Weekly Photo Challenge: Lunchtime

SEEMINGLY SIMPLE CAN BE EXTRAORDINARILY MEANINGFUL

I was dismayed when I learned last week that it is Phonoegraphy month for the Weekly Photo Challenge —meaning photos taken using the camera phones.  I seldom use my phone in taking photos….usually I do phonoegraphy only of myself or with my friends and family for fun shots. However, I often use my iPhone camera for food photography.

So when I saw this week’s challenge, I was excited to learn that the theme is LUNCHTIME — photos that show what you actually had for lunch, where you have eaten, with whom or what happened during your lunchtime.  Looking at my collections of my Food photos on my iPhone, I realized that there was nothing uniquely interesting to feature.  I wanted to show rare cuisines I have eaten and the most memorable lunchtime I had during my travels.  Good thing, Daily Post welcomes non-phoneographers to join this week’s challenge using their equipment of choice. Yehey!!!

Hence, this week, I am featuring one of the unique international cuisines I’ve ever eaten which gave me a different kind of foodgasm — the Pacific Island’s Aelan Kakai (local food).

kakai

A Feast of Aelan Kakai

Small island countries in South Pacific are geographically close, hence, you will find a lot of similarities in their local cuisines.  The coconut, for instance, is a main ingredient in most of the local dishes while root crops like taro and yam are the main dietary staple food of Pacific Islanders.

kakai 2

A village Chief in Pele, Vanuatu removing coconut husks

Ni-Vanuatu kids eating raw coconut meat

Ni-Vanuatu kids eating raw coconut meat

kakai 3

A local market in Nadi, Fiji

Food for feasts is usually wrapped in banana leaf and cooked in a large pit dug in the ground filled with heated stones called earth oven.

Wrapping uncooked food in banana leaf in Vanuatu

Wrapping uncooked food in banana leaf in Vanuatu

Earth Oven in Solomon Islands

Earth Oven in Solomon Islands

During mealtime, baskets of food are often laid out on mats or on banana leaves instead on a table.

Preparing a feast in Nguna Island, Vanuatu

Preparing a feast in Nguna Island, Vanuatu

Here are some examples of my Aelan Kakai experience during my South Pacific travels:

First stop…Vanuatu.  The main staple food of Ni-Vanuatu people includes yam, taro, banana, pumpkin, papaya, coconut and island cabbage supplemented by processed food considered as the ‘luxury food’ like tinned fish and instant noodles.  During my stay in Port Vila in 2006-2008, there was no local fish market despite being surrounded by sea (mostly, expatriates own fish shops which are separate from the public local market). One will find only a few Ni-Vanuatu vendors selling a dozen or so fresh fishes in town.

A young Ni-Vanuatu girl cleaning a fresh catch fish

A young Ni-Vanuatu girl cleaning a fresh catch fish

I learned that they only use a local bamboo fishing rod made of string and small hook that is why they only have a small catch per day.  One old man I met said that he often gets a fish or two a day and sell it to buy a tinned fish. This is very typical among Pacific Islanders where traditional methods of hunting, planting and cooking traditional foods have all but disappeared.  Many locals sell their fresh produce/catch (vegetables, fruits, fishes etc) to purchase imported processed food. On many Pacific Small Island countries (particularly in Vanuatu),  the ability to purchase imported foods has become a status symbol.  Interesting, isn’t it?!!!

Back to the Aelan Kakai, most food in Vanuatu is cooked using hot stones or through boiling, steaming, barbecuing or frying.

Vanuatu's Aelan Kakai

Vanuatu’s Aelan Kakai

They rarely use many spices but often add coconut milk and cream to flavor many dishes.

A Ni-Vanuatu Mama using coconut milk in cooking

A Ni-Vanuatu Mama using coconut milk in cooking

One of the most famous dishes (and my favorite traditional lunch) is called Lap-Lap made of grated root crops like yam or taro roots mixed with coconut milk.

Fish Laplap

Fish Lap-Lap

Slices of chicken, pork or fish are added on top before grilling on an earth oven.

Topping with Chicken

Topping with Chicken

The cooking varies from one island to another. Some adds island cabbage on top.

kakai 14

Lap-Lap topped with Island Cabbage

Bunya, a variety of Lap-Lap with chicken and vegetable toppings

Bunya, a variety of Lap-Lap with chicken and vegetable toppings

Cooking basic Lap-Lap

Cooking basic Lap-Lap

Cooking another variation of Lap-Lap

Cooking another variation of Lap-Lap

Often, the mixture is wrapped in banana leaves…

kakai 13

Wrapping using banana leaves

Tuluk, a variation of Lap-Lap withe pork-filling mixture wrapped in banana leaves

Another variation of Lap-Lap, Tuluk, a pork-filling mixture wrapped in banana leaves

…then covered with more layers of banana leaves before being cooked on the pit.

Preparing to cook in the pit

Preparing to cook on the earth oven

Lap-Lap is difficult to cook alone and consumes a lot of time.  But the good thing nowadays, is that you can find a whole row of stalls at the local market selling various types of ready to eat Lap-Lap!

Another interesting (and something new to me!) is how Pacific Islanders combine a mixture of local and imported or canned foods.  In one of the islands in Vanuatu, the community prepared lunch made of instant noodles mixed with corned beef eaten with boiled taro instead of rice.

However, it was in Samoa where I had eaten an odd combination during lunchtime with a local Samoan family.

A Samoan Lunch

My Samoan Lunch

They prepared uncooked tinned corned beef, boiled banana with fresh coconut milk poured on top, uncooked tinned spaghetti and sandwiches made of combination of tinned corned beef and tinned spaghetti and of course an unlimited bottles of Coca-Cola.  Oh boy, they do love Coca-Cola!

Uncooked tinned corned beef and Boiled banana with coconut

Uncooked tinned corned beef and boiled banana with coconut plus Coca-Cola!

However, my favorite was the Samoan breakfast that I had in one of the private resorts: the chocolate rice pudding with slices of fruits and coconut, boiled egg, toasted bread and the local pancake as side dish.

My favorite Samoan breakfast

My favorite Samoan breakfast

Samoans love to eat. They often take food with them when meeting their friends or relatives.

My Samoan family host

My Samoan family host

Sharing of food is a central element of Pacific Islander’s culture whether it is a formal or informal gathering.

A communal feast in a village in Vanuatu

A communal feast in a village in Vanuatu

Often, as a prelude to ceremonial gatherings or informal meetings, they drink Ava or Kava, a beverage made from powdered Kava roots that has a mild tranquilizing effect.

Kava Roots

Kava Roots

Ready for pounding...

Ready for pounding…

My favorite lunchtime experience in South Pacific was eating with the Hogokama Tribe in an island outside Honiara in Solomon Islands.  I was attending a conference in one of the island resorts.  During the break, I decided to explore the island.

Crossing an island outside Honiara

Crossing an island outside Honiara

I got lost (as usual!) and ended up in a community of the Hogokama Tribe.  I decided to stay until lunchtime to interact with them and get to know their culture.

Communal Hall

Communal Hall

The Hogokama Tribe

The Hogokama Tribe

They were very friendly even if most of them cannot speak in English.  The women showed me how to cook using the earth oven.

Preparing to cook

Preparing to cook

At that time, they were roasting a small wild pig wrapped in several layers of banana leaf.

Roasting pig the Pacific Islander way...

Roasting pig the Pacific Islander way…

The resort is owned and run by the community to provide for their basic needs.  Since they were hosting a conference, they have rice to share and eat with their families.

A Hogokoma kid eating rice...only!

A Hogokoma kid eating rice…only!

Most of them prefer to eat only the rice adding a pinch of salt as it is considered as another ‘luxury food’.

A mother and son prefer eating rice only.

A mother and son prefer eating rice only.

It was interesting how they ate and shared their food.

Lunchtime!

Lunchtime!

I noticed that instead of using the regular spoon and fork, they use a big shell as spoon….

Sea Shell, a tribal spoon?!

Sea Shell, a tribal spoon?!

….or eat with their bare hands!

A Hogokama woman eating roasted pig.

A Hogokama woman eating roasted pig.

Foodgasm in South Pacific is not about eating a particular mouth-watering, drool inducing, finger licking, enticing food.  It is about the experience of eating in a traditional ambiance while sharing a meal with the locals.  The warm smiles and the genuine hospitality of the Pacific Islander people is what make my LUNCHTIME memorable, fun….and extraordinarily meaningful!

 

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Categories: Fiji, Oceania, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tags: , , | 17 Comments

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17 thoughts on “Weekly Photo Challenge: Lunchtime

  1. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Lunchtime (2) | What's (in) the picture?

  2. awesome.

  3. Nice pic and place to know and to stay a couple of weeks.

  4. Great post and great pictures… I’m still nonplussed by the phone-based challenges, not sure what I’ll do this week…

    • exactly my reaction last week that is why i skipped joining but this week it says they are open to non-phoneographers to use any device so dig into your photos or get your slr and click away 🙂

      • Yeah they said so last week too, but it just feels… I don’t know… wrong… And I try to take this challenge as a p52 as well, so I gave myself the rule of “no archives ;)”

      • im sure something will come up soon…:)

  5. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Lunchtime | Flickr Comments

  6. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Lunchtime (3) Yemen | What's (in) the picture?

  7. Pingback: Lunchtime! | Rebecca Barray

  8. Many of these dishes sound better than my lunch of slices of fresh mozzarella with pesto (not that it was bad, mind you, just typical). I love the pictures of the one child trying to feed the other!

  9. Non of these dishes isn’t familiar to me. Seems nice anyway 🙂

  10. Pingback: Lunchtime! | Rebecca Barray – Writer/Photographer

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