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jeudi 14 février 2013

From raw fish up to exotic fruits

Polynesian specialties

Traditional Tahitian cooking or Ma'a Tahiti, incorporates many starchy foods such as taro, yam, ufi, tarua, sweet potato...

Tahiti cuisine excels by soft and subtle flavors owed both to product quality as preparing and cooking practices.

If each of the five Polynesian archipelagoes offers its own specialties, included ingredients are almost the same: lot of fishes, a little meats, the whole range of vegetables and tropical fruits.

Meats and fishes edible in Tahiti
The Polynesian staple food comes from the sea. Thus fish and shellfish pride upon most local recipes. Fishes are classified in two broad categories: high seas fish and lagoon-fish. Freshwater shrimp species called “chevrette” (prawn) delight by itself the local cookery.

Wonderful fishes of Polynesian lagoons
Before the cold chain allowed the massive importation of beef (ox) or mutton (sheep) the only meats consumed in Polynesia were chicken and feral pig.

Until recently, the most popular dish was turtle flesh. This uptake is strictly forbidden and severely repressed now.

Polynesian vegetables
If today the rice became the main component of daily meals, the generous nature provides many food accompaniments, charm of Polynesian cooking. The main one, uru (fruit of the breadfruit tree), has long been a basic food of the Polynesians. There are about forty different varieties.

Nowadays it’s strongly challenged by taro, because this tuber grows easily in swampy coastal areas. Its root is used as such, and so the young leaves called pota. In Marquesas, the fermented seasoned paste is named popoi.

Taro, the magic root
Taro is also used for the preparation of poe, a very popular sweet. At last, one of the many kinds of taro is grown for its leaves, eaten as spinach called: fafa.

Then again,  fe'i, yams and sweet potatoes add to the range of accompaniments. The fe'i is a sort of banana that is eaten cooked only.

Insular fruits
The coconut is omnipresent in the Polynesian gastronomy, with its flesh and milk.

Local fruits should be distinguished from those more recently imported. Among the former, furthermore coconut and uru already mentioned, there are the ambarella ("cythera apple or vi Tahiti") and the mape. Numerous imported fruit superbly adapted to these climates. So too does with banana, citrus, pineapple, papaya and mango.
Tahitian traditional cooking
Back to olden days, grilling, baking, stewing and boiling are only used for cooking. Hence, fine sweet flavors gastronomy highlights the particular taste of each product entering the composition of a dish.

The most known of traditional Polynesian dishes is raw fish. In fact, this term is unfit, as the fish is marinated a few hours in a lime, coconut milk, and various spices with vegetables chopped very finely preparation. Like the most national dishes, there are as many recipes as families or almost.

All kinds of fruits: common or strange
Today the ahima'a (Tahitian oven) remains the top of the Polynesian gastronomy: it is only built for festive meals because of the time needed to set up. It’s a full meal once. Ahima'a backs in the mists of ma'ohi time. "Ahi" means fire and Ma'a, food. All foods are stewed in a large pit dug in the ground. The wood and porous volcanic stones are laid out before lighting the fire. When the embers are red foods are carefully placed, wrapped in banana tree leaves or inside coconut sheets baskets summarily braided.

Among the most popular dishes that compose an ahima’a: fafa chicken, fish, suckling pig, shrimp and lobster, different po'e (banana, papaya...) and the full range of local vegetables.

All that is covered with banana leaves or purau (tree of hibiscus tiliaceui). A final layer of soil ensures the tightness of the oven. Four to six hours are necessary for an optimal cooking.

A great jubilation punctuated by songs while opening the oven. The various dishes are arrayed in umete (wooden dish) on large tables, alongside raw fish and fafaru. The fafaru is a preparation of fermented raw fish in seawater. Formerly, Polynesians ate it and used the water for seasoning other dishes. But if the population of these islands likes fafaru, few visitors appreciate it. Its smell greatly influences their judgment.

Fruits and vegetables, for every taste
Even so, come to Polynesia and not taste fafaru would like to go to France and not eat cheese!

An article of Julien Gué
Translated from French by Vanaa Teriitehau

Copyright Julien Gué. Ask for the author’s agreement before any reproduction of the text or the images on Internet or traditional press.

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