Guåhån food means so much to us, and when we talk about “CHamoru” food in particular, some have a tendency to get serious about “that’s not CHamoru.” CHamoru food has changed from ancient times through when the Spaniards claimed Guåhån, and even within the last 50 years.
What you remember eating as a kid on Guåhån in 1971 is somewhat different from what a child is eating in 2021. For instance, I’ve always had corn soup with chicken. And when there was only a tiny piece of chicken in my styrofoam cup at a rosary, I was like, “Where’s the chicken?”
Since I started posting videos on YouTube in 2008, I’ve learned that the CHamoru foods of my younger years were different from the CHamoru foods of decades prior. I was unnerved, upset, and at the same time, intrigued.
As a CHamoru food connoisseur at the glorious age of 7 on Guåhån, why did I never see sweet tamåles mendioka wrapped in banana leaves? Champulådo used to be a drink made with corn instead of the thick rice pudding I’ve always known? There is a different kind of red rice? And the corn soup I’ve been eating for 40 odd years used to never have chicken?
A Spanish naturalist visiting Guåhån in 1792 wrote that he was served “atele,” a concoction of flour and starch. In 1899, an American naturalist adds that he had a chocolate drink thickened with flour or arrowroot. In the “Recipes of Guam” cookbook published in 1954, there is a recipe for “Atule” in which ground corn is used to make a thick mixture. The book also has a recipe for “Atulen Ilotes” which includes fresh corn kernels in the final dish.
The cookbook, “Lepblon Fina’tinas Para Guam,” published in 1974, contains two similar recipes: “Kadon Elotes (Stewed Corn)” incorporates not only raw corn and coconut milk, but also pork fat, salt, and pepper; “Guamanian Corn Chowder” uses frozen corn, creamed corn, canned cream of chicken or celery, coconut milk, salt, and pepper.
We see how a simple corn drink transformed into the modern-day corn soup most of us are familiar with. What would you say (to yourself, of course) if your auntie told you, “Neni, get some corn soup on the stove,” and there was no chicken?
In the “Chamorro-English Dictionary,” atuli is defined as a broth or mush made of ground corn that is boiled and seasoned with coconut milk. Atele, atuli, and atule stem from the Aztec Nahuatl word, atole, or a traditional hot corn and masa drink. The chocolate version of this beverage is chocolate atole or champurrado.
The marvel of our food and our language, in times when Guåhån was isolated, is that dishes and words introduced to us were woven into the existing culture. You see this in the spelling of atuli versus atole, and in the use of coconut milk.
I’ve got two recipes for you. The first is my adaptation of the atuli drink; if you love coconut milk as much as I do, you will delight in this rendition. If you like it chunky, the second recipe is atulen ilotes, or a thick corn soup made without chicken.
If you can get your hands on homemade måsa, fresh ears of sweet corn from Mr. Ernest Sablan Wusstig on Guåhån, and freshly squeezed coconut milk, both recipes will taste … I can’t even. If you’re stateside, it’s nearing corn season so be sure to make good use of the harvest. The heaven-in-your-mouth experience hinges on the goodness of your corn.
Many Latin American grocers carry freshly prepared måsa harina if grinding corn isn’t your thing; be sure to get the one made only with corn, and perhaps a touch of salt. As a last resort, try the commercially sold måsa harina flour in your local grocery store.
I am hoping to be home mid-July to mid-August. If you happen to see me around the island, don’t be afraid to stop and say hello!
Atuli corn måsa drink
- 3 cups water
- ½ cup coarse to finely ground fresh måsa (This is lime-treated boiled corn that is ground. If using store-bought måsa from the shelf, start with 1/3 cup).
- 1 cup canned coconut milk (Fresh coconut milk would be more mouthwatering and will be thinner.)
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
Tools: medium pot, whisk
Pour 3 cups water into a pot. Add måsa, whisk, then reduce to a gentle boil. Use the whisk to break up any large pieces that may swell together; this happens if you use a doughy type of måsa. Cook until mixture has thickened.
Once mixture is thick, add coconut milk and salt. Stir and taste, adding more salt if needed.
Continue to whisk and cook until the drink is at the consistency you like.
Pour into mugs to serve. Sip cautiously as this will be hotter than you expect.
Atulen ilotes corn soup
Makes about 12 cups of corn soup
- 10 medium ears of fresh sweet corn with husk (makes 7 to 8 cups of kernels)
- 1 cup water
- 1 ½ tablespoons salt
- 10 to 12 cups water
- Set 3
- 1 cup fresh måsa
- 1 can + 1 cup thick coconut milk
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, optional
Tools: large bowl, tiny bowl, knife, large pot, colander, medium bowl, whisk, rubber spatula
Cut about a half inch off the hairy end of the corn. Peel the husk off, leaving some hairs, and leaving the stem attached to the cob. Repeat for all cobs.
Place the tiny bowl upside down in the large bowl. Hold one cob by the stem and place the other end of the cob on top of the tiny bowl. Use a knife to cut the kernels away from the cob, cutting as close to the cob as possible. Use the back of the knife to scrape the cob. Add the scrapings to the bowl. Repeat for all cobs. Cut the stem off the cobs then set the cobs aside.
Pour 10 cups of water into the large pot and bring to a boil.
In the meantime, remove the tiny bowl from the pile of corn kernels. Add the salt and 1 cup of water. Squeeze the mixture with both hands to make corn milk. Squeeze about 5 to 10 minutes. You should see a decent amount of milk. Place the medium bowl in the colander and strain. Set aside.
Once the water comes to a boil, add the måsa to the pot, using a whisk to incorporate. Bring to a simmer then simmer for 5 minutes. If you don’t add the måsa, the soup will be quite thin.
Add the cobs and the corn kernels. Gently boil for 10 minutes. At this point, don’t overboil the soup as cooking corn too long will reduce the sweetness of the corn.
Add the corn milk and the coconut milk. Simmer for 5 minutes to heat through. If the atulen ilotes is too thick or too sweet for your liking, add the remaining cups of water, 1 cup at a time.
Taste and add more salt if needed. And black pepper if you like. Remove the cobs if desired.
Here’s a link to my video on how to make homemade måsa harina: www.youtube.com/watch?v=831wORrmx8s&t=66s
Here’s a link to the printable recipe for atuli corn måsa drink: www.paulaq.com/chamorro-atuli-corn-drink.html
Here’s a link to the printable recipe for atulen ilotes corn soup: www.paulaq.com/guam-atulen-ilotes-soup.html
Paula Lujan Quinene, author of “A Taste of Guam,” “Remember Guam,” “Conquered,” and “Stormed” is enjoying CHamoru food in a fasting lifestyle. You can reach her at [email protected] You can also find her recipes at www.PaulaQ.com and connect with her as “Guam Mama Cooks” on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok.