Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Fijian Feast

When we were in Viani Bay we not only celebrated Kai's 10th birthday, but also were invited ashore to experience a traditional Fijian feast called a "lovo," where food is cooked in a hand-made underground earth oven.

Together with his sous-chefs, a well seasoned man named Harry dug a hole in the ground not too deep, but big enough for a fire.

The kitchen crew (his brother's, neighbors and cousins) lit the fire and then built a platform on top of it using bamboo sticks and leaves. From here they piled the food - first the starch, entire kasavas and breadfruit, then the vegetable, my favorite, rourou, which is green taro leaves mixed with onions and fresh coconut milk and wrapped in aluminum foil.

The freshly caught chicken was adorned in banana leaves that the women had braided as if it were a table decoration.

And they also wrapped fish in aluminum foil and placed that on the pile. They covered all the food with banana leaves, sticks and dirt, more dirt, and finally a tarp to trap the heat.

From afar it looked like a mound of smoking dirt. Harry handed me a huge coconut with a straw made from the stem of a tropical plant. Who needs a plastic straw if you can use a plant ... and Who needs a Wolf oven, when you can cook from the earth? I thought to myself. Harry seemed to read my mind and commented, "Everything is from this island," he told me. "You'll see, all the flavors stay with the food when its cooked in the earth."

"I used to eat this way every night," said Jack, our dive/snorkel guide who had been with us all week showing us the secret places on Rainbow Reef, so called for the magnificent colors of the coral.

Three hours later, Harry and crew uncovered the food with their bare hands, careful not to burn their fingers, and our feast began.

Well not yet, first the women adorned us "yachties" with leis made from leaves and flowers. The dinner was a fundraiser for their school. We each paid about $20 Fijian per family, but many of us were more generous, knowing that the school could use the help. They ultimately raised about 500 Fiji Dollars ($300 US) which can go a long way here.

The women created platters by braiding palm fronds. My mouth watered as they carefully placed various food on each of the platters. In addition to everything that was cooked in the lovo, they added freshwater prawns, and a fruit salad of locally grown papaya, bananas and pinneaple. Every family or boat had a platter to share.

At first Kai was reluctant and nudged me, "let's go back and have Cluster Crisp Sanitarium (his favorite cereal) for dinner." But then he and Maya sampled the food.

"This is delicious," said Maya who wanted more of the tasty moist chicken and rourou.

"Is it better than Cluster Crisp?" I asked Kai.

"Well, not better, but I'll have more chicken too," he grinned.

After dinner, the men and a few women gathered on the hand-woven pandanus mats to drink their kava, a mud-like lip numbing drink made from the crushed root of a pepper plant. I watched Eric, Captain of the 64-foot Nordhaven Oso Blanco, gulp a bowl down and clap traditionally three times when finished.

Eric has saddled up to the kava bar a number of times and can decipher good kava from bad kava. When asked about the quality of this kava, he told me it had a lot of protein. "Protein, how do you know it has a lot of protein?" I asked, confused.

"You know bugs," he told me. hmmmm...

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