For fruit, we were spoiled silly. Fijian pineapple is smaller and sweeter than the standard Hawaiian pineapple, with an almost floral note to it, which I’m sure is due to the fact that it’s picked when it’s ripe, not green. I also don’t get that annoying tingling or prickling feeling on my tongue or my teeth don’t feel funny when I eat it, as I sometimes do with Hawaiian pineapple unless it is exceptionally sweet.
The pineapples are still growing, though, and won’t be ready until November or December. I’d never seen pineapple growing before we came here, not even in a picture. They grow from the ground, in what I think are groves.
We also had papaya (locally called pawpaw), bananas, lemons, and mangoes (although they did not come into season until later), and coconuts. All of these things grew in my grandparents’ yards. Coconut trees are a familiar sight and all over the place, as well as papaya trees (also locally known as pawpaw) and
banana trees. The bananas ripen on the tree and they’re ripe when spotty, though the skin remains green. It doesn’t yellow. There were also pink bananas, but they were ornamental only.
Lemons are also green when picked, although they do change colour the longer they stay on the tree. These lemons not as acidic as standard lemons here, yet sweeter than Meyer lemons. I’d even dare say they was a slight fruitiness to them. When we had custard with a pudding cake that one of my aunts made, my grandmother flavoured the custard with some lemon leaves just picked from the tree. It was the most delicate lemon flavour I’d ever tasted; it wasn’t at all like anything you’d get from the juice, zest, or extract.
We also saw breadfruit trees along the side of the road. The breadfruit were still growing, as they were on the smaller size than the gigantic proportions that they become, and I had the pleasure of trying breadfruit while I was there. Unfortunately I did not get a picture of inside the fruit, although I thought I had. Although it is a starch, I would even describe it as light and it is a neutral taste, consequently going well with just about anything and it is a staple. It is not starchy like potatoes or even taro (also known as dalo in Fijian) or cassava (tapioca), which we also had while there.
One fruit that I especially grew fond of is soursop, which my grandfather personally refers to as Fijian ice cream. When he was growing up, he said, his family couldn’t afford ice cream so they would blend the soursop with a little bit of sugar and eat it. They wouldn’t even freeze it. While on Wikipedia its taste is described as a cross between pineapple and strawberry with citrus notes, that doesn’t even begin to describe it properly. It is just a pale approximation. As I wrote in an email, “It has a unique and intriguing taste that is all its own.“
It’s a large-ish (size can vary) green fruit with blunt spike-like growths and oblong in shape; inside it has an opaque white flesh with inedible black seeds that are about the same size as a pumpkin’s. The flesh is gelatinous with a slight chew, yet also creamy. It is very intriguing and I’ve never had anything before quite like it.
Unfortunately, it seems soursop isn’t generally exported to Canada, or even North America, as I have never seen it here – let alone having never heard of it before I came to Fiji. (I’ve only come across one recipe for it on Epicurious, using the juice for a martini. I declared blasphemy when pineapple juice was suggested as a substitute, claiming the juices taste similar. Soursop and pineapple don’t taste the same at all. That’s like saying tomatoes and apples taste the same (tomatoes were once known as love apples).
During our stay in Fiji, we mostly ate traditional, homemade Fijian fare. I spent more time enjoying the food than I did taking photos, though. A lot of the meals we ate were cooked in fresh coconut milk; because coconuts are so bountiful, there is no need to use canned. One of the foods that became my favourites was palusami: taro leaves cooked in fresh coconut milk. It is fairly rich and has a texture like that of wilted spinach and when cooked in the lovo – an earth oven – it is the best, acquiring a smokey, earthy taste. Cooking in a lovo is a traditional part of Fijian cooking.
I also enjoyed eating fried cassava. When describing it, the closest I could come to is that it’s like potato fries, but even better. If we had leftover boiled cassava, it would be fried the next day for a snack and sometimes it was made fresh.
We also had sugarcane. We didn’t eat the stalk as the fibres were too tough, instead we would chew the stalk and suck the juice out.
A tradition of Fijian culture is the drinking of grog. It’s also known called “muddy water”. While it is called grog, it is actually not alcoholic and is made from pounding kava root and mixing it with water. It is traditionally served in a tanoa and the grog is served among the group in a half coconut shell used as a bowl, which is drunk is one gulp. It is traditional to clap and wave over the bowl when all the grog is finished.
The effects are often that of relaxation, although for some it doesn’t do anything. It has a slightly peppery taste and leaves a numbing effect on the tongue. I tried it twice, on separate occasions, and personally it left me feeling relaxed. I’d already been relaxed prior to drinking it, though somehow it was a deeper feeling of relaxation that was almost immediate.
In Fiji, Diwali is a major holiday and it was celebrated while we were there. While we did not engage in any of the Indian festivities, we did enjoy some Indian sweets and we also lit laterns. I’d never had Indian sweets before, but the ones that I tried I did like. (Unfortunately, I can’t remember their names too well! I’ve tried looking them on the Internet, but I’m not too sure. My favourite, as well as my sister’s, was one that was a deep fried dough and that reminded us of doughnuts.) While it would seem that they would be toothachingly sweet, judging by some of the sweets’ bright colours, they actually aren’t that kind of sweet and have a noticeable spice to them, usually cardamom.
On our way out from one of the shops in Nadi in the rush leading up to Diwali, a young Indian man pressed something wrapped in a paper towel into my hand. Over the loud, blaring Hindi music playing I asked him what it was and he simply answered, “Sweets,” repeating himself a couple more times in order to be heard. It was honestly a bit perplexing, being given something wrapped in only paper towel – and it all happened so swiftly that I’m sure I may not have even realized he’d put it in my hand if I hadn’t noticed.
I found myself embracing all of these new experiences, yet sometimes felt torn over the fact that I wasn’t feeling homesick. I missed my family back home, of course, and felt guilty, as if I ought to be homesick. I tried rationalizing with myself that perhaps my lack of homesickness was because, in a way, Fiji was already familiar to me through my Dad. I think now, however, that it’s because I let myself be open to those different experiences and I had set out early on to do my best to live it to the full. After all, homesickness is basically resisting letting a piece of yourself go.