Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sea Food

It's been a while since I've written about food, and I thought it would be fun to talk about some of the unique food we've gotten a chance to eat during our service. Most of these unusual fares, unsurprisingly, are various types of sea creatures. People here on the outer islands seem to be much more dependent on the sea than those closer to town, so we've gotten many great opportunities to interact with the sea and what it offers.

Before my list of seafood, it may also be interesting to discuss the various methods by which people obtain them. While many single Tongan words have large lists of English synonyms, often times it is the other way around when it involves a vital part of Tongan culture. A very poignant example is the word for "fishing". Because this has always been a central part of life in Tonga, it is no surprise that there are many distinct words that represent different methods of fishing. Here are the types that people on Nuapapu regularly participate in:

- "Uku" is the word for dive, but is also the word most often used for spear fishing. Most of the serious spear fishermen fish at night with waterproof flashlights ("ama") then string their caught fish on ropes that trail behind them ("velo") as they swim
- "Taumata'u" is hook and line fishing from the shore. No one has a fishing pole, so they usually wrap their fishing line around old cans or bottles and use their hands to cast and reel. I have my own taumata'u gear, but I'm still pretty terrible at it.
- "Fakatele" is the Tongan version of deep sea fishing. Men take their small boats out and troll thick fishing lines behind, catching bigger game fish like tuna and mahimahi. Yet whereas a special deep sea fishing boat has industrial riggings of pulleys and reels, Tongan men pull in these three to five-foot fish with their bare hands. Basically, the definition of hardcore, manly fishing.
- "Sili" is the word for fishing with a net. It's not super common, but for those who are skilled in this method, it seems to be much more practical than line fishing.
- "Fangota" is the word used for digging and collecting shellfish. This is really the only type of fishing that I am halfway decent at, and, invariably, it is also by far the least manly and impressive.

Anyways, here is a list of sea food that we've had the chance to eat and/or cook during our service so far:

- Fish, of all shapes and sizes, prepared every way you can imagine - sautéed, fried, baked, boiled, grilled. Alissa and I both agree that the best is a properly prepared, freshly caught tuna steak.
- Octopus
- Squid
- Sea cucumber
- Mussels
- Clams (including the delicious, rare Giant Clam)
- Other random shellfish that I don't know the English word for.
- Crabs
- Lobsters
- Sea snails
- Sea weed (supposedly the sea weed that is eaten here is unique to Tonga and considered a delicacy. It looks like vines of tiny balls that taste like they are filled with smokey sea water)
- Stingrays (technically, I've seen one caught, but haven't gotten the chance to taste one yet)
- Eels - perhaps the most surprisingly delicious item on the list. I recently got a chance to clean and cook one up myself - I was taumata'u with some buddies, and someone spotted a small moray eel. It was promptly bopped on the head with a machete and brought home with the rest of the fish. Here are some pictures:

The eel:

And here's what Alissa was doing while the boys were fishing:

- Mark

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