Back in July, one of our stop over was in the Vava’u group of islands, part of the Kingdom of Tonga.
Our stay was brief, only 2 weeks, as we had spent longer than planned on French Polynesia (too much of a good time!) and we had guests to meet the following month in Fiji. A rough sea voyage and a spell of bad weather with strong winds, meant that our crew didn’t feel like venturing too far among the islands and preferred to stay safely anchored close to town most of the time.
Just like any Polynesian country, Tonga is famous for its gargantuan feasts (known here as Lovo). The most spectacular ones mark special events like the King’s coronation or a chief’s daughter’s wedding, featuring a whole suckling pig for each of the guests. Literally tons of food are piled and spread on long platters for the occasion: taro, yams, cassava, sweet potato, breadfruits, fish, lobster, octopus, chicken, corned beef, cooked taro leaves and fruits. Cooking is done in an underground oven (umu) where each parcel is wrapped in taro leaves, and buried under banana leaves, coconut husks, rocks and soil. Terry and I once attended such a feast. It was during our first visit to Vava’u 15 years ago, and put on for visitors at Hunga, one of the villages. While not as earth shaking as what I described above, I still remember how 20 of us sat cross legged on the ground, in front of leaf mats loaded with roast chickens, breadfruits and green drinking coconuts. Each of us were presented with “mystery-bags” filled with stuffed capsicums, pork slices mixed with vegetables, tender corned beef stewed with onions…all smothered in coconut milk and with a smoked aroma. Dessert was baked papayas with grated coconut and little balls of tapioca flour and coconut cooked in brown sugar caramel ( not unlike the coconut candy I learnt to make in the Tuamotus recently)
The memory of this dinner was so great, that we wanted the kids to experience it as well. A few villages around Vava’u organise “cultural shows” for the sake of the yachties, the one on Lape sland being famous for not only its feast, but also the traditional dancing and the handicraft display. Unfortunately this week’s show was cancelled due to bad weather as was the following show because of the King’s attendance to the Agricultural Show! We could have gone to any of the other island feasts that seem to be on a few nights a week, but since the children did not exactly jump with excitement at the idea, we decided to hold on to our memories and make new ones instead: whale watching, snorkelling, and enjoying beach bonfires fires with friends…cruising life at its best!
Tonga may be a Polynesian country, but without the French rule there is no mistaking the end of the French influence. After Papeete and Bora Bora, the cost of living here is cheap.
The ‘Utukalongalu farmer’s market is busy with fruits and vegetable, some local (bananas, pineapple, green peppers, cabbage, bok choy, coconuts, green beans, pumpkins, manioc, onions, tomatoes, papayas, taro, yams, cucumbers and watermelons), some imported “direct from the weekly ship” (carrots, apples, pears, zucchinis, potatoes and oranges) Everything costs T$3 a bunch no matter the size ( could be 3 tomatoes or a 5kg pumpkin)! As any island market, to be assured of a fair selection one has to arrive early, which is not easy in my case. Instead I opted to visit the market daily, not because we needed food that often, but because each visit yielded its own surprise in newly discovered produce. On Monday, looking for coriander, I stumbled upon big and healthy bunches of dill. A herb I normally associate with northern climates (think Sweden or France) I was assured it was grown locally, in the tropical gardens of Vava’u! On Tuesday, one of the ladies sitting on the pavement outside the market hall, introduced me to the ai nut: a hard green outer shell which needs cracking and reveals a thin pale green kernel tasting very much like a green almond (Marc and I became addicted, and would go back to the market each morning for a new bag!) On Wednesday, I had another surprise, this time in the shape of a herb I had last seen in Mexico and called Cuban oregano. The Tongans call it plain oregano, even though the thicker and wider leaves smell more like sage. By now, you’re probably wondering why all the excitement. Well, for me, the discovery of familiar food grown in unfamiliar environments means infinite cooking possibilities. The same way I paired dill and freshly caught wahoo with a creamy sauce, I married Cuban oregano and chicken in a revamped apple sauce.
That is for the fresh food and the only good news. There is no supermarket in Neiafu, but there are lots of medium sized grocery stores carrying NZ and Aussies foodstuff, some limited American products too. Whatever you can’t find in one, you may find at another’s… All meat and chicken is sold frozen, the condition of the packages depending on how many power shortages the shops had to endure. Looking at the cows and pigs allowed to roam freely around the streets of Neiafu, you would think there would be a butcher selling fresh meat. Except we were told fresh pigs and beef are only available for feasts. And sadly, no baguettes or French cheese!
Having said that, a dozen cafes abound around town, some like the TROPICANA sell take away bread and pastries (not as good as what you can bake yourself I’m afraid), others like ROOSTER BISTRO offer yacht provisioning, but I have not checked that yet. Some enterprising locals will row to your boat and offer fresh bread, even lobsters. I bought 6 good sized ones from a guy called Alofi for T$125 (and I think he overcharged us when he saw our boat!). And since, we still have lockers full of food from Panama and French Polynesia, there is hardly anything to complain about is there?
Considering the amount of food onboard, we have been eating out a lot while in Neiafu. There is an amazing number of cafes and restaurants for such a small town, all catering for the aussie and kiwi crews. While I miss the French food, Terry and the kids loved being back in the land of burgers, fish&chips, pizzas and meat pies offered by the likes of BELLA VISTA CAFÉ, TROPICANA and AQUARIUM CAFE. The food is good and pretty much what you’d find on an Australian menu but prices are on the high side for what you get though: T$35 for a main course of fish & rice, T$45 for steak & chips, T$26 for pizza or a burger, …beer is T$7. The worst I’ve had is a take away sausage roll for T$7 and it was inedible! Still, we do go out because we need internet and the only way to connect is in these cafes where some offer free WIFI and others charge even if you eat there…( We have tried to pick up signals from the boat, but the passwords are changed daily to prevent people logging in for free) Our favourite hangout was no doubt the AQUARIUM café, where not only did we enjoy Mike and his staff’s hospitality but also the best pizzas in Vava’u.
Money: exchange rate is T$1=A$1.65 (not sure about US$) Plenty of ATMs around town.
Wahoo in creamy dill sauce
4 wahoo fillets approx. 200g each (or other white firm flesh fish like mahimahi, Spanish mackerel or cod)
1 onion sliced thinly
1 bunch of dill, chopped
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
½ cup white wine
300 ml pouring cream ( I use UHT whipping cream on the boat, a good standby for fresh cream)
1 tomato sliced thinly (for garnish)
1. In a large skillet, heat the butter and the olive oil over high heat. Pan fry the wahoo fillets , 2 minutes on each side, until the fish is slightly opaque. Remove from the skillet and keep warm.
2. In the same skillet the fish was cooked, add the onion slices and cook over medium heat until soft and translucent. Add the dill, the white wine and let it reduce by 1/3 . Once reduced, add the cream, warm up without bringing up to the boil (watch it!) and turn the heat off. Season to taste.
3. Serve the fish on a bed of rice, garnish with a slice of tomato and spoon sauce generously on top.
Chicken and apple sauce
1 chicken cut into 8 pieces, or 4 chicken marylands
1 tbsp dried thyme
2 apples , peeld and chopped very roughly
2 tbsp butter + 2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped finely
2 tbsp Cuban oregano, chopped roughly
½ cup white wine
1. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, sprinkle the thyme all over. In a large skillet, brown the chicken in the butter and olive oil until golden.
2. Pre-heat oven to 200C. In a large baking dish, place the chopped onion, apple chunks, and Cuban oregano. Transfer the chicken pieces to the baking dish, along with any juice from the skillet where the chicken was browned in, making sure that the pieces cover the vegetables. Bake for 45 minutes or until the juices from the chicken run clear. The chicken should be golden brown and the apples should be soft , having been stewed in chicken juice.
3. Remove the chicken pieces and keep warm. In the meantime, transfer the apple/onion mixture to a saucepan, add white wine and bring to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes until the alcohol evaporates and the sauce is glossy but still chunky. Season to taste.
4. Place chicken pieces on a plate with the sauce on the side. Serve with roasted potatoes.
Sometimes after a busy eating schedule or hot day on the boat, we only want to eat something light. I love salads, especially the “kitchen sink” type where a quick survey of the fridge’s content meets with my imagination. On a quick passage from Tonga to Fiji recently, the crew felt like something light and fresh for lunch. I came up with this salad, which I called “salade fraicheur”, French for “freshness salad”. I found that the combination of cheese and vegetables was enough for myself, but feel free to add grilled chicken or beef and serve with bread rolls if like me, you have bigger eaters around. Simple, fast and yummy!
1 small head of lettuce, washed and trimmed
1 bunch green beans, washed and trimmed
3 tomatoes, washed and cut in wedges
¼ cup black olives, roughly chopped
1 french shallots (red) thinly sliced
1 block (200g) haloumi cheese, cut into 4 portions
½ cup pine nuts
French salad dressing (1 tbsp red wine vinegar, 3 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp mustard, salt and pepper, all whisked in a small bowl)
1. Steam or boil the green beans, until just tender. Drain and plunge in ice cold water (to stop the cooking so they retain their nice green colour). Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine lettuce leaves, cooked green beans, tomato wedges, olives and shallots. Add salad dressing and toss.
3. Heat a non stick frypan on very high (do not add oil), place haloumi cheese slices and grill/pan fry about 2 minutes on each sides (you want it crisp and brown on the outside, just warm and soft on the inside, not melted!)
4. Divide the salad evenly in 4 bowls or plates, place the grilled cheese on top, sprinkle with toasted pine nuts. Add grilled chicken or beef, if using. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
“Real men don’t eat quiche”. That’s what an Australian friend once told me. He has since tasted a lot of quiches of mine, and so have my men as these open-face savory pies with a custard filling feature on our onboard menu nearly every week. Nothing draws my kids faster to the table, than the aroma of buttery pastry baking!
The pastry is a cinch to make, I often make a double batch and freeze some for later use. The proportion for the custard is always the same. I follow a Julia Child’s recipe which includes 1 egg for every ½ cup of liquid. When I am in a hurry or at sea, using pre-packaged ingredients, it roughly works out as 3 eggs for a 300ml tub of pouring cream. As for the filling, you’re only limited by your imagination. To the traditional bacon and cheese, I have substituted spinach and fetta, crab and lemon, tomato and zucchini…Our latest favourites come from times spent rummaging through the fridge, trying to use these items on their last legs: a lonely bag of porcini mushrooms with a small bunch of forgotten asparagus, and half a wheel of brie no one fancies on crackers anymore paired with a couple of apples. What is your favourite?
Shortcrust pastry for quiche making
Makes for 1 quiche
200g/1 ¾ cup plain flour
100g/ ½ cup/ 1 stick unsalted butter chopped
1 pinch salt
60ml/ 2-3 tbsp iced water
1. Place the flour, salt and butter in a food processor and process for 1 minute or until the mixture ressembles breadcrumbs. Add the iced water and process until the dough comes together. Flatten the dough into a disc shape, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate d=for 30 minutes (or freeze for later use). Roll out the dough between 2 sheets of baking paper to 4mm thick, line a 24cm quiche or tart dish and refrigerate for another 30 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 200C (400F). Prick the base of the pastry with a fork, line with baking paper and fill with raw beans/rice/baking weights. Bake for 15 minutes, remove paper and weights, and bake for a further 10 mn to brown it very lightly. Set aside while you work on the filling.
3. This pre-baking of the pastry is important to prevent a soggy bottom. I don’t always trim the edges of the pastry, preferring a more “free-form”, unfussy look. However for a neater presentation (i.e a dinner party!!) I would trim the edges, keeping the leftover dough for appetisers.
Mushroom and Asparagus Quiche
1 quantity shortcrust pastry
250g porcini mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
1 small bunch of asparagus ( about 8), cleaned and trimmed
1 pinch of dried herbes de provence
300 ml pouring cream
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1. Pre-heat oven to 200C(400F). Prepare shortcrust pastry as per recipe above and pre-bake as instructed.
2. Heat olive oil in a skillet, sauté the mushrooms for 5 minutes, add the asparagus and cook longer until all vegetables are tender and slightly caramelised.
3. Reduce the oven temperature to 180C(375F). Place the eggs, cream and dried herbs in a bowl and whisk to combine. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese at the bottom of the pastry shell, place the mushrooms and asparagus on top, pour over the egg mixture. Bake for 25-30 minutes until set. If your oven only heats from the bottom, as mine does, turn on the grill element for the last 5 minutes of cooking, until top is golden.
Apple and Brie Quiche
1 quantity shortcrust pastry
2 red apples, washed, cored, sliced thickly
250g brie cheese, cut in thin wedges, rind trimmed (opt)
1 pinch of dried thyme
300 ml pouring cream
1 cup mozzarella or cheddar cheese
1. Pre-heat oven to 200C(400F). Prepare shortcrust pastry as per recipe above and pre-bake as instructed.
2. Reduce the oven temperature to 180C(375F). Place the eggs, cream and dried thyme in a bowl and whisk to combine. Sprinkle the mozzarella or cheddar cheese at the bottom of the pastry shell, place the apples and brie slices in a pattern on top, pour over the egg mixture. Bake for 25-30 minutes until set. If your oven only heats from the bottom, as mine does, turn on the grill element for the last 5 minutes of cooking, until top is golden.
On passage from Bora Bora to Tonga
It’s a wrap!
We are in the last 5 months of our world cruise, and I am finally realising that my boat pantry is so full, we have enough to feed ourselves all the way to Australia and beyond. This in itself is not so bad, except that our next ports of call in Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu have strict quarantine rules (no doubt, taken out of the Australian book) and will frown upon all fresh and some dried foodstuffs. In over 3 years of cruising, we have never been searched for food and I have accumulated an incredible amount of provisions: many are staples, some are more exotic, and a few may test the goodwill of a quarantine officer…
So from this week on, I have vowed to use up as many of our existing food supplies as possible. It started with a minimal shop in Bora Bora the day before our departure, instead of our usual massive provisioning: a bag of potatoes, 3 baguettes and some pork chops. That took care of day 1.
Next in the locker was a packet of rice flour, bought in Mexico. Back then, I remember wanting to experiment with Agua de Horchata ( Rice water) but today I felt like wraps and decided to try my hands at making rice tortillas. It is so simple : unlike bread making, there is no kneading, rising, or rolling of the dough. Think of it as making crepes, which appeals to my kids. The filling is my take on the exotic “rice paper roll”: a mix of tuna, cabbage, carrot, bean vermicelli, seaweed, in a Vietnamese dressing served with Polynesian sashimi sauce and soy sauce. Add fruit smoothie for dessert (watermelon, papaya, frozen bananas and orange juice, this week’s favourite!) and it is a fresh and healthy way to fill up the crew.
Wraps with tuna, seaweed and sesame seeds
Serves 4 for lunch
4 rice tortillas (homemade or store-bought)
4 leaves of nori seaweed
1 large carrot, grated
¼ small cabbage, grated
2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
12 mint leaves
2 tbsp chopped chives
80g bean thread vermicelli
1 can tuna in water
2 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp grapeseed oil (or any other flavorless oil)
1 tbsp sesame oil
Sashimi sauce ( egg mayonnaise mixed with soy sauce, mustard, and a little sugar)
1. In a bowl, soak the vermicelli in warm water for 5 minutes. Drain well.
2. In another large bowl, combine the vermicelli, grated carrots and cabbage, drained tuna, chives, parsley. Season with salt and pepper, add sesame seeds, rice vinegar, sesame and grapeseed oil. Mix thoroughly.
3. Lay a tortilla on a plate, put a nori leaf on top, spread 1 or 2 tbsp of sashimi sauce, lay 3 mint leaves, add 2 tbsp of the tuna and vegetables. Roll up, wrap in clingfilm and keep in the fridge for up to 3 hours.
4. Cut in half, serve with extra sashimi sauce and soya sauce for dipping (after unwrapping the clingfilm, unlike the photo shows). Enjoy!
This is my standard recipe on VOAHANGY for making soft bread rolls: you can shape them any way you wish and turn them into hamburger buns, hot dog rolls, even pizza dough! I occasionally tweak some of the ingredients too: milk can be replaced with water, the texture won’t be as soft. For a more wholesome taste, substitute 1 cup of wholemeal flour for the plain flour.
I use my breadmaker on board to make the dough then shape it and let it rise outside and bake in the oven. Of course the kneading can be done manually or in a food processor, the only difference being that you start with the solid ingredients then add the liquid ones.
Makes 8 hamburger or long rolls, 1 very large or 4 individual pizza bases.
500g (4 cups) plain flour
280ml (1 1/3 cup) milk
50ml (4 tbsp) olive oil
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp bakers’s yeast (SAF style)
1 tsp salt
1. Assemble all liquid ingredients in the breadmaker’s tin first. Add salt to the milk mixture, so it doesn’t come into contact with the yeast (it will kill it otherwise). Add flour and yeast. Secure the tin in the machine, then put on the QUICK DOUGH cycle (45mn)
2. When the dough cycle is completed, take out of the breadmaker, turn out on a floured surface. Divide the dough in 8 portions and shape into hamburger or long rolls (for pizzas, divide into the number of bases required, and shape into thin discs).
3. Place the dough onto a lightly oiled baking tray, let rise for another 20-30mn (it will double in volume).
4. Pre-heat an oven to 180deg (up to 220deg depending on your oven, mine heats from the bottom and will burn the rolls if too hot!). Bake for 15-20 minutes.
If you don’t use a breadmaker, replace step 1 with the following:
1. Dissolve the yeast in a little warm milk and leave for 10mn. In a large bowl, place the flour, the yeast mixture, salt and olive oil. Start mixing, adding the milk gradually until you end up with a soft ball. Knead for 15 minutes, you will obtain a smooth, slightly sticky ball. Cover with a cloth and let rise in a warm place for 40 minutes ( on the galley bench is good enough while in the tropics, in colder climate, use the inside of the oven or wrap in a towel!) When the dough has risen, punch it to deflate, knead briefly on a floured surface, and proceed as in step 2.