The food we had at Castaway was great and I was impressed to see that they offered gluten-free pasta. It was gluten-free beef bolognese. (They also offered a gluten-free version of their pizza.) I did not manage to get a picture, but I wish I had. If I had not noticed the sign that said it was gluten-free, I would have assumed it was wheat: the noodles were everything that one could hope for. The texture was perfect, there was just enough chew: the ingredients for a substantial pasta noodle.
It was the only instance of gluten-free clearly labeled that I encountered in Fiji. With the exception of staying at Castaway, all the food we ate during the time we stayed in Fiji was homemade and unprocessed whole foods. The only wheat that we ever ate was the bread and that was usually in the morning for breakfast, or custard pie. In comparison to home, we ate very little wheat and Fijian cooking does not rely on it as heavily as Western cooking often does.
(When we came home, I found this informative article about catering to food allergies and intolerances in Fiji, including a mention about Castaway Island.)
(The above photos of the desserts were obviously taken at night. I think they still came out okay, even if not exactly stellar.)
I also attended the coconut milk buns demonstration and took photos of that, and also watched a demonstration of making coconut toffee. (That was unexpected, and was part of the kids’ club. The two ladies who were looking after the children were very nice and I chatted with them a bit.) Both were so simple and straightforward, enough that I could try making them at home. Both the toffee and buns were cooked in a pot over a fire.
For the toffee, a fresh, young coconut was husked and the shell was swiftly cracked and split in half, coconut water spilling out. The children all gathered around, enthusiastic and curious as they watched. As the coconut was grated, they asked to taste it and their hands dove in; one girl claimed one coconut half shell for herself, once all the fruit had been grated out. I shared the observation with my grandmother how it was a beautiful sight to see these kids excited about a coconut and joyfully participating.
While the coconut was being grated, a fire was started, using the coconut husks for fuel as well as old newspaper and a dried out coconut tree leaf that the second lady split in half over her knee. (After the leaf has dried out, it is extremely brittle and thus easy to break.) The grated coconut was put into a bowl and brown sugar was melted in the pot over the fire. As it started to caramelize, the coconut was stirred in and taken off the fire. The candy was portioned out into small plastic cups (and the girl’s half coconut shell) and it was eaten, pinching portions between our fingers since we didn’t have spoons or other eating utensils. Its taste reminded me, if in fact it wasn’t just like it, of the coconut pudding I’d made before, and also the “caramel” I’ve made with honey and coconut milk.
Presently, the instructor for the lovo bun demonstration appeared and we were taught how to make the buns. The dough had been made earlier and was resting, allowing it to rise. Four kiwi (New Zealander) women had come to learn how to make it at home, as they had tried the buns on Castaway’s lovo night (any food that is prepared and cooked in a lovo, an earth oven, is known as such).
I spoke with the New Zealander women for a time and nearly slipped into an accent. I would have, unless I’d kept myself firmly rooted: deep inside I felt on the edge of talking in a New Zealander accent at any moment unless I reigned myself in. I wasn’t sure what would happen if I did. (Later on, when I was telling my Dad about this he said it was a good skill to have. The same thing always happens to me when I watch a lot of British television or shows; I start speaking with an English lilt – although, invariably, usually with a male English accent. Don’t ask me why.) Maybe next time I’ll just slip in and see what happens.
The buns were shaped from balls of dough rolled between our hands and placed in a pot. Once all the dough was used and the buns in the pot, fresh coconut milk squeezed from the grated fruit was poured over the buns, almost covering them. A lid was put on the pot and it was placed over the fire. As the buns cooked, they absorbed the coconut milk and nearly doubling in size. After about twenty minutes, the pot was taken off the fire and we tasted the buns. Soft, and almost like a dumpling, they tasted like a Chinese steamed bun – how the buns are depends on how they’re cooked, as the kiwis said the buns they’d had on the lovo night were not as soft and similar to bread since it was baked. Whatever the case, it was good and different. (Different is a word used a lot in Fiji, so much that a popular radio and TV commercial for a company’s spicy chicken noodles used it to its advantage, with great success. We laughed every time we heard it, since it was so entertaining.)
At night, the stars were brilliant. The sky was so clear that one could have become lost simply gazing into the heavens. My sister and I tried to get a couple shots of the night sky, but our cameras just aren’t built for night sky photography. Pitch black. Before heading back to our bure (the little house we stayed in at Castaway, kind of like a bungalow) I saw a thin streak of white against the sky and I assumed the extraterrestrial. “Look, Dad, I can see the Milky Way!”
“Zoe, that’s just cloud.”
I looked again and, sure enough, it was just cloud. An isolated patch of thin, wisps of cloud streaked against the midnight canvas that was the sky. Perhaps I’d become a bit too hopeful since witnessing that sunset.
On our last day at Castaway Island, I had my hair done in corn rows. There were lots of little girls there with their hair done in corn rows, most of them with their whole head done. I just had the top of my head in corn rows; twenty-two braids in total. It was one dollar per braid. I kept them in for about two weeks, taking them out after I came home.