What’s Cooking in…Saipan

By Sandra Scott
This item appears on page 58 of the May 2012 issue.
Sweet Shrimp Kelaguen as served at the Hyatt Regency in Saipan.

Saipan is part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a territory of the United States. The native islanders are called Chamorros, but over the years their culture has been infused with aspects of Spanish, Japanese and American cultures.

When John and I visited in May 2011, we stayed at the Hyatt Regency (P.O. Box 5087, Capital Hill Rural Branch, Saipan, Mariana Islands, Micronesia; phone +1 670 234 1234), where we paid a media rate of $100 per night. The usual rate at that time of year is $210.

Just a short walk away was the American Memorial Park & Museum, which details the Marianas Campaign of World War II.

On the walk back to the hotel from the museum, we stopped for lunch at a small café and had the local favorite food: kelaguen. I opted for the chicken kelaguen, but one of the choices included an interesting American addition to their culinary culture: Spam.

Micronesians seem to love Spam, which was imported by the US Army during World War II. Unlike other meats, Spam wasn’t rationed and required no refrigeration; consequently, it made its way into the diets of the local people.

Many WWII soldiers who survived on Spam three times a day for months on end returned to the US vowing never to eat it again, but it is so popular in Saipan that McDonald’s offers Spam with eggs and rice for breakfast.

Chef Zenn making flat bread.

One day, John and I took a 10-minute flight to the nearby island of Tinian, where we rented a car and toured the island. Tinian is home to North Field, which was the world’s biggest and busiest airport in 1945. It is from Tinian that planes departed with the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan.

Today North Field is a deserted, weed-choked area with glass coverings over where the bombs were stored plus some Japanese bunkers and a few memorials. We stopped at a small restaurant near the airport for lunch — beef kelaguen for $7.

Back at the Hyatt Regency, we had a dinner which started with a Saipan Sweet Shrimp Kelaguen appetizer for $11. It was served with delicious coconut flat bread.

They invited us to watch Chef Zenn make coconut flat bread at one of the buffet’s show stations. (To make coconut flat bread, substitute coconut milk for regular milk in any simple flat bread recipe.)

They also offered to share their kelaguen recipe. We never tried the Spam kelaguen, but the beef, chicken and, especially, shrimp kelaguen at the Hyatt were excellent.

Saipan Sweet Shrimp Kelaguen

1½ tbsp fresh coconut, grated

2 tsp scallions, chopped fine

3 red chilies, finely diced

½ lb fresh whole shrimps, peeled, deveined and blanched (can substitute Spam, beef or chicken)

Juice of 5 medium lemons

Salt to taste

In a mixing bowl, marinate the shrimp with lemon juice and salt. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Add half of the coconut, scallions and chili to the marinated shrimp, and toss. Refrigerate another 30 minutes. Place in serving bowl. Garnish with remaining coconut, scallions and chili. Serve with coconut flat bread.