Story by Amanda Pampuro. Photos by Jessica Peterson at Ypao Mart in Tamuning.
In some ways, the mom ‘n pop store and Guam have a lot in common: on the outside, you might see a weather-beaten building with a strange name, but once you go in, you will find no shortage of surprises. Every village has one, most have many. On the counter next to the register you will find sweet, salty, and spicy never-fail favorites.
IN A PICKLE
Like the olde candy shop, the counter of the mom ‘n pop shop is lined with bright orange and green jars. Instead of sweets, however, these unmistakable crocks are swimming with pickles. Besides the usual pickled cucumber, you will find eggs, papaya, mango, daigo, and other rotating seasonal experiments.
If you have yet to dare, the pickled egg is less crazy than it sounds. Slightly rubbery in texture, it has a strong and distinct eggy taste, but gets better as your taste buds adjust. Say hello to Hello Mart in Chalan Pago to get pickled eggs for 75 cents each, and eight pickles for a dollar. The usual brine has a vinegar and boonie pepper base. Since the spiciness varies from store to store, each taste is a bit of an adventure.
BAKED (SO) GOOD
The little baggies of Chamorro Chip cookies they hand out on the plane are just the tip of an icing-covered iceberg. Look for munchkin-sized lamai donuts made with breadfruit and covered in powdered sugar, banana-based buñelos aga, and yam-based buñelos dågu. One of the most popular fried dough balls is the classic Typhoon Donut, a minimalist recipe of baking soda, coconut milk and flour that can be scrapped together after a storm.
Beside these sweet, cakey munchies, look for the crunchy sugar covered cookies in Chode’s down on 9th Street in Hagåtña. Rosettes are the delicate-looking flowers covered in cinnamon sugar, and like the swirl-shaped rosketti, they are made with a cornstarch base. Being very dry, rosketti are made to melt in your mouth. Guyria, the hard knuckle-shaped cookie, is sometimes packaged to be given as a souvenir, but like any dessert it also makes a fine gift for yourself.
DON’T CALL IT A ‘HAND PIE’
A favorite leftover from the Spanish era, the Chamorro empanada is quite distinct from what you will find in Mexican or Cuban cuisine. With achiote powder in the crust and in the filling, you will know it at once by its bright orange color. The shredded chicken and red rice filling has a bit of a kick from more boonie peppers and is fried to a crisp in its tortilla-like shell. Try to get empanadas before 8 a.m. when they are still hot. And good luck finding empanadas in the afternoon—Tenorio Home Industry only delivers them once daily and runs out fast.
SANDWICH OF THE RISING SUN
The mom ‘n pop shop usually has simple tuna and egg salad sandwiches like you might make for yourself at home, but in the next basket over there lies the musubi. A Japanese snack food, musubi is as quick to eat as a rice sandwich, which it kind of is. Typically, you will find Spam or tuna salad on top of this seasoned rice cube, wrapped in a crispy nori leaf. There may also be fast food sushi in a roll or cut in slices, filled with Spam or tuna salad, daigo, cucumber, rice, and egg. For a full Japanese Bento, visit Tokyo Mart by GPO in Tamuning, which also serve hot plates twice daily. This oishi carry-over food is a picture worth putting on a postcard.
LAST, BUT NOT LEAST
Endemic to the Mariana Islands, kelaguen is a must-have. Though it can be made with deer, steak, crab, and shrimp in the mom ‘n pop, you will most likely find the timeless lemon-marinated chicken kelaguen, wrapped in a flour tortilla.
Try something different every time you visit the mom ‘n pop shop, and there will be no missing it. Whenever someone gives you directions, they will use the store—whichever is nearest—as a landmark. You will either “go past the store,” or “turn at the store,” and “if you get to the other store, you’ve gone too far.” Since you are already there, you might as well stop and get a bite to eat.