'This curry is so good I could rub my face in it,â?� quipped my dining partner after sopping up Timehri's chicken curry ($8) with shreds of soft, buttery dhal pouri ($1.70), an unleavened bread that's a staple of the West Indies. But one need not resort to such wolfish and rapacious behavior to relish the intense spicing of the dark sauce ' inhaling the curry alone will widen the eyes and flare the nostrils.
And that's true of most dishes served at this West Colonial gathering ground for the city's Guyanese community. If you've traveled along West Colonial Drive between Pine Hills and Apopka Vineland roads, then you've undoubtedly noticed the scores of Caribbean mom-and-pop eateries that line the potholed thoroughfare. Timehri, located in the Highland Lakes Plaza, is but one of many such restaurants and its owner, Lakeram Narain, has served his exotic meals to Guyanese expats for the better part of six years.
While Guyana is technically a part of South America, its culture and cuisine are more in line with its Anglophone Caribbean neighbors, namely Jamaica and Trinidad ' particularly the latter, given the significant Indian populations in both countries. But unlike Shakera's (a hole-in-the-wall Guyanese joint on the corner of Silver Star and Pine Hills roads), Timehri doesn't serve Trinidadian-style roti, which tempered my excitement somewhat. Instead of the curry being ladled into the roti then folded, everything is kept separate, as is customary with traditional East Indian fare.
The curry isn't thick and luxuriant like its counterpart from the Indian subcontinent, but it is heavy on allspice, nutmeg and that most important of spices, turmeric. Patrons can choose from goat, lamb, duck and chicken curries, though for a meal that's specifically Guyanese, the oxtail pepperpot ($9) is also worth sampling. The dish can be served as a stew or over rice; I chose the latter and opted for fried rice, which soaked up the juices of the stew quite nicely. The oxtail is slow-cooked with garlic, onions, herbs and a uniquely Guyanese ingredient ' cassareep. This molasses-like condiment is made from the juice of bitter cassava along with brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves, giving the bony oxtail rounds a smoky-sweet essence. The fried rice, it should be mentioned, is just one of the many items on their Chinese menu, which also includes lo mein, sweet-and-sour dishes, sesame chicken and the like. The menu is a reflection of how Guyana's Chinese community has shaped the country's food culture. The vegetable fried rice ($5), like the chicken lo mein ($6.60), was a jerked-up, peppery delight.
A plate of the bite-sized split-pea fritters known as phoulorie ($1) is a safe bet for diners new to the cuisine, and the accompanying chutney dip won't set mouths ablaze either. (Take note: The red squeeze bottle served with mains does not contain ketchup, but an incendiary scotch bonnet pepper sauce). Sweets are limited to various Indian snacky cakes and pastries ' the mithai ($2.50), hardened curls of flour flavored with coconut, are addictive little numbers, but pone ($2.50), a dense cake made of grated cassava, is better left untouched.
The dining room itself is slightly too warm and not much to look at, but the place is lively with lilting chatter, music and cricket on the telly. The owner, wait staff and patrons are a friendly bunch, and that feel-good vibe spills out into the parking, lot where a friendly chap sells enormous coconuts and mangoes out of his van. Gulping coconut water proved absolutely refreshing ' I couldn't have imagined a better way to the end the meal, even if it rubbed me in the face.