“Without the pom, there are no birthdays.” It is a famous saying in Suriname. This shows the importance of this dish that 9 out of 10 Surinamese consider as their favorite dish.
Well, even if it was good, I must say that this dish still did not take over my #1, Tunisian pkaila which is by far my favorite dish… and everyone knows my objectivity when it comes to Tunisian cuisine…
Pom is a festive meal in part because of the amount of meat that is used, but also the time needed to prepare it.
Suriname was a Dutch colony for 300 years until its independence in 1975. Throughout this period, the country, which is one of the smallest countries in South America (less than 500,000 residents), became a melting pot of ethnicities and religions, including Ameridians, Africans, Asians, Europeans but also Jews and Hindus.
The history of Jews in this country is very interesting. A large population of Portuguese Jews arrived, via Holland and Brazil in the mid-17th century, fleeing the Inquisition in their country. The Dutch government gave them a region not far from the capital Paramaribo where they lived until the late 19th century, when they migrated to the capital after many slave revolts they used to employ. Up until a century ago, the number of Jews in Suriname was disproportionate but it is now less than 200. This population has clearly left a mark on the country’s traditions, including at the culinary level. We are definitely everywhere !
Pom, this dish that has now become the national dish of the country, is indeed a dish of Jewish origin. Indeed, Surinamese Jews used to cook this dish for Passover (Pesach).
When I started reading about the history and origin of this dish, I thought to myself that I absolutely needed to try it. The problem is that the main ingredient is the root of a tropical plant called pomtajer (in Dutch / Surinamese), new cocoyam or Xanthosoma elsewhere.
Where would I be able to find this highly unusual ingredient in Los Angeles? After some research, I came across an online forum which indicated that it was possible to find it at a local traditional grocery store. Before going to dinner with the family last week, I made a stop at this grocery store in the heart of the older Orthodox Jewish neighborhood about twenty minutes from home… and, what was my surprise when I stumbled upon this root, sold at the produce section.
This root has many names depending on its origin. In some South American countries, it is called malanga and it was under this name that it was sold at Ralphs here at the corner of 3rd and La Brea (for those who live in Los Angeles and are interested).
Thrilled with my discovery, I went on to cook pom the next day for Shabbat dinner (normal for a dish of Jewish origin). I followed a Creole version of the dish with chicken sausage (substitute for salt pork).
In the end, I liked the dish but not enough to elevate it to one of my favorite dishes. However, my wife and my son loved it. I think I put too much tomato compared to the basic version and I am not a fan of cooked tomato. I tasted it the next day and it was better as it had firmed up. I am glad I tried this dish once… but one time was already a charm !
Recipe of Pom
- 1 whole chicken, about 2 to 3 lbs
1 lb of salt pork or chicken sausage
2 to 3 lb pomtajer (or taro root)
8 tomatoes, peeled and chopped or a can of diced tomatoes (1 lb)
2 onions, chopped
3 celery stalks, diced
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 tablespoon nutmeg
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 2 lemons
3 garlic cloves, pressed
1 red hot pepper, whole
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Cut the chicken into pieces. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
In a pan with a little oil, fry the chicken pieces and chicken sausage (sliced) for a few minutes. Set aside.
In the same pan, sauté the onions for 7-8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, garlic and celery.
Add the chicken and chicken sausages and cover with water. Add the bouillon cubes and the red chili pepper (optional).
Cook covered over medium low heat for 25-30 minutes. Drain the cooking liquid into a bowl and keep it aside.
Peel and rinse the pomtajer. Grate the pomtajer by hand or with a food processor.
Mix it with some of the cooking liquid from the meat as well as the orange and lemon juices to make a sticky dough. Add sugar.
Spread half of the pomtajer mixture in a well greased baking dish. Spread chicken mixture on top and then cover with the rest of pomtajer. Most pom recipes ask for the chicken to be kept with the bones. I personally removed the bones and cut it into smaller chunks.
Pour the remaining juices over the top and bake for two hours: one hour covered at 425 F and one hour uncovered at 350 F.
Pom should be done when the top is brown and a golden brown juice comes out when poked with a knife.