Sunday, 11 January 2015

T for Tonga

Dee:  “Our sampling of Tongan cuisine was our second venture into the flavours of the Pacific Islands.  As with our first, sampling the cuisine of Hawaii, we didn’t know a thing about what Tongan food would be like before we started researching it.  What emerged was a fascinating mix of ingredients and cooking styles with both ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ influences.  Some of the ingredients were difficult to source, for example banana leaves and taro roots, but we found several promising recipes which used more readily available ingredients.  The menu we settled on felt more representative of modern Tonga than the old culture but hopefully we have managed to maintain the Tongan national identity.”

Fish and Potato fritters
Dee:  “Rather than deep frying these fritters, we cooked them first in the frying pan, and finished them off in the oven.  They contained quite a lot of potato which did smother the taste of the fish somewhat, but we liked the light fluffy texture, which made a welcome change from the more familiar firmer type of fritter.  As recommended in the recipe, we served them with a fruity chilli sauce and tartare sauce, both of which were shop bought.  Yes, it would have been nice to have made the sauces ourselves but I wasn’t able to find any Tongan recipes for them.”

Tongan Chop Suey
Dee:  “The origins of chop suey are, it turns out, widely disputed and make quite an interesting read.  The Tongan version is known as Sapasui and is somewhat different to the better known Chinese version.  It includes corned beef, which it turns out is a popular ingredient in Tongan cuisine.  The other main difference is in the use of vermicelli noodles rather than bean sprouts.
We loved this dish.  The corned beef was fried until it turned crispy and we were spot on with the cooking of the noodles, which took on the colour and flavour of the soy sauce really well.  It was very filling, and we are looking forward to enjoying it again tomorrow.”

Watermelon O’Tai (Watermelon Smoothie)
Dee:  “This is actually a drink but we enjoyed it as a dessert and ate it with spoons.  It was simple to prepare and did not involve any cooking.  The delicate flavour of the watermelon held its own alongside the stronger flavoured coconut and lemon juice.  It was a nice touch to serve it authentically, in a hollowed out half of baby watermelon.
We were going to make a Fruit Salad with Tonga Toast as a bonus dessert, as it appeared frequently as I was researching Tongan cuisine, but we were a bit too full from the first two courses so decided to stick with just the watermelon o’tai.  Basically Tonga Toast is a huge chunk of bread which is stuffed with banana, then deep fried and coated with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.  We were going to serve it with a fruit salad of mango, pineapple and papaya but it would have been too much.

Soundtrack:  Various Artists – Chants from the Kingdom of Tonga
Dee:  “This interesting compilation consisted some quite distinct types of songs.  My favourites turned out to be the more traditional sounding songs, consisting of vocals and minimal instrumentation, mainly from drums and percussion.  A couple of tracks featured the famous Tongan nose flute, and my favourite track on the album, the Utete Mouth Harps of ‘Eua.  There were vocal only songs, and others with the singers accompanied by ukulele and banjo.  There were sounds of splashing water on several tracks, which suggested that they were recorded on a boat.
The songs in the main sounded quite happy in nature, and for the most part were sung by an assembled choir of both male and female voices.  The singing reminded me a little of American Gospel music but was slower in tempo.
Towards the end of the album was a suite of three pieces which had been given a more slick and modern production, sounding almost ethereal in parts, while still retaining the traditional sound
It was, on the whole, one of those ‘feel good’ albums.  Very evocative of sunny South Pacific islands and a great accompaniment to tonight’s meal.”

Next week:  U for Uruguay

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