French Polynesia benefits from fantastic weather all year round. It’s a virtual Garden of Eden, where exuberance and abundance go hand in hand. In this sunny country, farmers grow a wide variety of fruits, spices and vegetables with evocative names reminding us of faraway places. These exotic treasures are much appreciated by consumers because they combine aromatic qualities with nutritional benefits, giving great pleasure to the body and the taste buds.
The legendary breadfruit plant or ‘uru, the coconut, the dozens of varieties of bananas including the incomparable orange plantain banana or fe’i, the various root vegetables such as the taro, the tarua, the ufi or even the ‘umara make up the basis of island cuisine. Papayas, mangos, pineapples, watermelon, grapefruit, limes with a pod of vanilla are used to prepare tasty deserts when dining in The Islands of Tahiti.
Fish from the lagoon or from the ocean, ranging from perch, mahi mahi and parrot fish are also on the menu for typical Polynesian dishes. They are often eaten raw, sometimes marinated in lime juice and coconut milk as in the famous recipe for ‘poisson cru à la Tahitienne’.
All these tropical foods are found in traditional ahima’a or Polynesian ovens where fruits, vegetables, suckling pigs, Tahitian chicken fāfā (local spinach) and other delicacies such as po’e or local fruit pastilles cook through. Everything is sprinkled with fresh coconut oil and turns out deliciously creamy. There are even specialized tours that let you discover the flavors of the islands on picnics organized on beaches or on a motu (islet). These tours are an opportunity to taste freshly caught fish, such as the tasty ume, the Long Nose Emperor fish of the lagoons and the little jacks.
Cut the fish into small pieces and soak it in seawater or salt water for 5 minutes. In a salad bowl, put diced tomatoes and cucumbers, thinly sliced onion, cut green onion and chopped parsley. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper and let soak for a few minutes. Drain the fish, add to the bowl and mix well with other ingredients. Add the coconut milk at the last minute.
Cook the fāfā leaves for one hour in boiling salted water. Drain well. Cut the chicken breasts into small pieces. Peel and thinly slice the onion and ginger. Add the chicken and cook in oil for 10 minutes. Add the fāfā and lime juice. Mix well and let simmer for one hour. Add the coconut milk before serving.
Peel the bananas and cook them in a little water. When they are done, drain and puree them. Mix 2 bowls of bananas with a bowl of starch and 50g of sugar. Place this mixture in a lightly oiled banana leaf. Cook in a medium hot oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Add the coconut milk just before serving.
Polynesian Cooking is a blend of exotic Asian and Western flavors.
Master Chefs subtly combine fish, local produce and other local products with spices and ingredients from elsewhere. Why not try your hand in the kitchen and learn the culinary arts of The Islands of Tahiti? In some of the large hotels, the chef even organizes culinary workshops.
GREPFOC: This training institute for adults offers classes to private individuals just to delight the taste buds and to registered students to further their careers. Catering for fun (“traiteur plaisir”) class. For more information, visit www.grepfoc.pf