Guyanese Faye Gomes’ Kaieteur Kitchen has been feeding a changing community for 16 years
On Monday evening as the shopping centre sits silent, down in the moat — Elephant and Castle’s mantle — things are just getting started. As the warble of Mighty Sparrow’s calypso sounds from the record stall, behind the closed doors of the cabin decked out in the green, red, and yellow isosceles triangles of the Guyana flag, Faye Gomes and her team are busy with the week’s prep.
Her assistant Sharon is doing the heavy work skilfully with a knife blade, the descaling of tranches of red bream which are thrown into a pot to soak in lemon juice. Eventually they will marinate overnight, fried on Tuesday, and only with the addition of green mango, okra, and potatoes will her fried fish curry be ready: either to wrapped in roti or soaked up with spinach rice.
This is Kaieteur Kitchen: one of London’s best street food trucks actually anchored to the street. Gomes is a veteran of Elephant and Castle’s dining scene, having bought the cabin in 2003 from the previous owner and has been preparing the sometimes misunderstood food of Guyana ever since.
“It’s the most delicious Caribbean food you can find,” she claims, not unjustifiably, in her native lilt, which stretches out vowels. “One, because we have more dishes than any other Caribbean country, but also because of the different people and because we are always creating something. Always.”
To understand the food of Guyana it is first necessary to understand the complex interactions of human beings and of colonialism that has left an indelible mark on the South American’s country’s food.
Africans brought over as slaves, Indians and Chinese brought over as indentured workers to plug the gap left after slavery’s abolition, Portuguese from its island colonies, the European settlers who established British Guiana, and the indigenous tribes that make up the Amerindians. All of these influences and histories can be tasted in Gomes’ food: in her roti and dal, in her rice and peas and fried fish, in her chow-mein, and in her slow-cooked pepper pot.