Laplap is the country’s national dish, made by pounding taro or yam roots into a paste. The mixture is placed on taro or spinach leaves and soaked in grated coconut mixed with water. Pieces of pork, beef, chicken, fish or flying fox are added, and the mixture is tied up in leaves from the Laplap plant (heliconia leaves). The small packages are then cooked in an underground oven of hot rocks. You can usually sample fragrant Laplap slabs at the markets for about 150 vatu.
Other island dishes include Tuluk, a pork-filled package prepared and cooked in the same way as Laplap, and Nalot, a vegetable dish made from boiled or roasted taro, banana or breadfruit mixed with grated coconut and water. Not the most appetizing looking dish and a little ‘starchy’ for most European palates but worth the experience. For a refreshing drink, try fresh coconut juice, nature’s nectar.
The humble coconut is a South Pacific staple; either drunk, eaten fresh or used as a cooking ingredient on a daily basis. When the nut is green, everyone enjoys the clear, fresh tasting coconut water straight from the nut (slightly chilled is delicious). When the nut turns yellow to light brown, it indicates that the soft jelly like flesh has formed. You can drink the water and then cut open the nut to scoop out the exquisite delicately flavoured jelly. As the nut progressively turns browner in colour, this jelly thickens and hardens – a little juice will remain. After this stage, the flesh becomes quite hard and is either baked dry to produce copra or grated for cooking or to produce desiccated coconut.
Coconut milk is widely used in traditional Ni-Vanuatu dishes such as Fish Salad (of Polynesian origin) or the local ‘lap lap’. The milk is extracted from grated coconut flesh by squeezing it through a sieve of some sort. The locals will use the discarded coconut husk for this; flatten it into a pad and then place the grated flesh on it, twisting the package to produce the “milk”. The spent flesh is then discarded or fed to animals. The dry husks and shells are then used for cooking fires. Nothing goes to waste!
If left alone, the coconut will continue its growth and sprout. The flesh turns into its next stage, adored by the locals as they believe it resembles coconut ice cream. It’s a really interesting texture, similar to soft juicy coconut flavoured styrofoam! These more mature coconuts can be purchased for a modest price throughout the islands at road stalls or markets. At the Port Vila Markets, the Mamas will whack the top off your green coconut with a machete if you want to drink it straight away. You can always buy the husked coconuts and then pierce the eyes to drain the milk back at your accommodation. Chilled coconut is a refreshing aperitif to enjoy as the sun sinks into a distant horizon.
Kava is an intoxicating liquid made from pounding or grinding pepper root mixed with water. This pungent and muddy drink is sometimes referred to as “aelan bia” (island beer), and is an evening ritual throughout Vanuatu. There are numerous kava bars in all the islands.
In ‘kastom’ parts of Vanuatu, women are forbidden to drink kava. Seems it’s a tradition that women are happy to comply with! If kava’s not to your liking (it looks like muddy water, tastes like petrol) try the rich Tanna coffee and the real locally brewed Tusker and Vanuatu Bitter.
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