At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Friday, May 22, 2009


A friend on the Surinam mailinglist forwarded a fascinating link to an article in the Jewish Daily Forward, charmingly entitled: 'Shake a Family Tree And a Jew Falls Out'.


"There's no question that the Jews, now numbering fewer than 200, once had an outsized impact on the country. The beautifully preserved Neve Shalom synagogue sits in the town center, next to the largest mosque in the Caribbean. Afro-Creole women wear Stars of David. Traditional Surinamese Jewish dishes - like pom, a kind of cassava root mashed with chicken, once eaten by plantation owners on Passover - have since become a national treat. Even Hebrew has found its way into Sranan Tongo, the local language, by way of former slaves. The word treefu - from treyf - still refers to taboo foods and behaviors."

The dish mentioned can indeed be made with cassava root, but taro root is much more common. The name 'pom' is a dialect variant of the 'pone' in cornpone'. A bready substance, or a bread substitute, more or less. In its current incarnation, pom is more of a Creole dish than in any way recognizably Jewish. Here's a recipe.

[Chicken stew in a taro crust - Surinamese shepherd's pie]

One chicken, two and a half to three pounds.
Half pound salt pork or substitute (good chicken sausage works well).
Two and a half pounds to three pounds unpeeled taya (taro root).
Six to eight Roma tomatoes, peeled and chopped.
Two onions, chopped.
Two stalks celery, chopped.
Two bouillon cubes (use 2 - 4 TBS soy sauce instead.)
Salt, Pepper, nutmeg (or mace).
Juice of one orange and two lemons.
Two or three cloves of garlic, minced.
One tablespoon sugar.
Half a cup oil.

Cut the chicken into chunks, rub with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Soak the salt pork, if using, to remove excess salt.
Brown the chicken chunks and the salt pork (or whatever you are using as substitute), remove to a plate. The meat should not be fully cooked at this point, just nicely coloured.
Fry the onions, to which add the tomatoes, garlic, and celery halfway through.
Cook till nice (at this point, I would a hefty splash of sherry and a jigger of hot sauce - not authentically Surinamese, but I do this with many dishes - it just tastes better to me).
Add the chicken and pork, water to cover, and the bouillon cubes or soy sauce, as well as a fragrant chili pepper (whole).
When done, drain the cooking liquid into a bowl and reserve it, as you will need some of it for the taya. The meat, of course, is also kept.
Taste the liquid - it should be somewhat stronger in flavour than you really like, and a little saltier. This is because it needs to flavour the taya too.

Peel and rinse the taya, then rasp or grate it - a cuisinart is handy. Because of the calcium oxalate in taya, you may wish to use kitchen gloves.
Mix the taya with some of the cooking liquid from the meat and the orange and lemon juices to a thick gluggy paste, adding the sugar.
Scoop half of the taya sludge into a well-greased deep Pyrex baking dish in a thick layer, put the chicken mixture on top, cover with the remaining taya and smooth it down.
Pour the remaining cooking liquids on top, and bake for two hours in a hot oven (one hour at 425 - 450 Fahrenheit, one hour at 350 Fahrenheit).
By adding the remaining liquids to the top, you will end up with a very nicely dark brown surface after cooking. Don't worry about the darkness, worry rather if it lacks that darkness after having been baked.
It is done when a golden-brown juice extrudes when you prick it with a knife.
Keep enough of the cooking liquid from preparing the chicken that you can serve the pom with rice, adding a splash to wetten the serving.
Pom is also a good filling for hot crusty rolls (broodje pom).

Note 1.
If the taya causes a skin itch while preparing, use some lemon juice to counteract that characteristic.
Do not taste the taya sludge before it is cooked! Taya can not be eaten raw!

Note 2.
Some people mix the taya with a goodly quantity of mustard before cooking; the mustard changes flavour considerably, and even standard yellow mustard can be used.
Green banana, cut into pieces, can also be mixed into the taya before baking.

Note 3.
Surinamers use bouillon cubes as a flavouring in many dishes, but soy sauce and strong stock work just as well, without the monosodium glutamate and industrial fake-chicken flavour. Salt pork is also often used. Both are cultural markers of the cuisine, and there are better things to use.

The one thing for which no substitute is possible is the jar of sambal made from Madame Jeanette peppers, which are a fragrant local relative of Habanero and Scotch Bonnet. Just mash the fresh chilies with a pinch salt, a squeeze lime juice, and a dash of water, then thoroughly wash whatever utensils you used to make the sambal. A teaspoon of this one your plate will make it a memorable meal.
You may also want to put a selection of zesty pickles on the table, and several bottles of djindja biri (ginger beer).

For other recipes, see Cooking With a Lizard, where most of the recipes from At the Back of the Hill, are cross-posted without much backstory or extraneous material.
And note that feedback and comments are always welcome.

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  • At 11:42 AM, Blogger GRANT!PATEL! said…

    Looks good. Flaky fall apartness of the taro, right? Leaves also edible, arvi patra.

    Needs care handling as it ithifies the hands.

    In both cases, you will need a stronger masala. Only thing pikvant here is the garlic and pepper.

    ---Grant Patel

  • At 12:53 PM, Anonymous Cue the Vikings! said…


  • At 8:23 PM, Blogger Telmac said…


  • At 1:36 PM, Blogger Fuzz Bert Fan Club said…

    Pom! Yay! Yay!

    Alfie and Athy

  • At 9:59 AM, Blogger jonofrear said…

    This is fantastic! I've been looking a long time for this recipe after coming back from Suriname!

    Mi taki danki en mi lobi de pom en de Sranan kondri! Thank you!


  • At 11:45 AM, Blogger The back of the hill said…


    1) Tomato can be added to the stewing chicken meat, and some people mash picalilly into the grated root prior to using. Both are within the tradition, neither is ill-advised.

    2) Cover the pom with a sheet of tinfoil during the first hour if you don't want it too dark.

    You can also reduce the amount of taya considerably, the key is that the chicken filling is enclosed.

    Some people serve this with rice, and a dish of kousban (cooked yard-long beans) on the side.

    July 5, 2013.


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