One of the struggles of this project is to not simply cut and paste our recipes from other bloggers who have taken on this task. Especially since they’re mostly doing a better job.
In particular, United Noshes is doing a really exceptional job. They have dinner parties. They donate to charity. They’ve been on NPR. Have WE been on NPR? No we have not. Are we doing nearly a careful or accurate enough job to WARRANT being on NPR? Also no.
But when United Noshes says they are unable to identify much, if any, of a distinct food culture for a country, we know we’re not going to do any better. In order to avoid just copying them, I will generally do quite a bit of Googling, as well as checking actual cookbooks. But in this case?
Nope – we’re just copying them.
To get a few things out of the way:
Kiribati is an island nation in the middle of the Pacific ocean. It is the 172nd largest country in the world by surface area, putting it between Sao Tome and Principe, and Bahrain. By population, it is 178th. On the other hand, they have bent time and space to their will.
By which I mean there’s a big diversion in the international date line which Kiribati unilaterally declared in order to have the entire country be on the same day of the week as their major trading partner, Australia.
Two more facts before we get onto the food. 1) The name of this country is pronounced “Kiribass”. 2) Kiribati is very likely to be the first country we lose entirely to climate change.
OK, so before that happens, what are we making? Two dishes – fried parrotfish, and pumpkin simmered in coconut milk.
Both are VERY simple, as befits a country with very little land area for cultivation of herbs and spices. Let’s start with the fish. Parrotfish are actually found all over the world, but since they are also found in the freezer at my local Supermarket 88, we decided to ape United Noshes and go with that. After all, we can’t argue with this irrefutable evidence:
That’s more or less exactly what the frozen one looked like.
Uncanny, isn’t it? I am NOT good at gutting, scaling, or filleting fish, as has already been established in this project, but fortunately, parrotfish have BIG scales, so it’s easy to tell when you’ve gotten them all. A great deal of utterly terrible knife work later, and we had this.
And a quick fry in oil later, we had this.
That would appear to be fried fish, all right. To be clear, I used absolutely no seasoning or breading of any kind. Just patted them dry with paper towels and hurled them into the oil.
For our other dish, we made Te bwaukin, or pumpkin simmered in coconut milk with pandan leaf. And there’s really not much more to it than that. There’s literally only one ingredient (sugar) that isn’t listed in the title of the recipe.
Chop up pumpkin. (shown here mid chop)
Put in a pot with coconut milk, sugar, and some pandan leaves.
The pandan leaves are interesting. They have a really lovely, sweet fragrance, and are used for seasoning desserts all over Oceana and southeast Asia. Our entire fridge now smells like pandan, and I am not complaining.
And with that, we’re done. Here’s dinner:
Simple, isn’t it? The nice thing about saltwater fish is that they taste just fine when you cook them without any seasoning. It was a nice crunchy piece of flaky fish. And the pumpkin was so sweet (if a bit mushy) that it was basically a dessert. Nothing fancy here, but as authentic as we were likely to get, and nothing we wouldn’t eat again.
Thanks Kiribati! We hope everyone gets out safely.
Next up, due to our refusal to file it under “N” or “D”, we have Korea, North.
Fried Parrotfish: Seriously, just toss it in hot oil for 12 minutes or so.
Pumpkin Simmered in Coconut Milk