What exactly is a pepper pot? It’s the last savory national food holiday of the calendar, for one (unless you count champagne as savory…), and the recipe for the pepper pot varies by different regions. The broad definition of a pepper pot is just a winter stew of meat (usually beef but can also be pork or mutton), winter root vegetables, and savory spices, like cinnamon and, of course, pepper. A warm winter stew is always great for the end of the year, and with the weather we’ve been having, I might make some pepper pot myself!
There are two popular variations of pepper pot, that developed independently from one another, but both are eaten during the winter months (especially around Christmas). In Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War, Continental soldiers ran low on food during the 1777-1778 winter in Valley Forge. Their saving-grace meal became a stew of tripe, root vegetables, and any other edible items they could find, and it was called the pepper pot. There’s no real recipe for a Philadelphia pepper pot, as it grew out of extreme necessity, and not many people cook it during the holidays anymore (considering that we can get far better meats than tripe in the grocery store nowadays!)
But another form of pepper pot developed not out of food desperation, but celebration: the Guyanese pepperpot is a dish that is similar to the Philadephia pepper pot only in the sense that they’re both winter stews, lol. Filled with beef, pork, or mutton, the stew is seasoned with spicy peppers and pungent spices like cinnamon, and thickened with Cassareep, a sauce made from the cassava root. It’s a thick, meaty, hearty kind of stew that is eaten with dense Guyanese bread, and it’s the perfect meal to stick to your ribs. Because the pepperpot needs to stew for several hours, it has traditionally been served in Guyana as a special occasion dish, especially for Christmas. And you can get Guyanese pepperpot anywhere you can find Guyanese cuisine–which makes it perfect for a New York City winter meal!
And fortunately for New Yorkers, we’ve got almost every culinary culture represented somewhere in the boroughs for everyone to enjoy. In the Flatbush section of Brooklyn–which Brooklynites in the know prefer to call the Junction–you can find all the Caribbean food you could ever want to taste, from Jamaican jerk to Trinidiadian pelau. And at Sybil’s Bakery & Restaurant, you can try out some fantastic Guyanese cuisine. An outpost of the Queens original, Sybil’s is a family-owned restaurant selling authentic Guyanese dishes straight from their mother’s recipe book. The most interesting thing about Guyanese food is that there are many recognizable dishes from other cuisines that have their own twist, thanks to Guyanese immigration and diversity: spicy chicken lo mein may look like the stuff you’ll find at the corner Chinese restaurant, but the taste is unique to the South American nation. But you shouldn’t leave Sybil’s without trying their pepper pot, which is thickened with molasses to add some sweetness and depth to the stew at the same time. Try out the Christmas traditions of a different culinary culture–and you may never go back to over-dried ham again!
Sybil’s Bakery & Restaurant
2210 Church Ave (between Bedford Ave & Flatbush Ave), Flatbush
“On the menu, the restaurant offers seemingly far-flung foods, but Sybil’s most popular dishes actually reflect the many who called Guyana home at one time. “Guyanese are a diverse people,” Bernard says. “When they settled over there, everyone brought their specialties, and it becomes Guyanese food.” Diners can taste a little bit of India in the spicy curry goat and roti. Chicken lo mein is just like the Chinese original, with thin, springy noodles and sautéed veggies. Pepperpot, a meat stew seasoned with molasses, cassava juices and cinnamon sticks, comes from the country’s native Amerindians. Chicken and beef patties, filled with carrots and peas and enclosed in a flaky crust, evoke British meat pies. Everything at Sybil’s is made from scratch and with local ingredients. Their fresh take on Guyanese staples is what keeps customers coming back for more.”–New York Daily News
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The Guyanese patties are absolutely a must and all of their hot food is good. We tend to get the lo mein, pepperpot, oxtail, spinach rice, spinach, pumpkin, channa and in the pastries we pick up the salara (bread with a red swirl of coconut inside), pone and of course the Guyanese patties.”–PatMal J.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!