IDP#24 Eating New Caledonia (Ryan’s choice)

 Sunday, 24 June 2012

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Nibbles:
Festival des Fromage (Festival of Cheese)
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Ryan is known in our house as “Cheese Boy”. And the whole “Cheese Touch” saga from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, was extremely troubling for him…

He would have cheese for every meal if we let him.

He asks for cheese on his toast in the morning, cheese in his sandwiches at lunch, or just a few sticks (notice I said sticks, not slices) of cheese for afternoon tea or before dinner.

So I thought this one would be his cup of tea – and I wasn’t wrong. He tried all the cheeses apart from the cracked pepper havarti, because that would probably have been a little too hot for his tastebuds. The little round red wax coated ones were the most popular – to unwrap! – not necessarily to eat though…

Even little Ethan got in on the act (we also had about 3 dutch cheeses in there, and while Ethan declared the Edam and Gouda “yucky” the Maasdam got his approval and that is all he wanted from there on out…

Sam had a dairy allergy when he was younger, so never developed a taste for cheese, but he did have a few pieces of the different varieties, but he did more playing with the wax coating than eating cheese.

Ryan’s Rating: 100/100

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Entree:
Yams and Coconut Cream
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Now to be honest I did read this was more of a breakfast dish, I thought it would be an interesting thick soup type interval before the main dish. And really I can see why it is had for breakfast, a lot like a porridge, hot, thick, and full of carbs to start the day.

It was rather bland in flavor, and our boys do have a bit of a sweet tooth so maybe a little too plain for them, to their credit, they both had a decent helping.

The coconut cream thicken and the yams just softened, you could just taste the sweetness of the yams through the cream, it was different, and not bad at all, but our boys have never tried porridge – so a little too different for them.

Ryan’s Rating: 6/10

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Mains:
Bougna (New Caledonia’s National Dish)
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This dish is supposed to be cooked, wrapped in banana leaves in an earth oven, but being winter here at the moment, and not a tropical country at all, banana leaves are a little hard to come by (and I’ve read you can pay up to $40 from a florist when they are available). So we opted for the next best thing tinfoil (aluminum foil) and a standard oven (it was far to cold and wet for me to go digging up the backyard – maybe in Summer…)

So this dish is similar in preparation to the Fijian Pineapple, Coconut, Sweet Potato bake that we made. In fact I did spot a pretty identical recipe in the few I had gather for New Caledonia.

Ryan was quite interested in helping me put this one together, he took charge of layering the Sweet potato, Taro, Chicken (Fish or Prawns if you wanted), onions and yams into foil (banana leaves), seasoned with salt and pepper, coconut cream is poured over the top, then it’s all wrapped up securely and put in an earth oven for 2-3 hours to cook and absorb the steam and coconut cream.

As we added each ingredient he asked “What’s this?” So he’s learning what the raw ingredients look like before they get cooked and on your plate!

The banana leaves apparently impart a slight anise flavor to the meal so in the absence of the leaves I added a small amount of crushed star anise to the coconut cream.

So when we removed it from the over a nice, gentle anise aroma wafted out, along with coconut, making the room smell tropical and almost summery!

Again, flavor-wise this was quite natural and plain, I think the cream softens a lot of the flavors, and Taro is an acquired taste for those not used to it. But the boys did well, mainly they picked out the chicken, some of the yams and Ryan did have some tomato (Sam and Jocelyn are not big tomato fans, whereas I could eat them all day…)

So the boys had chicken heavy bougna, while mine (through handing over my chicken pieces) was rathe vegetable heavy…

Unlike the fijian pineapple bake, this had nothing sweet or acidic to cut through the creaminess of the coconut, it needed just a little something to give it an edge, I’m thinking maybe when I have this for lunch this week (we had leftovers) tobacco sauce might kick it up a notch…

Ryan’s rating: 6/10

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Dessert:
Papaya and Coconut pudding
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All the dishes tonight preparation-wise have been quite like the Samoan and Fijian dishes, which is understandable, fresh ingredients, cut and mixed together. It’s a nice fresh simple way to cook. It’s not complicated, and makes preparation quite simple – which is great for me after some of the complicated dishes I’ve had to make and time to serve all at the same time.

Ryan also helped me make this one, we had to pulp the papaya, so he took great please in pulsing the food processor until the papaya was souplike… then it was simply heating and mixing in the corn starch to help thicken, then the coconut cream (a lot of coconut cream in all these meals!) and cooking until we had a nice thick  pudding like mixture which I divided into bowls.

We chilled it then brought it out once cooled. Again, the papaya flavor is a gentle sweet flavor and the boys are jut too used to the overly sweet nature of western food. I love papaya, so Jocelyn and I enjoyed this dessert, I find a lot of cakes etc just too sweet to have too much of. The boys how ever said it was okay, but didn’t want too much of it, so I suggested maybe adding a little brown sugar to it to sweeten it. They thought this was a great idea, so a heaped teaspoon was added to both, this saw Sam finishing his off and Ryan doing his best as well – but he was just too full – he ate a lot of cheese!

Ryan’s rating: 8/10

New Caledonia cuisine is historically influenced by many of its neighboring countries, Bougna is of Melanesian origin, and they have their fish in a sashimi style from Japan – I was quite looking forward to raw yellow fin tuna with salt and lemon, but the local fishery didn’t have any fresh tuna in stock this weekend. The French way of cooking has influenced the island nation greatly, although using local ingredients, but I tried to stay away from crepes, as we’ve had them recently for Brazil, Serbia and a couple of other countries recently.

So it was good to try some more traditional New Caledonian dishes… onward to the next country  – Sam… you’re up….

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