A few years ago I lived in the Solomon Islands. I was living there as a volunteer with an environmental NGO. My mind often wanders back to trips in leaky canoes, chewing betel nut, sitting in a leaf-house stori-ing (talking) or riding in a Toyota Hilux tray with chickens, coconuts, rice, babies and 10 adults for 5 hours in the rain. Part of volunteering is to get to know culture, language, country, customs, people and food! I was fortunate to not only eat some delicious island food, but also learn how to cook it.
I lived with a local family in Honiara. They were traditionally from Roviana Lagoon, near Munda in the Western Province (New Georgia). I was invited to an Uncle's wedding along with my housemate Sue. It is tradition for the entire family to help with preparing the wedding celebrations. I helped the women with some of the cooking duties. This included scraping coconuts, preparing food and woven containers, feeding the army of family-workers. I was also privy to see some of the men's duties. This included pig sacrifice, motu (earthen oven - below) and making a traditional war ship as the dinner table.
I also ventured to Rennell and Bellona; two small islands to the south-west of Honiara of Polynesian descent. When I arrived at the island, it was 'taem no kaikai' or time of no food. These particular islands have a few months every year when it is too wet for anything to grow. However, I soon realised that there was plenty of food out there, it was just learning how to use it! Some of the delights I tried included slippery kavis (slippery cabbage), fern salad, coconut crab and taiyo (tuna) curry. Fern salad was a particularly delicious dish and fantastic with taro or another potato. Coconut crab looks like a land-lobster (below), but tasted like mud. They wanted me to dip rice into the stomach and intestines of the creature. Unfortunately, I just couldn't do it, fearing it would be even more mud-like. Although, I was told it was 'creamy'. However, my favourite and most long-lasting in my memory is the pawpaw (papaya) curry that a local lady made at the school. It was a beautiful blend of sweet and juicy with creamy coconut and salt; very homely. I have adapted the recipe slightly to ingredients available in Australia.
2 x Green Pawpaw or Papaya
2 Cans coconut cream or milk
1 Onion, chopped
2 Cloves Garlic
Yellow Curry Powder
Prepare the pawpaw by cutting it lengthwise and scooping out seeds. Cut off skin and dice flesh. Heat a saucepan with oil and fry the onion and garlic for a couple of minutes. Add the pawpaw, coconut cream and curry powder. Simmer until the pawpaw is about to fall apart and the sauce has thickened. Add salt to taste. Serve with rice.
Find a green pawpaw if you can, or a pawpaw that is not too ripe. Do not use over-ripe pawpaw. Cooking times will vary dependant on the ripeness of the pawpaw.