A Thought for Food

Lunch at SIBC

When Tom and I got married cooking was not my forte and in fact I think Tom cooked most of the meals in that first year. But with practice (and lots of watching Tom) I have come to enjoy cooking and being in charge of meals for our growing family. So on our recent trip to Vanuatu I was keen to get an idea of what food and cooking will be like for our family next year. Here are some of my observations and thoughts…

Both men and women are involved in tending their own family gardens where they grow their food.  But from what I could see it was the women who did the daily cooking of meals and this was done over a fire outdoors next to their house or sometimes in a separate hut.

So what do they grow? Well, mostly root crops such as taro, sweet potato, yams, and manyok, and fruit such as coconuts, all kinds of citrus fruits, pawpaws, bananas, avocados.  But they also grow other things like peanuts, island cabbage, chokos, green beans, corn, coffee (Tanna produces its own brand of coffee) and probably lots of other fruits and vegies I didn’t see because they weren’t in season. Meat and eggs are a bit scarce and come from cows, pigs and chickens that roam the bush close by the village.

Given that people mainly eat from their gardens and so most meals are based heavily on root crops, food is fairly plain tasting for westerners. But they do buy some items like rice and flour from the shops at Lenekal (about 1 hour drive from where we’ll live at the bible college). We visited a few shops and I was able to have a quick look at what was there. This was my list:

  • oil
  • yeast
  • onions
  • garlic
  • salt
  • honey
  • baking powder
  • baked beans
  • tomato paste
  • sugar
  • biscuits
  • potato chips
  • coconut milk tins
  • chickens  ~$15
  • rice 15kg: ~$26, 1kg: $2.40
  • tin chicken, pork, and tuna ~$1.30 (medium size tin)
  • milk powder: ~$9.80 (makes 3Litres)
  • paper: 1 ream: ~$9
  • exercise books
  • pencils
  • toothpaste
  • washing detergent

As you can see there are many of our kinds of ingredients available but some of them are costly.

Also available in the town is bread from the bakery and occasionally fish from the fish markets. The main market sells all kinds of fruit and veg that people bring to sell – excess from their gardens. At the market there are also yummy sticky dough things you can buy for treats for children.

During our visit we had most of our meals at Rocky Ridge bungalows but we also had the privilege of sharing in the church lunch (harvest festival celebration) with the whole village of our Rocky Ridge hosts and also sharing lunch with the SIBC principal and students.

At RR, our lovely hosts (Tom and Margaret – can you believe!) made us westerny kinds of meals but at the church lunch in the village we had a very local style meal – a plate of cooked yam, taro, sweet potato and laplap (starchy savoury puddingy traditional dish) and small pieces of chicken and then huge juicy grapefruits (called pompomous) to peel and eat and pieces of sugar cane to chew on. Lunch at SIBC was similar but for their guests they laid on rice, some tinned tuna and coconuts to drink.

So food and cooking for us next year…

  • We think that initially we will eat shared meals with the college community.
  • Eventually we think that I will cook on a gas stovey thing that Tom will set up. I think that it will be good for our family to have at least some meals each day together as a family.
  • We will probably have some kind of balance between local and western style meals, using local ingredients with a twist (such as a bit of flavour).
  • Local meals lack the dairy part of the food triangle and meat is only occasional, so we will spend money on powdered milk and try as much as possible to add protein (eg extra tin fish) especially for our children.
  • As we are there to work at the college in a teaching role and will be homeschooling our children we probably won’t depend on gardening for our food but rather tend to buy things at the market and shops in Lenekal.  However vegie gardening has been a bit of a hobby for me here in Perth and I would still love to have some level of involvement in growing food.
  • Some yummy things we will miss!
    • curry and curry paste
    • spices in general
    • chocolate
    • cheese, butter and all the other lovely dairy things
    • wasabi peas
    • pasta
    • onions and garlic in every meal
    • baking – cakes, bikkies, casseroles, bread etc (no oven!)
  • Something I love to do at the moment is make occasional little yummy treats for our children so I am looking forward to learning how I can keep doing this differently next year.

There will be lots to adjust to in the area of cooking and food when we move to Tanna and lots of different tastes and textures for our children.

14 thoughts on “A Thought for Food

  1. I have a great recipe for banana curry that I used to make up there a lot. Never make it here because bananas aren’t so plentiful but Darrell and I loved the curry. Also some areas grow a chilli like plant which can be used to spice up food. Santo has its vanilla plantations & if you can get a hold of that it is lovely!

    • Thanks Margaret – I’d love that recipe, it sounds really yummy – is it a Thai-like curry or Indian-like? Thanks for these other ideas. I’d love to hear more about how you did food.

  2. I am sad you can’t bake with an one 😦 WIll you have any access to flour? Could always do damper and honey.. Great post, love the specific lists xoxo Emmo

    • Yes there is flour at shops. I think we are going to take a camp oven so I might be able to experiment – maybe real pan-cakes. Thanks for your comment Emmo.

  3. Thanks for your interesting post on what it will be like in Tanna Island in the culinary department.
    Are there some things like tins of biscuits that could be sent over to you to make up for not having them?

    • Hi Marion, thanks for your comment. I think postage is expensive – could end up being the world’s most expensive pack of bikkies (Tom says – maybe wafers 🙂 ). But I’m sure we would love to recieve any parcels of yummy things that our friends from home send.

  4. Hi Margaret. We met Tom earlier this year, or was it last when he came into our (SIL) office in Vila. Great to hear to are moving ahead with moving out of the West and into the South! We’d be happy to pass on the cookbook sort of cookbook that our SIL Vanuatu cooks put together if you like. Might give you some ideas what you can do with good local food. Suitcases lined with packets of curry pastes from home won’t go astray either… nothing like a little curry paste or chili sauce to transform!

    • Thanks very much Ross. I’d love to have a copy of that cook book. I’m looking forward to meeting you and your wife in the future sometime.

      • Hi Margaret,
        Can’t work out how to put an attachment here, so if you give me your email address I’ll send it. I noticed a comment about bland root crops… having been sustained by such for the past 30 years I need to put in a good word for them… if you let them, they will become life and health to your bones (blimey, how poetic!). They actually have much individual flavour, and just to prove it, one of our sons, who grew up on taro and sweet potato etc etc exclaimed when first fed potato, “What is this stuff?! It doesn’t have any taste.” Ah, but we make it taste with butter, salt and pepper.” Enough PR spin for starch!

          • Hi Margaret,
            This one is not coming easy! I tried sending you the book but your email address bounced. It looks to be formed correctly but for some reason hotmail thinks you don’t exist.

          • Hi Ross,
            Actually Marg just typed it incorrectly it’s margaret-richards i.e. “-” not “_”.
            I’ll be in Port Vila on the way to Aniwa next week. I might see you.

  5. Hi Margaret

    Great post. I love how you are really thinking this out.

    Have you thought about a sun oven? They can be homemade with a cardboard box and alfoil (google it for a great homeschool project!) or you can buy professionally manufactured ones that are (according to some ladies I am in contact with) quite amazing. Try http://www.sunoven.com.au (but Google will yield even more, of course).

    Look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

    In Him


    • Wow Meredith, I had never heard of this before. It’s fascinating and a good idea to keep in mind. I wonder if it works as well when it’s cloudy. Thanks for this.

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