Living off the land in the Gambier Islands
Plenty of food lives on, grows on or swims around these islands. A good thing too as food in the shops is seriously expensive apart from the things with red price tags which are considered staples and are subsidised by the government; rice, flour, baguettes, etc..
The obvious things grow on trees: coconuts, bananas, pamplemousse, lemons, Seville oranges, breadfruit, papaya, guava, mangos, are all plentiful. There are not many trees that are not owned by somebody so you have to find the tree’s caretaker and ask permission to pick fruit but it will usually be granted graciously.
There are plenty of pigs, goats and chickens although it is very difficult to buy their meat anywhere. The shops stock some frozen lamb, chicken and beef from the USA, Argentina or New Zealand but that is about it.
There are plenty of fish however all but five species are affected by ciguatera; which is a very bad thing that you don’t want to have attack your nervous system. We never felt very confident at identifying the five species that are safe so only ate fish that the locals were eating.
We made Poisson Cru the other day with our friend Matt who lives on Taravai Island. Here’s the recipe that I sent to my parents.
“Poisson Cru translates to raw fish, but it is more than that. We used surgeon fish, those with the deadly scalpel sharp blades on their tail. First you catch or spear your fish, just outside the front door on the reef, filet it and then cut it into small pieces. Then go out, into the yard, and get lemons and squeeze them over the fish and set aside while the acid cooks the meat. In the mean time you go out, into the yard, and get four or five coconuts and a papaya or two. You grind the meat out of the coconuts and squeeze the flesh in a cloth to extract the milk. Then shred the papaya. After about half an hour the fish is ready and you have to drain the lemon juice off to stop the cooking. Mix in the Papaya and then poor over the coconut milk and chill or eat straight away; delicious. We also cooked breadfruit and Plantains, also from the yard, to have with it. The breadfruit is very much like floury potato but one of them feeds six people the skin is bright green and they grow on trees. The yard doesn’t have a boundary but about 20m from house is thick jungle. There are wild pigs, chickens, and goats. If you want to live off the land/sea life is pretty easy here.”
The other day we were given a couple of breadfruit. The bigger one was about the size of a volleyball. We peeled it with a potato peeler then chopped it up until it fitted in our pressure cooker on the steamer rack and then cooked it under pressure for 15 minutes. We used some of it as a potato substitute with a meat dish. Some more got used with the leftover meat for lunch the next day. Paula then made gnocchi with it for dinner and a desert pudding, from a recipe that we found somewhere that came out more or less like a bread pudding.
Some of the fruits are a bit more difficult to deal with; there is the Noni fruit for example that stinks like rancid cheese and tastes similar (the Chinese love it apparently); we left that one alone. Then we discovered oranges but they turned out to something like Seville oranges, too bitter to eat and full of pips, but we made marmalade and stocked up that locker for the next several months.
We have enjoyed our time in the Gambiers; learnt a lot but tomorrow we will leave and head in NW direction towards Tahiti via some of the Tuamotu atolls; which ones we’ll decide as we go.