Friday, July 22, 2011

Changing Our Diet

When in Rome, eat pasta. When in Polynesia, eat bokchoy. Bokchoy is a fantastic vegetable with which I had almost no familiarity prior to our puddle jump. Shame on me. It is a cruiser's delight: cheap, crunchy, widely available, and it keeps a surprisingly long time in the fridge. The greens are good raw as a substitute for lettuce in salads and sandwiches. They are equally good sautéed as greens in a stir fry or as leafy green in soups and stews. The stems are tasty in any situation -- raw or cooked -- where normally you might otherwise use celery. But unlike celery and romaine, I find I can keep bokchoy in the fridge for up to two weeks with almost no noticeable change. We've never kept it longer as we use it up fairly rapidly. Bokchoy is now a staple of the Don Quixote diet and will remain so even after we arrive in more varied veggie ports.

Another addition to our diet is the pamplemousse. I've always wondered what these things were. They look like enormous green grapefruit, not particularly appealing and ridiculously large. I can't remember seeing them in the States, but they did appear in New Zealand stores with some degree of frequency. If the price is right, we'll continue munching on these globes long after we leave the South Pacific. One pamplemousse is enough to feed the entire family at lunch along with the ubiquitous baguette, a chunk of cheap brie-like cheese, and some stalks of bokchoy or carrots.

The common veggies with which we have had little contact and less interest include taro and breadfruit. After reading Herman Melville's description of his first encounter with breadfruit in Typee, I don't feel particularly guilty over this omission. There is also a red prickly fruit which looks a bit like a sea anemone and tastes gooey and sour with little mitigating flavor to make it worth eating. Locals love these, and they can be found at every corner stand, but I can't see the appeal. Lamentably, another extremely popular vegetable in Polynesia is Chinese eggplant. It too is widely available, cheap, and keeps well. Sadly, I loathe eggplant. The only way I can enjoy eggplant is breaded, fried, and buried deep in a casserole consisting of small bits of eggplant hidden between thick layers of cheese, spicy tomato sauce, spicy sausage, and pasta.

The kids are big fans of coconut. As a parent, I advocate cultivating coconut interest in your children while you travel. Coconuts are quite literally lying on the ground everywhere. Throw the children overboard armed with little more than a screw driver, and they will spend hours feeding themselves. Coconuts are very satisfying to harvest, shuck, crack and eat. Done properly, the process involves throwing things, making stuff fall out of trees, ripping, shredding and tearing something to bits, banging, whacking, smashing, chipping, scrapping, and shattering. The yield is incredibly pure, slightly sweet juice in a rewardingly large volume along with firm, crunchy coconut meat. If you have a scraper and a small piece of fabric, you can also make coconut cream which tastes like melted coconut ice cream. Don't let the kids bring coconuts back to the boat. The shucking process generates copious amounts of husk shreds that burst open in a startling display of dirty bark bits which then adhere to every surface for a distance of 5 meters -- in over words, at least half your boat. The bits then bond to the bottoms of cat and people feet and are tracked to every other horizontal surface on the boat. It takes weeks to de-coconut-huskify your boat. If your children insist on bringing coconuts back, have them husk the fruit before returning to the boat then stick the resulting nuts in a zip lock bag in the fridge. They won't be quite as fresh as unhusked nuts, but they are still tasty even a week or two later.

French Polynesia is the land of the cheap baguette. At first, we reveled in the crunchy white bread. After a few weeks, however, we're heartily sick of it. It's like eating French Wonder Bread. It fills you up but leaves you with the dissatisfying sensation that you've essentially been eating the wheat equivalent of cotton candy. Baguettes are available at every magazin in the entire country as long as you get there before 0700. We always make pre-orders at the magazin so we can go in the next day at whatever hour suits our fancy. If you keep your baguettes in a sunny, dry spot out of the way of moist, night breezes, they dry out perfectly. You can then make them into bread puddings, stuffing, or croutons with little effort. We also enjoy smearing them with a seasoned tomato paste, a bit of pepperoni and some cheese and baking them into pizza bites. I've taken pizza bites to potlucks many times. I have never ever made enough no matter how many I bake.

Buying meat in Polynesia is a bit bass backwards. Beef is extremely expensive, New Zealand lamb about the same as in New Zealand, and chicken from the United States pricey but within reach. The cheapest protein is sushi grade tuna which can be had at any major magazin or market for roughly 750 CP/kg ($4.15/pound). I know this sounds terrible, but we've taken to buying enormous chunks of tuna, slicing it into steaks, and freezing it for later use. While sometimes we make sushi, more often we grill the steaks and serve with chili sweet and spicy or wasabi/soy flavored sauces. Leftovers get made into sandwich spreads or even -- sacre bleu! -- tuna noodle casserole. You can also purchase meats in cans… any meats. I've never seen beef in a can before. I confess, we haven't bought it yet. Bad us. We should at least try it. However, I have no idea what to do with canned beef.

The girls report that French Polynesian candy and pastries don't really stand out. Aeron says that the banana fried in dough might be a tasty exception. Most everything, however, is a bit glutinous or just plain odd. The hard candy which tastes like honey dipped in a pine tree is particularly strange and more than a bit medicinal. Everything pales in comparison to the aforementioned coconut cream derived from the girls' hard effort and a shaver. Instead of sweets, the girls report that they most enjoy the abundant sushi with its sweet Polynesian soy sauce and the poisson cru which is white fish ceviched in lime juice and salty coconut milk. According to Mera, it's very odd and it goes down your throat in a "queasy way," but it tastes really good.

We eat a lot of Mexican package cookies, crackers, cereals, and canned goods. Sometimes I think we'll be munching meloras on Saltinas for the rest of our lives. We are going to arrive in New Zealand with roughly 100 casera salsa cans for the simple reason that we ran out of tortas, and there isn't a decent tortilla chip to be found anywhere in the South Pacific. This lack is probably okay since beer the local Hinano beer is $3/can and tastes terrible. We plan to just wait it out drinking rum cocktails and munching raw coconut and sashimi till we get to New Zealand. Rough culinary life.


Anonymous said...

Your really missing out with the breadfruit. Makes the best chips around. Instead of french fries we would deep fry them in a little veggie oil. They never lasted long on the plate.

j-slice said...

What do you do for dairy?

Toast said...

Dairy... in FP, we eat a lot of brie. No kidding. Sounds like a stereo type but there you go. We also have powdered milk which we use for cooking and coffee. BHT milk is available at a reasonable price which we use for cereal. All other dairy is pretty expensive so we just don't use much. Except mozzarella, which we buy for pizza bites and the like.

Kyle said...

Toast -- of course you're not in Auckland now, because I AM!

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