Sunday, July 3, 2011

Tongan Food

I first heard the term spoken with full nuance by Ane as we flew into her home country. She wasn't going to eat any of the KFC chicken she'd brought from New Zealand for her husband because she was waiting for some Tongan Food. If you grew up in a home like I did in which the preparation of holiday family meals is a ritual of delicious anticipations and the preparation of far too much food for the number of eaters, then the term Thanksgiving Dinner might conjure up similar fullness, similar home comforts as the term Tongan Food seems to do for Tongans I have met.

In the Ha'apai Group of Tongan islands we were repeatedly asked if we had enough Tongan food. By this, the asker meant items such as cassava, limes, coconut, cassava leaves, taro leaves, canned corned beef, papaya. When invited to the umu at Lucy's house on Ha'afeva, we had a combination of all of those items. Here is the menu, apart from the lime drink, all items were cooked in coals in the buried half of a rusty 50 gallon drum.

Lemon Drink
Tongan Bread
Lu is a dish in which any type of meat is mixed with coconut cream wrapped in many taro leaves, and then baked in an underground oven. We have eaten canned corned beef (very common), salted fish, chicken, and sorme sort of gristley pork all prepared this way.
Hefe is the closest thing to a potato that grows here, except it grows on husks akin to chestnuts. After roasted a long time in the umu, the husks are split off and out comes a roasty, firm potato tasting item.

Tongan Bread Recipe:
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup coconut cream
As many pieces of shredded fresh coconut as you like

Beat this together into sticky dough and place into the empty halves of coconut shells. Bake in the umu until the moist and dense bread is lightly brown on top.

As can be imagined, smoke is a necessary condiment for almost all Tongan food.

One other umu dish we had on a different day was papaya chunks, onion, coconut cream, wrapped in aluminum foil and baked for an hour. This might have been my favorite item.

As there was no refrigeration on Ha'afeva, Iwas told to "eat like a Tongan." If food is prepared, it has to be eaten that day because the humidity, heat, and small ants destroy all food over night.

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1 comment:

Kakala said...

I stumbled over your blog when I was googling tongan bread online and was very happy to see that you included recipe for tongan bread. I am from tongan parents and heard of the great taste of fresh tongan bread from the bakery, hot and fresh! And I am trying to find the recipe for those delicious squared bread they bake. Ive tried it as a child when ive visited tonga and I can never forget that lovely smell of fresh hot bread and having it with butter that melts right on. Very much appreciate this cause its hard to find any recipe for tongan bread on the internet. Well, I guess my searching will continue cause if I could afford it, I would have flown to the Island of tonga myself to the bakery! :)