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Posts Tagged ‘Suriname’

14 years ago, I spent some time in Suriname, a little-known South American country.  It is flanked by Guyana and French Guiana and its official language is Dutch, making it a country like no other on the predominantly Latin continent.  The food there was a wonderful blend of Indian, Indonesian and Creole dishes.

A staple is cassava, a woody shrub of which the tuberous roots are used as a form of starch.  Tapioca comes from this root.  The cassava is used in Suriname as you might a potato, boiled in soups, sliced and fried as chips, in cakes.

One of the most unusual uses of cassava is to make an alcoholic drink called Casiri.  Apparently the cassava is chewed and then spat into a container, where the enzymes in the saliva start a fermentation process.  Now, cassava is poisonous unless properly prepared as it can liberate cyanide, so I don’t know if the root is cooked before being chewed.  I never got to see the process, but I did see the finished product, a thick, dark yellow, shall i say, vomit-like concoction.  I didn’t have my camera with me, but you get the idea.  This was served at a celebration of some sort that I attended in town, and when I was offered some, of course I had to try it.

A fancy drink it's not!

I figured, the scientific side of me kicking in, that the enzyme amylase in the saliva would break down the starches and the fermentation would pretty well kill any lingering germs, so it was safe.  I steeled myself and had a quaff.  The Casiri was thick, sour, and heavy in alcohol.  I couldn’t finish it.   I’m not really selling this, am I?

When I got “home,” my host family dad said incredulously, “do you know how they make that?” and when I said yes, he couldn’t believe I’d tried it anyway.  He never had, and had no intention of ever doing so.  Well, how often in life was I going to have the opportunity to taste a drink made with saliva?

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