Photo by Victor Consaga


Dinner rolls are the most common type of bread found on fiesta tables.



Bread in many forms can easily be picked up at any store and brought to your fiesta table. This ease of obtaining bread is only a recent development, however, and has much to do with the changes in Guam society and economy. In earlier times bread, in the usual form that we know it today, was rare and hard to come by on Guam, and the making of it was often times an activity which could involve the entire family.

The first bread to come to Guam arrived with ships that were passing through during the 16th and 17th centuries. These ships came from European nations who were exploring or traveling across the Pacific. They carried sailors who lived in cramped quarters for weeks or months at a time and for whom food selection was very limited. Hardtack biscuits, which were hard pieces of baked bread which could last for years if kept dry, were a staple on these trips.

While those working on the ships tended to find them without taste and disgusting (after consuming them for so long on voyages), they were surprised to find that CHamorus were intrigued by these biscuits and actually wanted to trade for them. These biscuits along with other trinkets, pieces of metal, and rosaries were examples of items which CHamorus traded with visiting ships for water, rice and fruits.

When the Spanish eventually settled on Guam and established a mission there in order to Christianize the population they were bewildered to find that their greatest tool in the early days of attempting to convert CHamorus was actually biscuits. According to Father Diego Luis de San Vitores, the first leader of the Catholic mission in the Marianas, when writing a letter to this superiors in 1668:

And for the love of God let any amount of biscuit be sent us the way they are provided for the ships. They make the children rise early to come to the class of sacred doctrine and they encourage both the small and the big boys to stay all day learning with notable ease in school, which is the church, and they help us to wage war against the Devil in this land, better than ten Spanish infantry companies.

Eventually most CHamorus rejected these biscuits and the attempts to Christianize them, which in turn led to almost 30 years of fighting between the Spanish soldiers and missionaries and against CHamorus who resisted the Spanish forcing them to give up their culture and religion. When these battles ended at the close of the 17th century, it started a long slow process of culture and technology from around the Spanish empire being introduced to Guam.


One of the items which CHamorus incorporated into their culture and life was the Spanish horno, or oven, hotno in CHamoru. Prior to Spanish colonization CHamorus had numerous ways of cooking. But their ovens were known as chåhan. These were deep-pit ground ovens. A  large pit was dug and a fire started surrounded by lava stones. After the fire died, but stones were still hot, leaf-wrapped food would be placed in the pit and then buried with leaves for several hours. Later the pit was dug up, food removed, unwrapped and served.

As stated, the Spanish hotno, or as it is commonly known  hotnon sanhiyong (outside oven) or hotnon åntes (oven from before). It is often called a “beehive oven” for the imposing shape it takes when completed. The interior of the oven was made from clay bricks, known as ladriyu, because these bricks would capture and hold the heat better than other materials. The exterior was made from lime cement (åfok) plastered together with sand and water.

This oven would be placed in the kusinan sanhiyong, outside kitchen, near other areas meant for cooking and preparing food in the back of a house. Due to the heavy amount of labor required to build one of these ovens, they weren’t found in every home, but rather a clan or collection of related families would share one. Because of this, making bread became a communal activity which would bring together young and old in preparing the bread and preparing the oven. In preparation for a large party such as a wedding, people could be working around the hotno all day.


Women and young children were responsible for mixing and then kneading the dough. Men would cut the wood, such as tangantångan [Leucaena leucocephala (Fabaceae)] then pile it into the hotno and start the fire.  Hotno fires were built of collected, dried coconut fronds (bayak) which created very hot fires. Those skilled at in this fashion could tell if the oven was the right temperature by holding their hands inside the oven. Once the right temperature had been reached, the debris and ash was cleaned out with sticks or brooms and then swept with banana leaves, leaving only the heat in the clay bricks inside.

The bread was then placed inside, and the front hole plugged up with wood. There was a small hole in the back of the oven which would let the smoke escape to keep the bread from burning, but also allow people to check on the color of the bread and know when it was finished.

While wheat flour, the type used to make most European-style bread, was very limited on Guam, it was brought in sporadically on supply ships from the Philippines. When it wasn’t available CHamorus resorted to using other crops such as fadang (cycad; Cycas Circinalis) or mai’es (corn) to make flour. In 1802, an American William Haswell visited Guam and in addition to writing about the political climate and culture of CHamorus, commented on their bread as well. He noted that the diet of CHamorus was:

…Shellfish and plantains, cocoa nuts and a kind of Sweet Potato which they dry and make floure [sic] of, which makes good bread…

One captain of a French ship which visited Guam in 1772, noted that the breadfruit on Guam was actually better than the bread in Europe. Lieutenant Julien Crozet, the captain of the ship, noted that Hagåtña was full of avenues lined with beautiful breadfruit trees, the fruit of which he and his crew quickly fell in love with. Writing about this wonderful fruit he said that it:

tastes exactly like bread, and has the same nutritive properties, supplies it in every respect, and has a fragrant and delicious odor, which our cleverest bakers will never be able to impart to our bread.

During the Spanish period, commerce on Guam was very limited and  the making of bread was generally done to fulfill family obligations and celebrations. But when the American period started with the taking of Guam in 1898, it also slowly ushered in a period of economic development on Guam. The rhetoric of this period was one of economic progress with the US Navy that was administering the island pushing CHamorus to farm commercially, open businesses and finally create commodities for export.

During the pre-war American period, baking became one of those ways in which CHamoru families would seek to use their culinary skills to make a little bit of extra money. Sometimes, a family would bake extra bread and then send small children around the village to  sell it. These children would march from door to door with baskets full of different breads, sometimes singing songs about what they were offering and how much each would cost. The best places to sell were often around government offices or schools.

Families with a hotnon sanhiyong who had good reputations for baking were often hired to provide bread for large parties or gatherings. These families could also bake bread to be sold in the growing number of businesses and stores that were being opened on Guam during this period. Some of these families continued to use the hotnon sanhiyong, despite the fact that modern means of baking and cooking were becoming more available on Guam. The reason for this was that they felt that the flavors and taste of the bread cooking in the traditional way was lost when you resorted to electric or metal ovens. Other families, such as that of Jose Estaquio or “Cinda’s,” found ways to modernize their cooking process. On the advice of his brother-in-law, a navy cook who was stationed on Guam, Estaquio started a business in 1923 called “Our Home Bakery,” which featured a massive beehive oven, with cast iron doors which could hold 225 loaves of bread at a time. In order to knead and prepare the dough for his business, Jose used a 200-pound gas-powered mixer.

After World War II, the hotnon sanhiyong became one of many relics for the lifestyle of CHamorus during the furious period of modernization in the postwar years, which drastically changed Guam’s economy and diet. The practice of families making their own bread became scarce as bakeries opened which mass produced pastries and breads. Some families, such as the family of Joaquin and Maria Ada, continued to maintain a hotnon sanhiyong, through which they would cook for large gatherings and special occasions, and were supported by work regularly catering for the Office of the Governor of Guam during the late 1960s and 1970s. When the Adas passed away, their children and grandchildren continued to use the outside oven at the house, until in 1995 when an earthquake damaged it, leading them to demolish it two years later.

While there are people who are still skilled at making home-made dinner rolls, it has become more common to have store-bought dinner rolls on fiesta tables,  possibly because of convenience and availability. A number of different bakeries can be found on Guam today, some of which have been providing Guam with fresh bread for decades. These bakeries continue to make the baked forms which over the past four centuries Guam has slowly incorporated into its diet, this including but not limited to pan tosta, pan royu, kek CHamoru, Spanish rolls, pan de sol and pan de leche.

Placement on table

Dinner rolls are placed at the head of the table behind the red rice in the åggon section.

By Michael Lujan Bevacqua, PhD



  • 6 eggs beaten
  • ½ cup butter
  • 5 cups milk
  • 2 packages yeast (comes in 3 – 6 altogether)
  • Dash of sugar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 5 pounds of flour

In small bowl, mix yeast and one cup warm water with dash of sugar. Set aside for 5 mins to rise.

Melt butter then add milk and sugar and stir until dissolved. Pour in 5 pounds of flour and beaten eggs. With the yeast mix well and knead. If too sticky, add ¼ cup oil around dough and continue to knead. Do not add flour.

Let it rise for an hour. Knead and let rise for another hour (two hours total). Pinch off pieces, roll into small balls and place in greased baking pan.

Use about four rectangular pans and two- round cake pans. (This can be used for cinnamon rolls too). Allow to rise for about 45 minutes or until dough has doubled in size. A rectangular pan can hold around a dozen pieces.

Preheat oven at 350 degrees and allow bread to bake for 20-30 minutes or until brown or when it springs back in the center.

* Recipe by Evalani “Kay” Cruz