The “islands” - the name itself stokes the imagination. There - a languid beach, lined with palm trees. Here - the laconic music drifts over a mildly warm breeze. The sun is ever-present, wearing down wood. Browning the skin.
The term ‘Pacific Islander’ may seem overly vague to those (like me) who hail from there, but it may seem explicit enough for others. In truth, the term is as broad as the Ocean itself. We would find it extremely difficult and culturally insensitive to clump all of the Pacific Islands as some discernible entity - with a shared culture, peoples, customs, etc. It is beautifully not.
We’ve grown up - no longer clumping together vast swaths of people into a single category. It is far richer and more respectful to speak to a genuinely discernible group or culture - and, as such, it’s food.
After ASG returned from Hawaii a few weeks ago, we reflected on this - almost instantly when sitting at the Highway Inn on Ala Moana in Honolulu - just a few miles south of the airport. Hawaiian food, real Hawaiian food, has shared tones and approaches with the Philippines. Yet, it can feel poles apart at times. When enjoying the slow-cooked pork, or the taro, how could we not think of the same as other island cultures?
It’s probably not as perplexing a question as it was while sitting in Highway Inn’s easy dining room, with its openness to viewing its kitchen. This is their food and their culture. We can peak into it, they are sharing it - but we don’t have to feel the urge to attain it or capture it. It exists to be enjoyed not owned.
So, how does ASG approach food from the Pacific Isles? With that same sensitivity. It is not clumped together as the early, mid-century cookbooks had us believed - clumping all of the Islands into a single book as if we were homogenous. [Yet, I always appreciated those books, in at least, to introduce the rest of the world that we existed and we have our own dishes.] We create delicious things that rival anything you may have, so let’s share!
We’ll take a quick exploration from our heady visit to Honolulu - the dimensions of the Pacific Islands are quite varied. We will approach the food that takes it back to that discernible people, yet, explore commonalities.
We will look at Hawaii, the Philippines, French Polynesia, Tonga, and Samoa for the next two weeks. There are so many wonderful Islands, but we also want to be able to bite off what we can chew. :D We will return to others as we explore more streets…
In this sampling of cultures, we start to see those commonalities take shape:
We see pork, in all of its high-fat and high-protein beauty.
We see flavorful roots - colorful, starchy, and extensible.
We see coconuts and bananas.
We see food cooked on skewers, over fires, where the nature of the cooking is the flavor.
As we see these commonalities take shape we think of what the ‘Islands’ mean - expertly slow-cooked pig, wrapped proteins in leaves, carefully sliced chicken laid out above charcoal…
They are foods that are prepared simply, then shared quickly - while they are still warm. There are drinks that don’t have the luxury of ice but are refreshing just the same. The ubiquitous street vendor, carving out a simple living as best they can - using ingredients that are not as desired unless some innovative technique or approach comes down upon the food like lighting. This is open cooking, for all to see - a trait not as common as you would think in other cultures. But the island has nothing to hide.
The people. They are attuned to the sun, the waves of the ocean, and the perils of its weather. They are relatively easy people - quick with a smile and a shake of the hand.
We’ll explore this through a lens of the past and what we look like today.
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