People in Guam really know how to party.
“We have many fiestas throughout the year in Guam,” said Lisa Aganon, who co-owns Hafa Adai Fiesta Food with her husband, Tony. “We celebrate with a fiesta on both national and religious holidays.”
That includes Easter, as Guam is predominantly Catholic, and for that holiday Guamanians will set their tables with several salads, entrees and desserts.
The Aganons moved here in 2000, but they brought their indigenous Guamanian dishes, called Chamorro, to Colorado Springs in 2018 when they opened their eatery, much to the delight of the many military folks who have been stationed, or at least had stopovers, on the tiny island east of the Philippines. Those of us new to the cuisine have the opportunity to discover its vibrant flavors.
Chamorro food is a fusion of Spanish and Asian, which happened over the course of 500 years. The signature dish that best exemplifies this is finadene, a simple soy sauce infused with green onions and hot peppers.
“We put finadene on everything,” Aganon said. “It adds a salty-spicy kick to meats, especially Tony’s smoked pork ribs and the barbecue chicken.”
Another classic dish you’ll see on a Chamorro table is red rice.
“We call it red rice, but actually it’s orangey colored,” she said, “because it’s colored from annatto seeds.”
Some influences have been picked up from Filipinos, such as lumpia — egg rolls stuffed with cabbage, carrots and ground beef. Aganon will be making a vegetarian version of lumpia for Lent.
There are rules to follow when setting the table for a fiesta at home.
“Once the food is prepared, it is placed on the fiesta table in a specific order,” she said. “First the plates, cutlery and napkins are put on the table. The most important dish is placed directly after — red rice.”
Then the other starches are lined up: tityas (flatbread made of corn or flour), lemmai (breadfruit), and gollai appan aga (bananas with coconut milk). Next are the meats: chicken, beef and pork, in that order. This is followed by finadene and kelaguen, dishes of fermented chopped meats with lemon juice, salt, grated coconut and red peppers.
Salads are placed toward the end of the table.
“It’s like an American picnic,” she said of the salads. “We have a variety, including potato, cucumber, kimchee and coleslaw.”
Desserts are last on the table and might include favorites such as latiya (sponge cake topped with vanilla custard) or ahu (sweet coconut porridge).
At Hafa Adai Fiesta Food, tables are not set up like this, but you’ll find many of the same foods on a steam table. The menu varies daily, depending on what Tony and daughter Pam want to prepare. He cooks too but runs the front of the house. On weekends, when Lisa is off from her day job, she is on hand to prepare specials, such as fried fish.
The restaurant is pretty much no-frills, with food served on paper-lined plates with plastic cutlery. And it’s off the street, down the sidewalk between Josh & John’s and a jewelry store, at 109 E. Pikes Peak Ave. The Aganons will greet you warmly, making you feel right at home, and you can scan the photos and books there that tell the history of the Guamanian heritage.