Friday, April 29, 2011


We're so accustomed to thinking "Spain, Spain, Spain" that we don't realize the huge impact Mexico had on the Marianas.  For the first 150 years, Spain went to the Marianas by way of Mexico; specifically, the Acapulco-Manila galleon route.  Sanvitores, who established the first permanent Spanish presence in the Marianas, came by way of Mexico and brought with him Mexican lay missionaries and soldiers. 

The Mexicans who settled in the Marianas from 1668 on were themselves the products of racial mixture between the indigenous people of Mexico and Spanish settlers.  This mix can be seen in today's Mexican people, some of whom resemble more the indigenous peoples, and some of whom resemble more the European settlers. 

The soldiers of Mexico who were sent to Guam brought with them their Mexican culture.  But they didn't bring, for the most part, Mexican wives.  So they married Chamorro women.  God only knows how many of us have Aztec blood in us, as well as some Spanish, because many Mexicans settled on Guam.  At times, the only Spanish people on Guam were the four or five priests and the Governor.  Every other foreigner was either from Latin America or Asia.

This huge Mexican influence is seen primarily in Chamorro cooking.  This sets us apart from the Philippines, which does not seem to have as much Mexican influence in the kitchen there.  Take for example :

Chamorro Titiyas
Top : Titiyas Mai'es (Corn)
Bottom: Titiyas Arina (Flour)
Mexican Tortillas
Top : Flour
Bottom : Corn
"Titiyas" is the Chamorro pronunciation of "tortilla."  Chamorro titiyas is thicker than the Mexican variety.  Our titiyas arina also adds sugar and coconut milk.  Before World War II, Chamorros ate more titiyas than they did rice.  Corn was grown abundantly on Guam; at least two crops a year. 

In Spain, a tortilla is a round egg and potato omelette.
Spanish Tortilla

Tamåles Gisu : Chamorro!
Mexican Tamales
Tamales is so Mexican, even the word comes from Mexico and not Spain.  The original word (tamalli) is from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs.  Chamorro and Mexican tamales are very similar.  Both are made with corn meal.  The Chamorro version wraps it in banana leaf, rather than corn husks, and it adds bacon and achote to half the tamales.  Chamorros also make a sweet tamale with tapioca (tamåles mendioka).


Chamorro Chalakilis
Mexican Chilaquiles

Chamorros got the word "chalakilis" from Mexican "chilaquiles" (another word from Nahuatl, not Spanish), but that's as far as the resemblance goes.  Mexican chilaquiles is made up of fried corn tortilla quarters, topped with salsa, or mole, eggs, chicken, cheese or sour cream, in a variety of styles.  Chamorro chalakilis is made with toasted rice, achote and chicken.

Chamorro rice porridge
From the Mexican (Nahuatl) atole

Elote is a Mexican (Nahuatl) term for
"corn on the cob"

From the Nahuatl achiotl.  A plant bearing seeds used for their red pigment.

From the Mexican (Nahuatl) word camote (sweet potato)

From the Mexican dish champurrado, which is atole with chocolate

Is the Chamorro form of the Mexican cacahuate, or peanut

Yes, you guessed it, it's from a Nahuatl word :  chocolatl

The Chamorro word for kite is from a Nahuatl word

The original word, tomatl, is from Nahuatl

From saka-tl, a Nahuatl word for weeds.

Is a Mexican turnip.  Grown in the Marianas.

The flat metal dish used to press titiyas.  It comes from the Nahuatl word comalli, with the same meaning.

A grinding stone.  Also from the Nahuatl language of Mexico.

Metåte from the Marianas
Chamorros learned to grow, cook and eat corn
and use the metåte
from the many Mexican soldiers who settled on Guam


  1. I knew that at one point there was a presence of Mexicans on Guåhan, but I never knew they had such a significant impact on the culture. The food of a culture is just as important as its language and its traditions or customs - this is quite something.

  2. This is nice to see online. Living in Mexico City for almost two years now. I wish more Chamorros would come to Mexico and see just how much of our Chamorro culture finds its origins in Mexico. Coincidentally, I spoke at a conference at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México(National Autonomous University of Mexico)about the influence of Mexican food on world cuisine. I was invited by the main speaker to give a short PowerPoint presentation about the Mexican influences on Chamorro food. I showed examples of TITIYAS, CHALAKILIS, TAMALES AND GUYURIA. I was very well received and entertained many questions from the audience members.

  3. Also...I wish Chamorros would not use aluminum foil when making tamales. Use corn husks or banana leaves. My Mexican friends practically fainted when I showed them a photo of Guam tamales wrapped and cooked in aluminum foil. I remember when I was a kid, you never saw foil wrapped tamales at the fiestas. Always in banana leaves. The banana leaves allow the steam to escape so that the tamales dont end up super moist. Also they add to the flavor and look more appetizing and authentic.

  4. By the way, hikama comes from the Nahuatl xicama(tl). :)

  5. The Spanish/Spanish, Spanish/Mexican, Spanish/Filipino and Mexican/Filipino cultures are very strong in both the Philippines and Mariana Islands hence the Spanish Galleon Treasure route. However, most people are in denial of the latter, Spanish/Filipino and Mexican/Filipino in their lineage and culture. Although the Mariana Islands, Guam primarily, was a refueling point, Guam was by-passed by the Spanish Galleons unless weather conditions prevented the galleon from proceeding, or that there was a booked passage by a passenger(s) required a dis-embarking on the islands since Umatac was made a Spanish colony early on. Cooking methods, recipes, animals, language and traditions brought on by these people entered into the lifestyles of a changing island and it's natives. Where the ancient Chamoru's had no word for a certain "new-world" word, the Jesuits substituted a Spanish language version. The Spanish/Mexican/Filipino cultures are so strong on the island that we often forget or yet don't look past the deep island culture or "tribal" Chamorus.