menu/ BRAD BUFFONI: THE SINGLE GUY IN THE KITCHEN

G'day. Okay, okay - once again, my apologies for not getting an article in on time but on this occasion, I have a perfectly good excuse … wait, don't be pushy, I'm working on it … okay, I admit it: I had a holiday. Sort of. What happened was this: a very old - well, he's not that old but he is older than I am, so it's a close call - friend, Tui, invited me and a few others he considers his Australian family, to travel back to Fiji to his mother's and father's villages to be introduced to the villages.

Tui's father's village is on the mainland and easy to get to in an open bus, but his mother's village is on an island that required us to charter a boat (four hours over open sea, and due to inclement weather, we had to make an unscheduled overnight stay at another island on the way ... anyone know the tune to Gilligan's Island?). Once we reached the island, we then had to disembark - off shore - into "fibres" (six meter longboats with 60hp outboards) to carry us around the island to the village. As we had chartered the boat, we were able to take with us members of Tui's family and others who hadn't returned to the island for years. This was going to be a big celebration.

It is a tradition for the first born to return to the island to be introduced to the Chief and the village, and also to return for their first haircut. This was definitely not the tourist itinerary (although we did a bit of that, too). What I learnt of the Fijians and their culture could fill a book, and if you have the chance, take it and get to know these people.

On arrival at the island of Gau, we were taken into a bure (traditional hut) where we had to stay until the ceremonial presentation of the first born, then the presentation of the family, and finally our welcome. We were not allowed to enter the village properly before this. There is a lot about our group's preparation for the trip, the collection of our gifts for the villages, and the whole family involvement and history that I can't go into here, but in short: the villages had been preparing for our visit for almost a year, and on Gau, a new traditional thatched bure had been built to accommodate the women who had traveled with us.

The centre of the village:

The modern style huts were provided by the government after each cyclone has hit the island.

The first thing I learnt is that at all ceremonies - and just about everything else in Fiji - one must drink Kava, a native root that is ground, poured in an old rag, mixed with water, and which has been described as tasting like old socks washed in muddy water. That said, it does have a relaxing effect and may explain “Fiji time”, if you catch my drift. Another thing? The Fijians are friendly, honest, and willing to accept anyone as family if they are happy to accept the honor.

Following the ceremony introducing the first born, the family, and finally us to the village, Tui presented a gift of tabua (whale's tooth) to the chief and we presented our gifts to the village. I can't begin to explain the emotion this engendered in all of us. The dinner that evening was traditional and excellent. There were beef and fish curries, baked fish, mud crabs, more fish, and more mud crabs.

We're talking high-tech kitchen here 

After dinner, were three weddings in the bure in the centre of the village and more kava. The singing started at midnight. The men had to sleep in a seperate bure to the women, and sleep interrupted by invitations to come and join the singing, snoring, dogs fighting, a petrol generator to provide light for the women's bure, the clang of an inverted pinch-bar hitting the side of a steel mortar in which they pound the kava, but this only continued until dawn (all of it, not just the snoring).

The following morning saw those game enough to have a shower jumping into the ocean, no hot water here. Some preferred to wait until the day warmed up a bit.

Breakfast was huge and comprised many assorted cakes, curries and seafood. Two boys had been sent out for half an hour during the night to catch fish for the breakfast. There were iced cakes, biscuits covered with custard, pancakes (which were actually fried balls), and my favorite (a hole in the middle and we'd call them donuts but they tasted so good they can call them anything they like so long as I get some). There was also chocolate cake, date cake (I think), and others I didn't get to … and don't forget, this was breakfast, and again included fish, meat, curries.

I couldn't identify many of the fish, but amongst them were big-mouthed cod, parrotfish and a big red one (technical fisherman term). There was almost a moderate-sized fish shop's stock of fish, all caught within half an hour.

The boys did what the boys do after breakfast: they stood around talking, gutted the remaining fish, slaughtered a cow and hung the carcass on poles holding up the tin roof of the food preparation area where the women had already started preparing lunch. They had to get the afternoon barbecue ready and some takeaway for the families going back on the boat with us. The beast had been sectioned and three of the younger men adroitly skinned it.

I managed to bring back a recipe that is so simple, and what with sushi being so popular and healthy, should go down well with my cantankerous editor. This is a dish called Kokoda, and there are many variations, but this is your basic starter and will only take 10 or so minutes to throw together. You must remember to leave it for about six hours, though, before you can tuck in:

The amounts I've used here should serve four, but this can also be used as an hors d'oeuvre, entrée, whatever you like. I know some are going to say: but hang on, you haven't cooked it! Trust me, it virtually cooks itself in the juice.

INGREDIENTS

- 4 white fish fillets (perch, ling, etc.)

- the juice from 3 large limes

- ½ teaspoon salt

- 240ml/8fl.oz. coconut cream

- 1 very finely chopped onion

- 1 green chili, deseeded and finely diced

- 2 tomatoes, finely chopped

- lettuce leaves 

PREPARATION

Cut the fillets into ½ inch or 2cm slices or mouthfuls.

Mix the fish in a bowl with the lime juice and salt.

Cover with plastic wrap and put it in a refrigerator to marinate for 6 hours.

When ready, add the coconut cream, chopped onion, and chilli and mix it well, gently.

Fill the lettuce leaves with the fish mixture and garnish with the chopped tomatoes.

Now tell me, does it get any easier, tastier or healthier than that?

There is so much more to tell, but it will have to wait.

Have a great 2009! And c atch you next month, be well.

Brad

FOR MORE ABOUT BRAD, CLICK HERE ...

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