Welcome back to Fiji Friday! This week, I’m taking you with me on my day out with Fiji-based Australian chef, Lance Seeto. We’ll start with a visit to Nadi Municipal Market, followed by a stop over at a local Fijian’s edible garden, and we’ll finish off with lunch at a roadside curry house!
Pssst, if you’ve missed the previous Fiji Friday posts, you can find them here.
Walking through Nadi Market is a very different experience to visiting any other farmers market in the world. There’s an unexpected calmness about the place. There’s no salespeople yelling, there’s no loud haggling and even the pace that everyone walks in, is in Fiji time.
It is not uncommon to see stall owners selling the exact same thing side by side.
I love that their goods are always grouped in small bundles or stacked up on plates. Everything is just so orderly and uncompetitive.
Below, are freshly caught clams…
And here are the different parts of kava (the strength/quality differs depending on which part of the root you grind):
Kava is said to have a similar effect of marijuana and comes from the root of the pepper plant Piper Methysticum. It is used in traditional ceremonies and on social occassions and interestingly, it is very much legal.
Men can be seen sitting around the market, drinking kava for hours. Plus, it is legal to bring up to 2kg of kava with you back to Australia!
It tastes like muddy water and is meant to numb your mouth. I must’ve brought back a crap version though ’cause mine seems to have no effect!
Meanwhile, in the non-chilled seafood room, you can find almost anything that swims… Including baby hammerhead sharks! Everything is back to basics here. The fishes are all line-caught, and nothing at all is frozen.
In developed countries, we pay a premium for local organic foods, but in places like Fiji where their soil is so fertile, growing organic foods is second nature to them. I love the abundance of sugarcane, coconuts, cassava, rice, sweet potatoes, taro, bananas and pineapples.
Above, are some gorgeous finger eggplants (aubergines).
Below, is a pile of wild ginger which look like they’ve just been plucked out of the ground!
There’s also lots of limes and chilli…
and they love okra…
Below, we have bunches of Fiji River Fern (which I tried at the Robert Oliver signature dinner), snakebeans and more chilli, shrimps and yabbies, and sea grapes!
How amazing do these bunches of taro look?
You may also remember me previously mentioning vudi (plantain)? Here it is below; they’re the fat bananas!
Lance is also keen to show me how self-sufficient local Fijians are, so I’m lucky enough to be invited into Yasin’s (Lance’s personal taxi driver) home.
Lance chuckles at the memories of his first time at Yasin’s house where we was stumped by how Yasin’s family could reach their clothing line.
I too, looked around, but there was no Hills Hoist mechanism to wind-down the line.
Yasin quickly demonstrates that the poles on each side are easily removeable. To make their clothesline upright, all they do is position the pole at an angle! And to peg the clothes on or off, they just lift the pole off the ground! How ingenious is that?
What’s even more fascinating is how abundant their backyard is. Never have I
ever seen an eggplant tree! Or a soursop tree! Or a curry leaf tree so
Cassava isn’t new to me but this is the first time I’ve seen the cassava plant:
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always imagined that all local Islanders would have awesome tree-climbing skills. Well, it seems that nowadays, that skill has been made redundant due to another ingenious invention – a super long pole with a hook at the tip which is used to shake the coconuts down!
I’m so humbled by their practicality.
By now, I’m ready for lunch, so Yasin pulls up at one of Lance’s favourite roadside curry houses – Tata’s Restaurant.
After days of resort cuisine, the $8 FJD thali is a refreshing change!
So who is Lance Seeto?
Lance is a Melburnian of Chinese descent. He was born into a family of cooks and has worked as a chef in resorts the last 10 years. After working in some of Australia’s most beautiful locations such as Daydream Island and Cable Beach, Lance was ready for his next adventure and found himself taking on an Executive Chef position at Castaway Island Resort.
Like many expats who stumble into the Fijian way of life, Lance fell in love with the culture and lifestyle, and has now been there for over three years.
At first, I didn’t understand the appeal of why so many chefs would want to work at resort restaurants, but Lance explains that chefs get put up with accomodation so it makes it a very affordable way to travel. It does sound idealistic doesn’t it?
Lance gets to return to Melbourne every three months but he says he always misses the peacefulness of Fiji and the content state of mind. Oh, and of course the food. He loves the fact that he gets fresh fish delivered every day and how every ingredient tastes so real and not manufactured or commercial. “Pork tastes like real earthy pork” Lance highlights.
Since Lance’s arrival in Fiji, he has become quite the local celebrity chef! After a mention by Robert Oliver on how Lance was pioneering the creative use of local produce, he was given an opportunity to write his own newsletter column in the Fiji Times. He also documents his culinary journey on his Facebook page Fijian Food Safari which has over 37000 likes, and is in the process of writing his first book!
Lance’s passion and deep understanding of the Fijian culture is infectious. Throughout our lunch, I find myself listening about his experience, thoughts and emotions so intently. He talks of their organic farming and how there are no allergies here; how there’s a greater sense of happiness despite their minimalistic lifestyle.
It really does get you thinking… Is this how the world should be?
Here is a foreign worker who is living like local in Fiji, embracing their connection to the land and their unconditional compassion, and sharing his learnings and experience with the world. It was such an honour to meet Lance, I can’t wait to read his book!
Lance Seeto’s highly-anticipated travel cookbook “The Tree of Life: A Chef’s
life-changing discovery of passion, heart & purpose on an island
paradise” is scheduled for worldwide release in bookstores & online
in late 2012.
JENIUS travelled to Fiji as a guest of Fiji Tourism with special thanks to Mike Parker-Brown