAmoru red chili paste) or add diced peppers for more color and crunch. Achieving the right level of spice is important; on the island, finely chopped ‘messy’ and ‘ti’au peppers – small red varieties that are’ extra hot ‘and’ regularly hot ‘respectively – pack the right punch. In the United States, red bird peppers are a more widely available option. Coconut is traditionally grated fresh, although frozen pulp is a reliable substitute. Even dried, unsweetened coconut works well, as long as you add extra moisture to the dish with a little extra marinade.
The character of the kelaguen changes over time, settling in on its own after a day; patience will reveal a nuanced flavor profile. From my own experience, I recommend that beginners prepare the dish according to a traditional recipe and then subtly adjust the proportions to suit their personal preferences.
Naputi and Camacho can’t talk about kelaguen without sharing their own childhood memories of the dish “My grandpa and the men would grill the chicken and then they would bring it and all my aunts would sit together and chat while cutting the chicken together, “Camacho says of the community experience.” My grandmother was the one who took all the ingredients, mixed them up and added the seasoning. “
Like most things in Guam, making kelaguen is still so often a family affair.