Archive for September 6th, 2010

Sunday Dinner

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Kauniata invited us to dinner and church on Sunday. She wanted us there at 0800 for a Tongan cooking lesson before church at 1000. Turns out church was postponed to 1400 so we got in a good 5 hours of cooking, chatting, and eating.

The whole system revolves around the traditional oven, called an “umu” – in this case, an old refrigerator filled with sand and half a 55 gallon drum buried in one end. First you start a fire with old coconut shells.

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Kuniata is an educator at heart and is committed to having her palangi (foreign) guests learn the ancient techniques.

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A pile of coral rocks go on top of the fire and these will make the heat for cooking after the fire burns down. It’s a really smokey business and ideally one would prefer to change into their Sunday best some time after all the cooking.

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Peter didn’t seem to mind even though his spot by the leaky rainwater cistern was directly downwind.

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There were coconuts to process while the fire burned down. First you have to husk them on a sharp stake in the ground.

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Then you tap around the coconutty equator with the back of a machete and they spilt into perfect hemispheres.

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At this point the slick visiting Colombian arms dealer is called upon to shred out the coconut with a grater nailed to the end of the old gratin’ stool.

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Then Peter pours some hot water on the coconut and squeezes out the cream (the spent coconut is later fed to the chickens).

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In the meantime Kuniata made “Lu” – taro leaves filled with corned beef and lamb ribs topped with onions.

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Next the tapa leaves are folded up into a package and in goes a cup of the coconut cream. S amazed everyone with her good leaf binding technique which is very similar to packing sediment samples. The whole leaf ball gets wrapped in tin foil and is ready for the umu.

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Next comes the peeling of the manioc roots…

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By the time that’s done the umu fire is burned down to an acceptable level.

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In go the hefty tubers. Then comes a layer of chicken wire to keep the steam circulating between the layers.

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Next comes the Lu, the taro leaves stuffed with meat in coconut cream.

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Then there’s a layer of parrot fish.

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and a final sprinkling of lamb ribs.

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The whole business gets covered in banana leaves and rags.

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Finally the umu gets put to bed with a colorful blankie and some weights to keep the dogs out.

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Then it’s time to go back to the cooking fire and fry fish and hotdogs (!?) in the lard pan that is kept on the roof of the kitchen shed.

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After about an hour the umu was disinterred. Small boys were called up to run hefty portions off to the elderly, family friends, and the visiting Wesleyan pastor. We were too busy eating to take any pics of the final spread. This Sunday lunch seems like a huge effort to us but Peter and Kauniata told us they do this every Sunday to exercise their traditional cuisine (to the chagrin of the youngsters) and then they take a big nap.

This Sunday the schedule was rearranged by the late church service dealing with the special annual collection of tithes, which Peter presided over as the finance officer, and by the visiting senior pastor. The church had seats for about 40 and even with half occupancy, and fifty percent of those under the age of 10, we heard the loudest, most projective hymn singing, ever. By the end of the service the tiny community of believers (comprising only three families) had put up $3,000 USD toward all church projects for the year, including the school.  The congregation was proud and the pastor was delighted.

The next day we had Peter, Kauniata and their two children, Mary and David, out to Khamseen for pizza during the school’s lunch break.  It was a choppy day and Peter got soaked to the bone on the ride out from the beach. We passed off a load of school supplies, books, Nigerian necklaces, color prints of the pics we took that weekend, and a harmonica.  Kauniata gave S a set of earrings, hair combs, and a necklace she had made with rare seashells from her home island of Niua in the far north of Tonga.

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It was sad to say goodbye.  We’ll always remember these wonderful generous people who welcomed us so warmly and did such an excellent job of promoting the image of the Friendly Isles.

19°57.40’S 174°44.80’W   04-Sept-10 03:45 UTC