(PHOTO: I actually roasted a pig. I could not get myself to kill the little guy though. Sorry pig).
For all of those people who know me from back home, you would know my very limited cooking skills. I always justified my habitual eating out or ordering in as supporting the local economy. Well, it has been a wake-up call since I arrived in Tonga. Unlike Amelika, Vava’u does not really have fast food restaurants or deliveries. I would consider this next two years as an excellent opportunity to improve my culinary skills (eeks).
Prior to arrival in Matamaka, I was always given food from my host families or I indulged myself in one of the abundant eateries located around Nuko’alofa. When I arrived in Matamaka I learned to adapt to my new environment and lifestyle. Man, life has been so different without a refrigerator! Fresh produce only last about a week, along with white bread from the market. Anchor box milk only lasts for twenty-four hours and forget about butter and ice cream.
It took me about three weeks to figure out which food works best in my outer island. For example: if I want cheese, skip the gouda or cheddar and instead buy Chesdale (box cheese that does not refrigeration) or buy brown bread instead of white, because it has a longer shelf life. Butter has been tricky, but I learned to buy frozen butter right before I catch a boat. Then wrap it in plastic and place in water. It prevents the butter from melting right away. These have been some examples of preparing meals in the outer islands.
(PHOTO: My first attempt of baking oatmeal raisin cookies. I do not know where I went wrong? Lol.)
To this day, I would not say I have perfected or mastered my newly discovered culinary skills, but I can definitely say I have improved dramatically. In Matamaka, I have prepared some delicious vegetable curry and rice, pepperoni and supreme pizza, fried rice, omelets, fresh pesto pasta (with chopped nuts and everything), spaghetti, banana breads, brownies, cookies, vegetable stir-fry, and the lists goes on. My co-teacher Ma’asi has been my guinea pig and so far I have not had any complaints with my cooking. My neighbors always enjoy it when I bake brownies and cakes. One of my techniques with “integrating” in Matamaka has been to bake goods and then giving them out to all of neighbors. I would say I have covered half of the town (at the time of writing). Today, every time I eva-pe (walk around) people are always asking what I will be baking next (the Tongan way of asking “when are you going to bring us some brownies?”) Eventually, I will get around to all twenty-five or so families in Matamaka. I am just lucky it is not a very large village, because that would be a lot of cakes and brownies.
(PHOTOS: Yum, my delicious Matamaka Supreme Pizza and banana bread with M&Ms and banana nut bread).
In the end, I am really happy with the progress I have made with my cooking skills. I feel that I am eating healthier than ever in the outer island than my life in America. The biggest difference has been the quality of food I am eating at Matamaka. Literally all the vegetables are fresh and organic! Furthermore, most of the breads and pasta I have been eating are made from scratch. Everything is so fresh! Back home, if I were to cook some spaghetti, I would easily just buy a jar of tomato sauce and be done. In Tonga, I make my own tomato sauce with fresh everything! I know right, you do not believe me. I guess you all would just have to come and visit and try it for yourself!
Hmmm…I wonder what I should cook next time?