[UPDATE: CLOSED, keeping on page as only example of Suriname food]
When I heard of the closing of Warung Kario, the city's only Surinamese food, I was deeply saddened because not only was it unique, it was also extremely delicious. Luckily a new restaurant with owners from the same country stepped in to fill the gap. The friendly man running the show now tells me "it would be very sad if the country did not have a restaurant in the city." I could not agree more.
The previous owner was of Indonesian-Surinamese origin and her menu took that bent. The new incarnation seems more broad, taking in all the influences in the country and more general fare. The menu has definitely expanded, and it is worth asking what is good and ready on any particular visit, as we found many items on the menu were not ready, and many other specialties that were not listed could be ordered.
I arrived before the rest of my group, and the place was empty, so I decided to talk to the amazingly friendly woman running the shop. I told her we did not know much and wanted all her best recommendations for a well-rounded meal to sample the best they had to offer. She put together a perfect presentation of appetizers, a soup, and a combination of entrees that would end up stuffing us beyond capacity.
Our first item was the crispy fried fish cake ($2.75 each, above), which apparently is not the one on the menu. The center is soft, not too fishy, and comes served with an orange-yellow sauce that should be generously applied to this and other items if you do not run out.
The bakabana ($2, below, two portions shown) came next, banana fritters still soft, served with a peanut sauce. The combination really made me feel like a fancy, foreign Elvis. The fritters are just a bit on the greasy side, but the peanut sauce is so good I went for seconds.
Our third appetizer was the pasteitjes ($2 each, below), a chicken pastry with a dough thick and crispy like that of a pie. The combination of these three together with different tastes, alternating salty and sweet, made for a perfect first round. None of them were weak, and as we calmed our intense hunger, all of us shared approving glances around the table with each bite.
We completely changed gears with the soup round. Unfortunately the saoto was not cooked today, the soup I glowingly wrote about in the review of the previous restaurant. Instead we were served the Chinese tayer ($6, above, small portion), recommended again by her and not on the menu. You can certainly taste Chinese influences, but the broth is interestingly more creamy than anything you would find in China. It's a trick though, the Chinese influence is null. "Chinese tayer" is just a local translation of taro root. The dish is intensely but satisfyingly rich, and served with rice to battle that. The chicken falls off the bone just as tender as can be.
We had to jump up from the table when we saw her preparing a full plate entree for each of us during the next round. We were already at a certain level of comfort and knew it was too much, so as she was shoveling the third of four, we asked that only two full plates came out for us to share. What she did bring was a half portion of bamie, an Indonesian-influenced stir-fried noodle with roasted chicken, and a half portion of nasie goreng, their version of fried rice. The plates are $9 each, and come as a mountain. She asked me before whether everyone wanted pepper, and this was code for if we wanted it blazingly hot. I am glad I said yes.
No Surinamese meal is complete apparently without the inclusion of pom ($3 per portion, below), a dish usually cooked for festive occasions. According to Wikipedia "Without pom there is no birthday" is a popular Surinamese expression. At any rate, it is incredibly unique and much unlike anything I have tasted before. The root of the plant locally called tayer is baked with citrus juices and chicken (hidden underneath the mash). The crispy top and soft chewy interior create a wonderful texture for the country's unofficial national dish.
The menu is rounded out by a full complement of desserts if you are still hungry. They also have $2.50 beers and plenty of juices to wash it all down.