As a Caribbean girl I am always amazed by how little we know about our neighbours, and how little they know about us in turn. Surprisingly overarching stereotypes and negative assumptions continue to exist in an age where increased travel and interaction should have broadened understanding. This is bad enough when we share a common language, but when we don’t, the divide becomes even wider.
Earlier this year I met a man at a networking function who conducts business in Suriname. His descriptions of the country and the vast cultural differences intrigued me. Naturally, my curiosity leaned towards wanting to learn something more about their cuisine. Looking on a map one can’t fully appreciate how far apart our worlds are, but with little shared ties, and no common language we may as well be oceans away from each other.
I turned to Twitter  and Facebook  for help in my culinary search, and as expected little to none was forthcoming. However, Andrew Zimmern  was oddly enough tweeting pictures of Suriname. Some of them really took my breath away.  Eventually one person, a travel agent, asked me if I knew bami goreng. She was sure that I would enjoy it if no one had mentioned it before. Well no one had. I turned to the Internet again.
As a former colony of The Netherlands, the majority of Suriname-centric sites are in Dutch. What little I could pick out came purely from my 4 year flirtation with German many moons ago. Fortunately I was also able to find some English language references and from them I learnt that bami goreng is of Indonesian origin, but found its way to Surinam as a result of Dutch colonization. On the surface it appeared identical to the lo meins I have grown up loving however, this similarity is mostly cosmetic. Lighter, fresher and considerably sweeter, as a result of a mysterious sauce called kecap manis, bami goreng ends up completely different(by the way, did you know that the word ketchup came into the English language from this same, originally Cantonese, word? I did not until I made this dish!). Several visits to various Asian specialty stores failed to turn up this much-loved kecap manis so I was forced to use some substitution recipes that I found via this excellent post by Lydia of Perfect Pantry. 
Ultimately, making a dish that one has never tasted before, especially one with cultural significance, is always a bit unnerving. You are never sure when you’ve hit the right note, or when you’ve veered off course. I read as many recipes as I could to try and find common threads. Some were bright crimson, dripping in sauce, others were not. I took this to maybe represent regional differences or author preferences. In the end I amalgamated the best I could and ploughed ahead. The end result was one I quite enjoyed. The bright tang of the fresh culantro melded well with the sweetness of the sauce, and the fresh, still somewhat crunchy vegetables created a light yet filling and healthy feeling. 🙂
Update: 16th November 2012
I enjoy this recipe so much I chose to make it for my first appearance on “Learning To Cook Caribbean with Larry Fournillier” . View the replay below! 🙂
Update: February 15, 2013
Gotta love the power of G+. One of my friends there, a Dutchman by the name of David De Beer , gave me the following tips and advice which should help me, as well as you, in putting this dish together!
“where you use cilantro in the recipe, celery leaves are more original. cilantro is nice, but not used in Indonesian cuisine (though they are fond of ground coriander seeds), celery leaves are.
Where you speak of chili paste, you might as well use Cayenne peppers. They are the same family as the original Lombok peppers, and are about as strong, with some difference in taste and smell though.
The Surinam version often is made with mashed yellow Madame Jeanette (or adjuma, a degree more fiery) which is a lot hotter, and gives a recognizable twist to the taste. You might want to try .
On the kecap, since bami goreng is of Chinese-Indonesian origin, there mostly is a kecap asin (salty) used instead of kecap manis. As sweet, as syrupy, but with a salty taste added. It is very different from the more liquid Chinese soy-sauces though, you can’t substitute.
The Surinam version however (as far as I tasted) uses the manis kind only.
The success of my Bami Goreng ‘experiment’ made me even more curious to find dishes that were more distinctively Surinamese in origin/evolution. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until I asked a Dutch friend (based in the Netherlands) that a flood of suggestions finally came. A huge fan of Surinamese cuisine he gave me name after name and was able to pepper everything with political history  and mentions of their diverse cosmopolitan population  (so similar, yet different to Trinidad). I have 3 marked to try in the coming weeks and can’t wait to share them with you 🙂 Stay tuned!
1 lb. chinese egg noodles
2 cups onions
1 cup bean sprouts
1 cup sliced bok choy
2 eggs beaten
1 tablespoon pepper
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1/ 2 cup water
1/2 inch piece gingerroot
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon chili paste
1 carrot sliced thin
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup chopped cilantro/culatnro/chadon beni
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon lime juice
10 tablespoons kecap manis (try this substitute recipe)
3 tablespoons oil
1. Prepare noodles according to directions.
2. Heat pan, add oil
3. Stir-fry onions, ginger and garlic for 2-3 minutes
4. Add chili paste and stir fry for an additional minute
5. Add vegetables (minus bean sprouts) and stir-fry 3-4 minutes Push to the side and add eggs, scramble.
6. Add noodles, kecap manis and ketchup. Stir-fry 3-4
6. Add stock and red pepper flakes and bean sprouts
7. Take off heat
8. Toss with lime juice
9. Garnish with cilantro and peanuts
This post was originally published May 8, 2011. It has been updated once since then.