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Talofa and welcome to Tuvalu. Our 7th blogged nation has been a while coming but we’re finally back into it again. If you’ve ever heard of this island nation it may well be because of the predicament it faces with rising sea levels. Tuvalu sits an average of just 2.0m (6.6ft) above sea level with a highest point of approximately 4.6m (15ft) above sea level. In recent years it has become a poster child for climate change, particularly with some locals seeking refugee status in New Zealand, on this basis.
Where is Tuvalu? The nation sits 1000km north of Fiji, slightly south of the equator. A daisy chain of six coral atolls and three islands, the small islands feature no streams or rivers, so collection of rainwater is essential. The islands are mostly covered in coconut palms leading to the production of copra, dried coconut kernel, more-or-less their only export commodity. Sadly, with increasing salination of the soil, this traditional subsistence farming is coming under threat
According to a UN world tourism news report, Tuvalu was the least visited place on the planet in 2016. It welcomed just 2,000 tourists over 12 months! Although life on the islands can be characterised as harsh, there are plenty of positives in describing this picture perfect collection of islands. A warm tropical climate, low crime rate, strong traditional culture and empty palm tree fringed beaches surrounded by crystal clear waters, are just some of the things we’ve read about.
Similar to the other Pacific island nations, when it came to picking recipes and finding typical cuisine, our search yielded seafood, coconut and more coconut...
With that in mind, we selected a tuna curry for our main course. A slightly more tame affair then catching the tuna ourselves, filleting it and eating it on the spot (as the locals do), the curry uses local produce as well as imported ingredients that herald the Asian influence in the Pacific. Accompanied with coconut rice, the curry and tuna steak was incredibly delicious. Even Karla, who is not a massive seafood fan, couldn't get enough of it. The cucumber was an interesting and refreshing addition to the curry, one we hadn’t seen before. It was also an opportunity to haul out our massive wok that we don't use enough.
For something sweet, we turned to coconut banana fritters. Yes, they taste as good as they sound. Apparently the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were fed these tasty morsels on a recent trip. A healthy dusting of icing (powdered) sugar made it the perfect tropical doughnut. Our experience in cooking these, involved Karla smoking out the house to the extent that everything smelled like a carnival for a week afterwards.
Beating the coconut drum, we also whipped up a coconut milk pudding inside a coconut. Unfortunately this one didn't taste quite as good as it looked and smelled. The taste and texture was best described as unbearably sweet, stringy, and gelatinous-like. A few tweaks and additions to this could however make all the difference.
INGREDIENTS LIST (AS PER ORIGINAL RECIPE):
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, crushed or grated
hot red chilies, optional, as desired
1 Tbsp curry powder
1 can coconut milk
4 green onions
1 cucumber, peeled, cut lengthwise, and sliced
2-4 Tbsp soy sauce, to taste
1 lb raw, cubed tuna steaks
Tuvaluan Coconut Milk Pudding
28 oz. unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup sugar
½ cup corn starch
¼ tsp. salt
coconuts (one for each serving although one shared between two is plenty!)
Coconut Banana Fritters
Vegetable oil, for frying
2 ripe bananas, rough chopped
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup unsweet shredded coconut
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
good pinch salt
1/2 cup coconut milk, or as needed
A heavy dusting of confectioners’ sugar
Some necessary kitchen gadgets and tools:
Cooking skillet or wok
Pot or rice cooker
Here are some of the fun facts that were brought to the dinner table:
In 2000, Tuvalu struck a 12-year deal with Verisign worth $50M US dollars for the use of the country’s .tv internet domain! This is a significant percentage of the nation's GDP.
The only way to Tuvalu is through Fiji. The national airline of Fiji, Fiji Airways (previously Air Pacific), runs the only flight there.
Tuvalu is doing its bit to mitigate the effects of climate change. For instance, it plans to be the first country to generate 100 per cent of its electricity from renewables by 2020 and there's talk of starting up 'climate change tours' to showcase climate adaptation projects funded by foreign aid.
The local currency of Tuvalu is the Australian dollar, with Tuvaluan coins featuring Queen Elizabeth II on one side and local marine life (turtles, octopus, flying fish) on the other. There are no ATMs and credit cards aren’t accepted anywhere, so it’s cash-only even at hotels and guesthouses.
With only two flights arriving each week, the airport tarmac is generally used as a playing field. Joining the locals for a game of soccer or touch football would be a neat experience
Indulge in “hammock time”, the Tuvaluan expression for siesta or nap time
Go snorkelling in the Funafuti Conservation Area to see colourful corals, manta rays, and nesting seabirds.
Our next blog will be Kiribati, also one of the smallest nations in the world. However we will be taking a small break between now and then as we head off to Southern Africa for a few weeks. A foodie update on our travels there will follow!
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