Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Cooking in Kiribati

If you don't eat fish, you will probably go hungry in Kiribati. There is plenty of fish and other seafood to be caught around Tarawa which forms the stable diet here, evidence with the 5x fishing vessels planted on our horizon. You get tuna and many other deep sea and reef fish. We are advised to keep to the yellowfin and black skipjack tuna, as well as wahoo and morikoi, as they are generally safe to eat.

Thankfully, if you're not a successful fisherman (like either of us), there are plenty of other people that will happily catch it for you and sell them at a bargain price (approx. $1 per pound). This little beauty in the photo was the smallest of 3 black skipjack tuna we purchased which cost us $8 all up. They fed 5 people plus plenty for leftovers twice over.

When searching the "fish markets" (eskies on the side of the road) for some fish, we found that those still left at 6pm were selling octopus, small, sardine-like fish or were out of stock. Luckily, we saw a guy walking along carrying 2 skipjack tuna that looked fresh and asked him where he bought them. He said they were from his home, so he jumped in the tray of Tess' truck and directed us to his house where he sold us fresh fish. We saw that he had a large portion of a shark's body in a freezer also.

At the restaurants (mostly Chinese), before you order you need to check what food they have available. They generally offer beef, pork, chicken and fish, but it depends on stock what they can offer that day. The beef, chicken and pork are not worth writing home about. They are imported and not of top quality. Fish is by far the most popular dish and have choices on how to eat it: fish and rice; fish, vegetables and rice; some places even offer fish + black bean, sweet n sour fish, fish + maisonaise, curry fish etc.. etc... You can also substitute rice for chips at the more up market establishments, which we have done a few times.

Some lessons we have learnt on cooking fish...
Lesson one. Firstly pick a nice fish that is really fresh, eyes should be clear and no red blothes in the eye or head. Also check it isn't frozen. Ask when it was caught...

Lesson two. They will have gutted the fish for you already but will leave the head on to remain fresh. I have never filleted a fish before, so I was given a lesson with 1 fish and was left to fillet my own. You basically cut one fillet off following the spine throught the middle, chop the head off, then flip it and cut the fillet off the other side. The photo above shows me holding the head and a fillet of the first fish I have ever filleted. Tuna has no scales, so that made it easier. Nicky doesn't mind cooking fish, but was keen for me to learn to do the filleting.

Lesson three. You can pan fry the fillets in butter. It would go nicley with a squeeze of lemon, but we haven't found any. We had our tuna with pasta and frozen veges (they weren't frozen when eating them :) ).

The shops here also have a limited and sporadic collection of other items, such as lasagna sheets but no cheese (other than plastic cheese). Fresh vegatables and fruit come and go, we have seen some potatoes, we also bought some sugar bananas from a small stall along the road that were very nice. We haven't been able to get sugar, only one place we have found sells pasta sauce, we have today bought frozen mince meat but are yet to try it. We had previously purchased bread from the supermarket that wasnt sliced and tasted a bit dry, Nicky was very disappointed until we heard of a bakery which we visited today which was much better quality!!

The main supermarket we go to ran out of toilet paper yesterday. We were able to find a couple of individual rolls in another store, but no packs big enough to make us confident that we wouldn't run out. Apparently that happens often, so we'll make sure we always have spares. Locals just use the sea, so they don't need toilet paper. It is mostly for us ex pats who are too embarrassed and heigine conscious to go and squat in the water in public for a while. I know that isn't related to food, but I was on the topic of buying and thought I'd add it.

On receiving a meal at a restaurant, Nicky has said quite a few times  "that's not what I was expecting". She ordered rice with egg and ham, thinking it would be a fried rice with pieces of egg and ham through it. However, she received the meal shown above. I guess they were being literal when they called it rice with eggs and ham, except that the ham is spam. She couldn't dispute that is isn't what she ordered, because the menu was spot on.

Tonight's dinner was cocktail frankfurts on bread with tomato sauce, which was actually quite good and a needy break from fish. Tomorrow for breakfast it's wheet bix with long life milk and no sugar. We are looking forward to it.


  1. Very interesting. I think in many ways it is tougher for you than for us in Samoa. I don't think we can post you a chicken. Nicky, maybe instead of setting up a business with the local women selling handicrafts, you should get them to import toilet paper and sugar and sell them to expats.

  2. Very interesting post. I am sure you will find more and more local things that will make your life easier over time.
    I hope Pete's work is good and that he finds he is helpful. All the best with your lecturing Nicky. I know you are nervous about all that, but am very confident that you will wow them, once you get a handle on it.
    Keep the posts coming, we hang on every word!

  3. We hope you are having fun trying new ways with fish. If we are ever in your neighbourhood we will bring a 12 pack of Sorbent's softest! Looking out for news of experiences at work.