One of the most hyped dinners at the South Pacific Food & Wine Festival were the degustations by Robert Oliver. As mentioned in my April newsletter, Robert Oliver’s cookbook, Me’a Kai features the cuisine of six South Pacific island
nations, Tonga, Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu, and Cook Islands and was
the winner of the Best Cookbook Of The Year at the 2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
The cookbook, and this festival, is a game-changer for the South Pacific. Not only does it celebrate their native cuisine for the first time ever to a worldwide audience, but it has also offered local chefs a boost to their morale and future.
After days of eating fusion foods, I was most excited to finally get a taste of some authentic South Pacific cuisine.
First course is an exquisite amuse plate. We’re advised the seaweed and flowers aren’t edible, but I do appreciate its tropical beauty on the plate.
From left to right, there’s kokoda kuita which is an octopus ceviche in coconut cream and lime juice, Pacific oyster with sesame chilli vinaigrette, and poisson cru with curry oil which is a sashimi of tuna with curry mango.
The kokoda kuita is my favourite of the three – it is absolutely delectable – the fresh coconut cream makes all the difference.
Next course is a pawpaw gazpacho, served in a bilo coconut shell cup. The soup is refreshingly light and creamy and paired with the perfect thing – crisp vudi (plantain) chips!
It’s my first taste of plantain and I love it. Plantain is firmer and starchier than banana. Deep-fried plantain, as served in this dish, is wonderfully crunchy with a mild sweetness and faint banana essence. I could easily eat buckets full of these.
The third course is salati Samoa, a Pacific Rock lobster salad with watercress. The organic coconut oil dressing used in this course is a product of Women In Business Development Inc, a fantastic organisation that support income-generation in rural communities in Samoa.
The salad is gorgeously balanced; I love the slight peppery bitterness of the watercress, and how the coconut oil is heightened with diced guava, pineapple and coriander but doesn’t overpower the natural sweetness of the lobster.
The main course is titled magiti which means feast!
It’s such an appropriate name as we’re served lots of little dishes, as you would at the family table. There’s roasted pork belly with tamarind chutney, a pineapple choka, walu fish roasted in banana leaf with Heileta vanilla, Fiji river fern with heart of coconut palm in coconut dressing, and vudi with spices of Fiji.
The tamarind glaze on the pork belly is divine – so rich and complex in flavour! The tamarind chutney is a product of Friends, an organisation established in 2001 that helps rural people living in poverty to make a living from their horticultural and cooking skills. It’s such an awesome win-win business case: it economically empowers those in poverty while preserving traditional recipes, and the products make excellent souveneirs for home cooks like myself!
The pork belly is served with a side of pineapple choka which is a salsa-like mix consisting of chargrilled pineapple, chilli, cardamom and coriander. The fish is lovely too, it is fragrantly studded with vanilla.
And I also get another taste of vudi (plantain). This time, it has an exotic caramel charactertistic with an alluring savoury aniseed fragrance.
I’m most intrigued by the Fiji river fern and the coconut heart of palm. Robert says it’s exactly like the Brazilian heart of palm except this one is from a coconut palm! Taste-wise, it has a sweet undertone and a radish-like crisp crunch. It is blanced with the fern and served in a vivid coconut dressing. Delicious and definitely one of the most unique vegetable dishes I’ve ever had.
The dinner ends on a high note with a dessert of Koko sorbet served with lolo (coconut) soup. The rum in the sorbet definitely packs a punch; even the fresh pawpaw, watermelon, pineapple and mint can’t tone it down.
I find myself falling more and more in love with the way coconut is used
in the South Pacific. This degustation was a great demonstration of how it appears in so many forms, in every course from
savoury to sweet and never over-complicated.
This 5 course signature dinner was held on Friday, 16th March 2012 at Ports “O” Call Restaurant, Sheraton and cost $295 FJD ($159.30AUD)
Find out more about the South Pacific Food & Wine Festival 2012
JENIUS travelled to Fiji and attended the South Pacific Food & Wine Festival as a guest of Tourism Fiji with special thanks to Mike Parker-Brown