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dimanche 19 avril 2015
Nectar of Polynesian taste buds
Every nation, every society, every culture has one or more specialties that no foreign palate seems to appreciate, or even consider without an obvious disgust. This applies to the fāfaru, an exclusively Polynesian traditional dish.
In this category, we immediately think of Scottish Haggis, of the Chinese alive monkey's brain, the live cockroaches with lemon grass of the Japanese, the living earthworms in salad of the Americans and Quebecers, of termite larvae on skewers of the Central Africans, etc., etc., etc…
The list of these disgusting recipes for some and at the top of refinement for others is much longer than some might think. And it appears no country, no culture, no nation has among its gustatory record at least one of these icons of the strange or repulsive.
However, it would be churlish for me not to quote some of the specialties of the prestigious and indisputable French gastronomy, global benchmark for gourmets. So are we the only ones in the world to enjoy a snail casserole, a pan-fried frog legs and some other wonders of our national cooking that we are alone to savor...
Obviously, it is impossible for me to close this chapter without mentioning some of our most delectable cheeses that nobody in the world except us can bear at the end of a dinner party. I think of, among other delights, the Munster, the Cancoillote, the Corsican goat cheese, the "silk worker's brain"( or Canut’s brain), the Roquefort, Maroilles or Void ... The list is endless, as smelling as tasty!
In the Hall of Fame (or Pantheon) of these ambrosias, so delicate for some and emetic for others, no doubt that the Polynesian fāfaru occupies a place of choice, both for its scent as its method of preparation...
The ingredients of fāfaru
Present in each of the 118 Polynesian islands, the composition of this dish much appreciated changes depending on where you are. It differs from one cook to another. However, it is still based on the same principle.
First of all, you should know that the fāfaru is prepared in 3 distinct steps. Make firstly the Miti fāfaru, which is the concoction in which the fish, once cleansed, will marinate; then the Miti hue which will serve as a sauce. Further, prepare the fish itself (after having caught it!)...
A good fāfaru imposes the following adventures and operations: boat out beyond the reef to get two good liters of sea water off. If your choice fells on one of these species, take the opportunity to catch some mullet, tuna or sailfish. Otherwise, countless lagoon fish like the parrot can also do the trick. For fishing it, back the open sea...
Once back on land, start reaping some small beach crabs. Then you must run a getaway in the bed of a river, in a valley or mountain, to get the necessary shrimps (South Pacific prawns) without which there can be no real miti fāfaru. Tahitian's word!
Back from the river, make a detour to the fa'a'apu* to pick up some green coconuts. You'll just have to begin to cook.
In order to carry out the following steps leading to your fāfaru, add two cloves of garlic, chopped ginger and a small local pepper, minced too (For sensitive palates, be careful! explosive effects!).
It's all there: you just have to put your cook's flower wreath to honor your stars under the Polynesian sky...
Prepare your miti fāfaru…
Before you begin, you must solve a cruel dilemma: what flavor will you give to your fāfaru? It totally depends on the basic ingredient of your miti fāfaru: beach crab, shrimp heads or mullet heads... Today, let’s opt for the shrimp: the most dainty, according to experts.
Comfortably installed on the terrace in the fresh air of the Pacific, in a container, pour in, one of your two liters of seawater. Peel the shrimps and immerse thoroughly the heads in the basin. The “chevrettes” heads (or shrimp heads) can be replaced by the mullets bones or the flesh or, ultimately, by small crabs. Allow to ferment in the shade for four or five days...
Filter this brine with a cloth and pour it in tightly closed bottles. Your miti fafaru is usable with all its fragrance for a few weeks...
…Then your miti hue
For a liter of miti hue, split into two eight young green coconuts. Once the flesh extracted from the shells, carefully remove it outer skin. With patience, cut it into pieces as small as possible ... The next step is of scalding this mixture for a few minutes.
While your cocos pieces are cooling, pour the rest of your seawater into a container. Add the juice you have obtained by crushing a few heads of prawns (or failing beach crabs). Add your coconut pulp and, again, let rest in the shade for two or three days in a covered container. Stir from time to time...
You thought it's done and you might swim to get rid of the sweet smell of shrimp? Big mistake!
The time of fermentation passed, remove the coconut cubes and rinse thoroughly with fresh water by removing carefully all the pieces of shrimps or crabs. Here the ordeal begins... You must crush the nuts into a sort of mash! Fortunately, colonization also brought electricity and the mixer ... Add water to your preparation until the desired consistency and reserve it in the refrigerator. The miti hue can be kept a few days, but no more.
The good news is that we find today miti hue and miti fāfaru, the both ready in all food stores and on all markets of the fenua!
And now, the fāfaru!
Last stage of your culinary marathon, you must now take care of the fish itself. Be careful: the fāfaru can't accommodate a fish that is not ultra-fresh. In this case, a swordfish caught of the morning will be perfect.
Take on the beast a few fillets very thin, then cut in pieces from six to eight inches square and put to soak in a seawater jar. When all is cut, remove a good half of water and add your selected condiments: chopped garlic, grated ginger, hot pepper... Finally, drown everything with your miti fāfaru and mix gently.
At this point, you can customize your dish by adding some raw shrimp tails.
Cover and marinate to your taste: during two to three hours for a relatively light fragrance, up to eight or ten hours for a "specialist's fāfaru".
The first fāfaru of Monak
Wait a little bit before living your fāfaru experience. Monak has done it for you. She tells...
“On a dare, just to say," I can do it! I can... savor" this incredible flavour, and I let myself be guided by the elegant finesse of the fāfaru fillets. Snorkeling at first bite, stenches of marshes and mass graves invade me, with sewage acidities of remugles of broumés (bait). Suddenly the brackish pages of the morgue in Therese Raquin (Zola), the pestilential whiffs of the stalls in the Süskind's Perfume have torn my stomach and twisted my mouth as a rotting bitter. I have not withstood the shock! I better next time "...
In order not conclude on this note a tad negative (although full of hope and determination...), I'll leave the last word to Heiani, a Tahitian friend: "Monak made a small mistake in the tasting: the fāfaru must never be eaten alone, but accompanied by other dishes that make up the Polynesian ma'a. Don't focus on the smell, otherwise you can’t really taste. We are all accustomed from childhood and we don't care no more! I like it well, because the fāfaru preparation makes the fish very tender. In addition, it is good in the mouth. In the same time, the visions of the lagoon are mixing with the scents of the sea..."
When I told you that the tastes and colors...
-fa'a'apu: Polynesian name of the family vegetable garden and orchard. It can sometimes be very far from the fare (home) in the mountains.
-ma'a : food, meal
An article of Julien Gué
Translated from French by Monak
Copyright Julien Gué. Ask for the author’s agreement before any reproduction of the text or the images on Internet or traditional press.