Wednesday, November 16, 2016


If you want an example of our changing Chamorro culture that you can sink your teeth into, one of them is tinaktak.

For the traditionalist, tinaktak is a dish made of beef, coconut milk, green beans, cherry tomatoes, onions, garlic, salt and pepper. That's the bottom line, though some add a little this or that, like eggplant or lemon juice.

None of those "bottom line" things except the coconut milk and salt would have been available to our ancestors who lived before the Spaniards came. Even the Chamorro words we have for the remaining ingredients are taken from the Spanish : kåtnen guaka, friholes, tomåtes, seboyas, åhos and pimienta.

But, safe to say, tinaktak has been around for a long time and part of our culinary culture for a couple hundred years or more.

The theory is that the name of this dish comes from the sound made when the beef was pounded on by a knife. Tak tak tak!

But there is a word taktak, and another form of it, talaktak, which means the sound of a bang or clap, as when something falls to the floor. That would correspond to the sound of a knife hitting a piece of beef lying on a cutting board or table.

So, tak tak tak went the cook until the meat was broken down into crumbly bits, like the ground beef you buy to make burgers or meat loaf.

Since our people didn't slaughter cattle a whole lot but rather for special occasions, tinaktak would not be a frequent meal served on a weekly basis.


Nowadays, you can have tinaktak without the taktak.

There are cooks who do not pound the beef but slice it instead. Everything else in the recipe remains the same, but you bite into beef strips instead of ground beef.

Some people also use ground chicken or ground turkey. Salmon. Tofu. Octopus. Fake beef (vegan). I can't wait to see what else they will make tinaktak with.

Tofu Tinaktak
with Sriracha sauce by the way

You don't even need to eat tinaktak with rice anymore. You can now have a Tinaktak Burger.

People will be experimenting with new and creative ways to make tinaktak.

So, with all these changes, can you call anything tinaktak? How much change is needed so that it's no longer tinaktak? How does tinaktak remain tinaktak?

I suppose most people would agree that as long as the protein source is (1) ground or at least in small, bit-sized pieces, and (2) it is cooked in coconut milk, it qualifies as some version of tinaktak.

Even with the Tinaktak Burger, the meat is cooked in coconut milk but the liquid is cooked down till nearly gone.


  1. I was brought up knowing that tinaktak was grilled fresh chicken soaked in binaklen tuba fina'denne. I would love your input in this.

    1. Not sure about that. Sounds more like kelaguen to me. But, different people come up with different names for things!