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Tahitian - Cooking and Food
Overview of Tahitian Cuisine History
Tahiti is a wide Polynesian island, conveniently situated in the center of the Pacific Ocean space delimitated by Los Angeles, Santiago, Tokyo and Sydney. As an area with various influences from such continental neighbors, Tahiti presents an interesting cuisine evolution, with a background dating from antiquity. The first explorers who visited these lands discovered that, except some kinds of reptiles and wild birds, there couldn’t be found many edible animals or plants, because of the island’s isolation. Still, being surrounded by water facilitated the early cohabitants` fish and seafood cuisine, assorted with exotic fruits and vegetables, like taro and yams. Rarely, Pork and Chicken were simply fried and eaten. The Tahiti Island has been visited by numerous nations among its history: the first English people brought to the island the cattle and the French even transformed the island into a colony, at the end of the 19th century. Captain Bligh, the commander of the Bounty traveled to Tahiti to collect some seeds and transport them to the West Indies and grow there new trees. These plants turned out to be uru, a local and unique Tahitian plant, which grew best on the Polynesian lands. Another nation that influenced both culturally and regarding the cuisine is the Chinese, as beginning with the end of the 19th century, the colony was populated with Chinese working on cotton plantations; they brought the tradition of rice and the combinations between sweet and salty.
Tahitian cooking is a blend of European (mainly French), Asian and traditional styles. Ma'a Tahiti (Traditional Tahitian food) is a very popular food in Tahiti. Tahitians eat three meals a day. The main meal is eaten in the middle of the day. In Breakfast they usually take bread and a hot drink. Dinner is light, except when it is a special occasion or when people are dining in a restaurant.
The Tahitian diet mainly consists of fish and other seafood, Chicken, Pork, sweet potatoes, breadfruit, rice, and local fruit and vegetables such as papaya, mangoes, pineapples, bananas, and fafa, a type of spinach.
Other Tahitian Cuisine includes: Chicken Tahitian, Poisson Cru - (Tahitian Raw Fish Salad), Tahitian Chicken, Tahitian Pork Chops, Meats, Tahitian Prawns, Tahitian Punch Beverages Drinks, Tahitian Squash and green bean Pasta with Sundried tomatoes, Tahitian Sunset Roll-Ups, Tahitian Tuna Cakes with ginger Dressing, Tahitian vanilla Creme Brulee, The Tama'ara'a (Tahitian), Tahiti Seafood Some of the Starters, Appetisers and soups are Poisson Cru, papaya Soup, coconut vanilla Prawns, papaya Chicken, Poulet avec les Limettes, Braised Swordfish, Pork curry with Bananas.
Tahiti cuisine is based on fruits, vegetables, Chicken and seafood. The most popular fruits are the breadfruits, locally known as uru, tropical and tender, resembling to mangos and eaten both fresh and cooked, but also conserved. The over 70 species of breadfruits provide a wide range of recipes, from the simple breadfruit fries to the ones served as popoi (manioca or breadfruit paste) or dauphine (with Bacon or lard, eggs and milk). The ufi or the root has a neutral taste, lots or B and C vitamins and it is easy to cook; but these kinds of plants are similar to mushrooms: while some species are delicious and healthy, others are toxic. The taro, from which the apo and the veo are most common, is boiled in salty or sugared water. The umara, as the sweet potatoes, is cooked like a regular Potato, but it becomes sweet after cooking.
The veggies are cooked in a Polynesian or French style and they are often spiced or sweetened with fine sauces, which contain vanilla or coconut milk. Some of the most famous dishes that combine these elements are: ia ota, which contains ocean fish and soured vegetables, lemon sauce and coconut milk, chevrettes – sweet water shrimps and poe – sweet pudding made of taro roots banana, papaya or pumpkin flavor. The meat is cooked in the oven in a natural wood fire: the Chicken, known as fafa with coconut leaves, fish and suckling pigs with banana or stale bread.
Preparation Methods for Tahitian Cooking
The Tahitian cooking needs time and meticulousness; many of the plants are let to rest before cooking and special dishes are cooked for hours, as the conservation of the nutrients and vitamins is very important in the Tahitian culture. The bananas are traditionally cooked by keeping their natural skin or even wrapping other food in banana leaves and leaving them to slow cook for long periods of time from 3 to 4 hours for any usual meal. A layer of dirt is sometimes shoveled on the oven to prevent the heat spreading. Just like the banana, the sweet potatoes should be cooked without peeling, as in this way, they keep their nutritional elements. Traditionally, the Tahitian used and still use coal fire made on the ground on top of which food was seated so that it would cook slowly and healthy. The urus, as the most popular Tahitian plants, should always have white surface and milky content.
Special Equipment for Tahitian Cooking
There are 2 important things that are necessary when wanting to cook a traditional Tahitian meal: the fire arrangement and the time. Coals are used for slow cooking, instead of the modern oven. These are set in a hole in the ground (real earth), with banana leaves on top, under the food and more banana leaves on top of the food. If the oven is used, this is usually pre-heated with a wood fire and volcanic stones and the woods are disposed perpendicularly in many levels. Most of the Tahitian meals require at least 3 hours cooking time, if wanting to conserve the nutrients, like it is important in this Polynesian tradition. Even if the practical cooking might take just 1 hour, leaving the meal on the slow fire takes longer.
The umete are the traditional Tahitian wooden dishes. These are oval and simple, lack ornaments and they have an unfinished, rough and rustic look. The usual plates are deep, like bowls: penu (out of stone or coral) or ana (for coconut). The traditional Tahitian food is eaten with the fingers, but there is also a Chinese influence and according to that, Tahitians sometimes use chopsticks. Because there are many leaves used as spices in the Tahitian cuisine, there is the need for a grinder. As decor, coconuts, flowers, exotic fruits and banana leafs are very popular.
Tahitian Food Traditions and Festivals
Because of the fact that Tahiti is a popular vacation destination, there are many tourists on the island all year long. There are some traditional foods cooked especially for tourists, such as the ahima or tama`ara`a, which are also prepared on Sunday morning or with different occasions. Even if the tama`ara`a is the traditional Tahitian meal, because it takes a really long time and a special place to be cooked, its cooking is now limited on weekends and celebrations. Among these celebrations, besides Christmas (when sucking pigs are popular) and Easter, the most important ones are the Tiurai (2 weeks in July) and the Heiva Taupti (in May), when the Tahitian culture is promoted through parades, athletic events, dancing and singing. When eating tama`ara`a, the table is decorated as colored as possible with flowers and fruits and with the family all around it. Sometimes, banana leaves are used as decorations, too, for the floor or the tables where the dishes are disposed, among split coconuts. The tourists and the guests are always crowned with flowers: tiare Tahiti, pandanus and tipanie to feel welcomed. Both on celebrations and ordinary days, Tahitians drink water, punch, beer and red wine.
People in Tahitian Food
- Are you into Tahitian Cooking and would like to be interviewed?
Tahitian food has its own rustic and provincial style and methods. Tahitian people try to defend the simplicity against the modern cooking techniques, by still using wooden fire, coals and rocks, only natural elements, lacking chemicals. The Tahitian people carried on the traditions through their cooking and all participated to the cultural Tahitian cuisine, which is unique, exotic, fresh and light and for the Tahitian chefs, the most important aspect is that their food tastes natural and healthy.