That dreaded everyday question. It’s hard enough to come up with creative ideas when you live in the “first” world, where literally everything is readily available. Here, in the Solomons Islands, the choices are more limited. It is possible to find most Western type non-perishable foods in the capital Honiara, where we have loaded as much food onboard as we could. Our freezer is stuffed with vacuum-packed meats, leaving just enough space to fit in a freshly caught fish.
We home-bake bread and have plenty of flour, rice and pasta onboard. We are stocked up on all types of beans, lentils, tinned tomatoes, cereals, crackers, pickled vegetables, popping corn, etc. We make our own yoghurt, hummus, pitta bread, bagels, …
But I digress. So what about dinner? Once a week is pizza night; we mastered the art of making thin crust pizzas in our small oven and they are a definite favourite. The boys started enjoying spicy food, so a curry is now firmly on the weekly menu too. We love a juicy steak and if we happen to have a lean filet mignon I will throw together a steak tartare (with kumura chips – yum). ‘Poisson cru’ is another weekly treat. This Polynesian dish similar to ceviche consists of briefly marinating cubed fish in limejuice and then mixing it with coconut milk and crunchy vegetables. We also enjoy a pan-fried fillet of fish, some barbecued sausages or a simple spaghetti bolognaise.
So in the end, I guess we have plenty of options to choose from. So why do I still struggle with this daily question? Our biggest adjustment has been in relation to fresh produce. We have learned to cook with what’s available. Many things you just can’t get outside Honiara (think apples, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic). And when we run out, we rely on local produce. Instead of potatoes we eat kumura, instead of apples we eat pineapple and coconut. And I have to admit; I have never tasted a pineapple so juicy and sweet as the ones they have here in the Solomon Islands. And for only 10 SD a pop (around £1) you can’t go wrong. Coconuts you can literally just pick from the trees in most places. Or, you can wave to one of the canoes peddling past and ask a local to bring some to the boat. They love to trade fresh produce in return for t-shirts, soap, pens, paper, fishing gear, etc. There are always plenty of limes around and sometimes even oranges and grapefruit. Once we even got some fresh mushrooms.
We learned to cook green beans in many different ways. It seems to be the most easily obtained vegetable, long and thin and very tasty with some garlic and butter. Aubergines (eggplant in American) are also very popular and I tricked the boys in thinking they were mushrooms, given their similar texture. There are very large snake beans and other weird veg I don’t really know what to do with apart from turning them into soup. Pumpkins are also everywhere. But it feels kind of weird eating a winter type veg in this hot climate. Cucumbers are huge but deliciously crunchy and tomatoes are not as sweet and juicy as back home but we’ll take some when we can get them. And I almost forgot to mention papaya or pawpaw, the number one fruit or vegetable (it actually tastes great in savoury, curry-type dishes).
So what’s for dinner tonight? Well, we got lucky this afternoon and ‘scored’ three decent sized tropical rock lobsters. Also called painted spiny lobster or coral lobster, these colourful shellfish feed on hard shell molluscs, crustaceans and algae. They are not interested in the bait used for creel fishing and can only be caught by hand or by spear. One of the locals had gone fishing outside the reef and brought them over to our boat. He wanted 20 SD (£2) for one or 50 SD (£5) for the three. What a bargain. They will go nicely with some garlic and butter linguine and some frozen peas thrown into the mix. Yum.