Cock Fights and Coconut Chutney

On Friday all of the Trainees had a cooking competition affectionately named “Iron Chef”. Each of our villages was given 2 recipes from our “Dalo Happens” cookbook, which has been compiled by years of Fiji Peace Corps Volunteers in order to give us a little taste of home with recipes like pizza, French toast and chocolate chip cookies, and to instruct us on some Fijian staples like curries, roti, and dishes with coconut. The title of the cookbook is derived from one of the most prevalent root crops here- dalo. It’s a very dense and gummy potato like starch that is served (typically along with cassava) with every dish here and trust me, it gets old fast.  Our village was given tuna burgers and nutrala (a fake meat substitute) tacos to make for the competition. Well, since our village has the only 3 vegetarians in the group, we decided to switch the tuna burger recipe to a lentil burger concoction topped with caramelized onions and a citrus-soy sauce glaze. With our tacos we also decided to make salsa, which our moms called tomato chutney. It was amazing to have a little taste of home! Some of the other villages made things like pizza pockets, pumpkin risotto (which won the best dish competition), hummus, bruschetta, and coconut chutney (which won for best appetizer- it is so delicious… so ill include the recipe here for anyone who wants to try it!) Our lentil burgers won for best presentation.  The event also included a competition for Roti King and Queen, which was judged on our roti’s appearance and taste. I decided that our people living in the Indian settlement definitely had a handle on how to make perfectly round and beautiful roti, so I went another route and made a flower out of my roti… our host moms all got a hoot out of it. The FRE7s and FRE8s (the leaders from the 2 years of Fiji Volunteers before us) judged the competition. Silas from the Indian settlement was named roti King and  I won for roti Queen! The judges got us little circular roti rolling boards and rolling pins which was such a great prize- now I can make roti at my site whenever I want it! For those who don’t know- roti is basically like a lightly browned tortilla that you eat with curries and chutneys; I have also included a recipe for that below as well!  After we all gorged ourselves on “American” food, the FRE7/FRE8s led a session about the realities of living in Fiji. We talked about transportation, different types of housing situations, bedbugs, rats, cats, cockroaches, mosquitoes, ants, black mold, and the inevitable death of our electronics. All in all it was a really great day to spend some time with all the trainees, eat delicious food, and learn a little bit more about the place we will call home for the next few years.

I am getting really excited to find out where my site will be for the next two years, I can’t wait to make a little home for myself and start cooking again! There are so many incredible spices and seasonings here, but I really just miss being able to cook my own food. I am going to start a new sub-section of this blog where I will post new recipes that I discover here and that are in our Dalo Happens cookbook so you all can enjoy some of the tastes of Fiji with me.

On Friday night a lot of our trainees attended a fundraiser our village’s youth group set up to raise money for their flushing toilet system and to help pay a student’s tuition.  It cost 3 dolas to go, and it was just a really great night of dancing, listening to music (Fireworks by R. Kelly is like  the MOST popular song here right now… we hear it every week on our bus ride into Nausori for center days) and I think they played it about 3 times that night. They also played the Macarena, which I just find hilarious… that songs sheer prevalence in every culture is amazing…

On Saturday night some of the volunteers went over to Aliki’s house to drink grog with his family, my host dad even came with me this time! We are starting to learn more of the sayings and the proper/formal way to conduct a grog session which is really interesting. I got to act as the chief of our group, thus obtaining the first bilo of grog that is passed around, which was a unique experience considering females are usually served last in grog sessions. That’s why it is really fun to drink in informal settings where our families treat us with an undue amount of respect. When Te got there (our group’s oldest male) I let him sit as the chief, and I acted as the spokesman, receiving the second bilo and saying “taki” which means “next round”. The grog is starting to affect all of us a bit more, and we now get little grog chasers (usually these small coffee candies) to get the taste out of our mouths while we all sit around and “talanoa” or tell stories, until the next round is passed around.

On Sunday, I went to the Methodist Church with my family.  I got to sing with the choir which was really fun, and I think everyone got a kick out of it. It’s funny; I can recognize quite a few of the tunes, and it’s just learning all the new words for them.  We always have the best meals on Sunday because the visiting ministers come over to our house for lunch. Today I had chopsuey with nutrala (that fake meat stuff I mentioned before), cucumbers, watermelon, coffee, and some mud crab (mana) cooked in miti (coconut milk that’s uncooked) with onions and peppers. Atama brought over a veggie frittata with kumala (a purple sweet potato) so it was a ridiculously huge meal.  The visiting minister was from a village down the road that is actually going to be hosting a peace corps volunteer from our group- it was really interesting talking to him about the projects their prior volunteer had worked on, it was a type of crab farm marketing program, and it will be interesting to see who in our group is placed there.

I have been talking with my host dad a lot about the meanings of village names, where my parents are from, and about some of the lore associated with Fijian culture. When I was in Nausori one day, I picked up a book of Fijian Myths and Lore and will type one up someday to give you an idea of some of the cultural perspectives on events and natural phenomena.

My family just got some new TV thing- I don’t know if its cable or satellite…. I’m really bad with my TV knowledge. But now we get like 17 channels. My host dad got it so that he could watch all of the rugby games and the world cup in a few months which is awesome. I really appreciate it because I can watch BBC and CNN to hear about things happening around the world. They also have some other channels…. Like right now I’m watching “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe”. At my site I will most likely have a radio as my means of obtaining news and weather reports, so I’m taking advantage now!

Monday morning I awoke to this awful, continuous thumping from outside. I actually thought someone was running around our house hitting the walls. When I finally got fed up with the noise, I walked out into the kitchen and my na said “oh, did the chickens wake you?” Turns out there were two roosters fighting it our underneath our house for 45 minutes. I walked outside and poked my head under the house and sure enough there were two roosters- I tried chasing them out but they just went right back under the house. Some battles just aren’t

On Tuesday, our whole group went down to Suva (the Capital) to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony at the new American Embassy. It was cool to see the facilities and talk to some of the people that work there; quite a few of them are RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers). I met the head of the embassy’s environmental department and got his business card so that when he gets back from visiting the states for a month, we can meet up to discuss Peace Corps goals and the ways we can work together to achieve some of our mutual goals.  We also got to meet the ambassador between the US and Fiji, he was obviously really busy meeting up with more important individuals but we snagged him for one picture with our group. After that we got to go explore Suva for a while.  A group of us went out to get some Indian food at the malls shopping court (really to take advantage of the first chance we’ve had to enjoy air conditioning in over a month… got to take advantage now!) We headed down to the handicrafts market to check things out for a while, and then went and grabbed a real cup of coffee, something not instant… woo! We sat on the 4th floor of this building and looked out over Suva Bay just enjoying some good company and good joe! We went to the movie theatres and watched The Hangover PT 2… movies here are only 5 FJD so around 2.50 USD… once again, taking advantage of the AC and some cheap laughs. Once we finished the movie, we went out to have a beer and while a group of 3 of us were sitting down, a guy came up to our table from across the empty bar and said, “This might seem odd, but are you guys Peace Corps? I saw your dress and figured you must be.” The dress comment is because PCVs are typically the only European people who dress appropriately even in the larger cities of Fiji. Turns out the guy is on vacation with a friend and he is a PCV in Tonga right now, his service ends in December. A lot of our Peace Corps people ended up there and it was a great time to talk with a bunch of people who (unfortunately) are leaving on Sunday to go back to the states, but a lot of our group will be taking over their old sites.

With the ambassador at the embassy opening

Speaking about sites… we find out TOMORROW. I applied to the Peace Corps on March 28, 2010. It has been 15 months coming to find out where I will be spending the next two years of my life and I can’t wait! It’s hard not to hope for a certain area or location… but I’m trying my best to remain unbiased by all the little bits of information we have heard here and there.

Here are those recipes…

Coconut Chutney

2 cups coconut shavings

Handful of cilantro or mint, chopped

4 chopped garlic cloves

Chopped chilies

Salt to taste

Add all ingredients together and mix well, tastes best when mixed in a blender the size of the coconut shavings should be about the size of a small piece of sea salt (see picture from the competition)

 

Roti Recipe

4 cups flour

1 ½ TBSP baking powder

Pinch of salt

1/6 cup oil or ghee

1 ½ c warm water added slowly (make sure its warm water- not cold!)

  • Add all ingredients in large bowl and mix adding warm water slowly
  • knead 5 minutes and let stand 10 min. Roll into small balls (like ping pong sized)
  • Roll into thin tortillas on a floured surface
  • warm up a flat (cast iron is best) pan, when warm, lightly dab ghee or oil on the surface and cook roti on one side until little air pockets are visible
  • Flip with a spatula and cook 5-10 seconds (dab a little ghee or melted butter on the edges), flip and cook on the other side 5-10 seconds.
  • Keep flipping until the surface is browned.

Our iron chef plates

  • Keep finished roti in a dishtowel to stay warm and soft before serving.

making vuivui- the are rolled up leaves that get sun bleached before weaving mats out of them

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