About the Food of Vanuatu

Port Vila treescape, Vanuatu. Photo by Phillip Capper.

Port Vila treescape, Vanuatu. Photo by Phillip Capper.

Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. But what about those who live in wood, bamboo, and palm leaf houses?  In the 80 islands that make up Vanuatu, the hot, humid weather makes for an entirely different living experience, one where – traditionally speaking – thatched roofs keep out the rain instead of tile.

Eton nakamal (marae), Efate, Vanuatu. Photo by Phillip Capper.

Eton nakamal (marae), Efate, Vanuatu. Photo by Phillip Capper.

While stones aren’t exactly thrown, in Vanuatu they are heated and piled on top of food. This traditional method is typical of Oceania. Lap lap the most notable of dishes, made with either yam, cassava, plantain, or sweet potato that has been grated, wrapped in banana leaves (with coconut milk), then roasted under hot stones.

Commercial agriculture, North Efate. Photo by Phillip C.

Commercial agriculture, North Efate. Photo by Phillip C.

Reader, Benjamin, who spent some time in Vanuatu, told me more about the dish, how they add chicken on top of the grated starch:

…they take a couple of the hot rocks, each about the size of a baseball, rinse them of ashes and then place them in the center of the Laplap. During cooking this creates a well like crater in the center. They then heap the chicken on top of the rocks in the center, and sometimes spread a few pieces over the top of the dish too [...] They then sprinkle some coconut milk over the top, perhaps 4oz, before wrapping the whole parcel up in the banana leaves.

It reminds me of a more complex version of Solomon Pudding, which we made when we cooked the Solomon Islands. Except theirs is eaten hot, straight from the fire.

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A variation on lap lap is Simboro [Recipe], which is starch stuffed leaves, simmered in coconut milk instead of roasted.

I found listings of other popular recipes in Vanuatu, mostly in the World Cookbook for Students. One dish is a green papaya salad [Recipe], another stuffed taro.

People of Vanuatu. Photo by Graham Crumb.

People of Vanuatu. Photo by Graham Crumb.

The end of the meal almost always ends with fruit: something like watermelon or papaya (also known as pawpaw).

Have you ever eaten food out of a fire pit? When I was a girl, we baked potatoes in the campfire embers, as well as banana boats. Great memories!

Maps and Flag courtesy of the CIA World Factbook.

Maps and Flag courtesy of the CIA World Factbook.

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