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Exploring Food in the South Pacific


Traditional island food is root vegetables, fruit, lagoon fish, and pig. Vegetables are taro, yams, manioc, and sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are the only plant with a South American origin. They arrived around the 1600s. Taro is an elephant-eared plant grown in freshwater swamps.

Breadfruit and taro are more nutritious than yams. When cooked in an umu, breadfruit, also called uru, resembles bread. There are many legends around uru. The most common ones are of starving families during famine, where men turned themselves into breadfruit trees to feed their starving families. Breadfruit was brought from Southeast Asia in the 1700s. Breadfruit trees grow tall with broad green leaves for shade. They provide shade as well as fruit.  If well-watered, a breadfruit tree can produce 1,000 fruit annually. The starchy fruit is rich in vitamin B. When combined with a protein, it becomes a super food, an energy food. Another fruit eaten in the South Pacific is paw paw, more commonly known as papaya. One-third cup of papaya has as much vitamin C as 18 apples.

The coconut palm tree is commonly known around the islands. It lasts for an average of 60 years and produces an average of 50 nuts a year. Coconut water has become a popular drink. Coconut is a popular food or food garnish. Coconut water and food come from the fresh, young green nuts. The meat from older, brown nuts is used to create copra, from which coconut oil is extracted for cosmetics, soaps, candles, etc.

Raw fish (poisson cruz) is a regular in South Pacific locales. To prepare it, clean and skin the fish. Dice the fillet. Squeeze lemon or lime juice over it, and store in a cool place for 10 hours. When ready to serve add chopped onion, tomatoes, garlic, green peppers, and coconut cream to taste. Fish common to the South Pacific include emperor angelfish, wrasse, unicorn fish, parrotfish, moorish idol, red snapper, sea bass, and marbled grouper.

Polynesians stopped creating pottery over a millennium ago. If you wish to cook like locals, you must prepare an underground oven called an umu, and also known as a lovo. First dig a pit. Then place dry coconut husks in the pit and burn them. Once you have a good fire, add coral stones on top. Wrap the food in banana leaves, and place with the coral stones   fish and meat below the stones and vegetables on top of them. If cooking a pig, stuff it with banana leaves to cook it inside and out at the same time as the leaves create steam. Cover everything with leaves and stones and let cook for 2 ½ hours. Uncover and prepare for an excellent meal. If you decide to use bamboo, be sure to split the poles before adding them to the fire. If you do not, be prepared for an explosive event.

There is a large Mormon population on the island. Remember that Seventh Day Adventists do not smoke; drink tea, coffee, or alcohol; eat pork or rabbit; dance or chew betel nut. Plan your meals accordingly if you are hosting or being hosted by these exceptional people.

Cite for September Posts: Stanley, D., South Pacific Handbook.



Dr. Sheila Embry is a govie, author, pracademician, sister, aunt, cousin, and friend who loves to read, write, think, and laugh. Many of her blog postings are summaries or excerpts of books that she read and wants to share to encourage others. An author with more than 25 years experience within the legislative and executive branches of the U. S. federal government holding 3 accredited degrees: Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership, Master of Arts in Human Resources Development, and Baccalaureate of Business Administration, she believes in continuing learning both on and off the job. She has been recognized with multiple professional and writing awards for her peer-reviewed, publications. Click the bibliography page above for a listing of all the publications.

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