Geography: A subtropical mountainous archipelago of two main island and almost 900 other islands and islets
Language: English, iTaukei, Fiji Hindi
Signature flavours: Coconut, seafood, curry, taro, tropical fruits
This is our third assignment out of the South Pacific island nations, and while Fiji enjoys a nice coconut-y fish dish as much as any of them, the more than a third of Fijians with Indian heritage have brought a lot of spice to Fiji’s culinary landscape. Curries abound, and not just curries but roti, lassi, jalebi, raita, and more. I opted to make a mix of Indo-Fijian and native island dishes that really explored Fiji’s repertoire.
Crab Curry: A spicy coconut, garlic, and ginger gravy with soft-shelled crabs, tomato, and onion, and served with roti.
Prep and cooking time: 60 min
Kokoda: Snapper marinated in lime and lemon juices until firm, then mixed with tomato, onion, hot peppers, green onion, and coconut milk.
Prep and cooking time: 3 hours (including marinating time)
Honey Bread: A fluffy dessert bread with a deep, honeyed sweetness, spiced with clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
Prep and cooking time: 60 min
The Shopping List
Off I went to St Lawrence Market for some delicious, high-quality seafood. I found soft-shelled crabs and Pacific snapper at Seafront Market. I really wanted to make passionfruit juice from a recipe I found on a great food blog called That Fiji Taste (which also gave me the curry recipe), but despite looking high and low, I couldn’t find any passionfruits for sale. I picked up some passionfruit tea with coconut jelly at a bubble tea shop to have alongside our dinner just for fun. The rest of my ingredients came from Bulk Barn and No Frills.
I got the kokoda started early, since it needed a couple of hours to marinate. However, I stupidly chucked the whole fillets into the citrus juice instead of chopping them into small pieces. (Always. Read. The. Recipe. First. … Sigh.) When I saw they were opaque on the outside but still quite pink inside, I remembered Step One, and chopped and re-marinated. The kokoda was very similar to the raw fish salad I made for Samoa. It’s an onion- and coconut-forward dish, and the fish was very nice — tender and juicy.
The bread was a cinch. I had that lovely loaf baking in no time. At first, I worried that my pan was too big for my batter, because it looked like so little when I put it in the oven, but that bread rose and rose and came out round and golden. It had a wonderful sweetness and spice, with a crunchy almond topping. The recipe said that the bread gets better the next day as the richness of the honey comes out, so we’ll see how it is at breakfast tomorrow.
The curry was the most demanding and time-consuming item of the evening. Step one was to clean the crabs. I had to … I had to cut off their faces. With scissors. Actually, I don’t want to talk about it.
Anyway, I made a garlic-ginger-chilli paste, mixed in fifty thousand spices and a few tomatoes, coated the crabs in that spicy gravy, added a can of coconut milk, and simmered away. The result was a rich curry, each bowl featuring a whole soft-shelled crab. We scooped up spicy lumps of curry with crisp, buttery (storeboughtImsorry) roti.
It’s always interesting to discover new things about the places we cook from. I had no idea when I first got this assignment that I’d be preparing an Indian-style-with-a-Fijian-twist curry. Is there a big Canadian ex-pat population in Maldives or Malta or Micronesia? I guess we’ll find out when we get there.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.