Good food. Music. Random acts of kindness.Posted: March 5, 2011
I haven’t buried the lead with the title of this post. This one’s about three simple things that I find make life that much easier: good food, beautiful music, and kindness.
On Wednesday, I picked up this beautiful book on sale at the Book Grocer on Elizabeth Street:
It’s called Me’a Kai, The Food and Flavours of the South Pacific.
Me’a kai means ‘come eat’ in Tongan. Love the dedication: “This book is dedicated to and inspired by an outstanding group of Pacific Island women, angels of the Pacific…”
The book is written by US based Kiwi chef Robert Oliver, with input from tourism academic Dr Tracey Berno and photography by Fijian Shiri Ram. Robert was partially raised in Fiji and Samoa, and, consequently, has the Pacific pretty much coursing through his veins. His love for Pacific Island food has shaped his culinary career. Robert is a passionate advocate for the flavours of the region and the inherent “green” aspect of island life – markets typically sell totally organic produce grown by very local farmers.
Robert is also interested in changing Pacific people’s perception about their own food – observing a tendency of cooks and chefs of the region to not see their own food culture as being ‘world class’ or worthy of appearing on a fine restaurant menu. This attitude needs to be overcome for links between local farmers and hotels to be established, and local farmers to reap the benefits of the tourism economy. Robert and Tracey hoped that presenting island food culture adapted to suit the menu needs of hotels would help those cooks see the enormous potential of Pacific cuisine. Reading this book has certainly changed my perception.
For Me’a Kai, Robert spent two years travelling across the island nations, collecting recipes from the kitchens of skilled local cooks. The first part of the book tells of this journey, beautifully. His love and respect for the region permeates the pages. The second part features recipes from Samoa, Raratonga & the Cook Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tahiti, and the Kingdom of Tonga. Of course, the food cultures of each nation do vary, and many islands have been left out. It was Robert’s intention to give a taste of what Pacific flavour is, and he does succeed. Shiri Ram’s photographs are stunning… so much so that I got a little day-dreamy for island beaches, markets, and people when I picked this up (it was a cool day in Melbourne). And extremely hungry! I’m waiting for a spare weekend so I can try some of the recipes. Although my kitchen is not modified, I do cook, if I have enough time and an assistant. And now that my appetite is back and I need to gain weight, I have added incentive to reacquaint myself with the oven.
There is a stereotype of Pacific food being quite, shall we say, bland. And I’ll be honest here: growing up, I thought it was too. Particularly having been exposed to international dishes that seemed to offer so many more interesting flavours. With the advent of colonisation and imports, Pacific cooking is often associated with overuse of high fat coconut milk and processed tinned meats (or “meats”, I should say). Certainly there is some truth in that – colonisation did erode way of life, many traditional customs and knowledge, and imported processed products have become a staple (sadly). But what Robert wanted to show was that not only is original traditional cooking extremely healthy (with lots of greens, complex carbohydrates and seafood), it still exists – and is continuing to evolve in people’s homes with modern influences. So there is, as he says, a modern Pacific food product. And a delicious one at that.
This book is so Pacifika… love it. I had originally seen it in the documentary workshop I do on weekends, when a fellow participant brought it in to show. Shortly after I started having dreams about the food in it. No kidding. Now I even daydream about food, occasionally. I take this whole fantasising about food development as a good omen indeed, given my past issues with eating (which I confessed to in this previous post).
Fantasising about our regions’ islands is also a good new development. I’m falling in love with Oceania again, and rediscovering how fucking beautiful this part of the world is. How I love the South Seas…
‘kind of meditate, say “I’m in the world, everything’s beautiful, I’m playing music for myself to enjoy it”… and then, people start to stop’
Thursday night, I was walking down Swanston Street after my night class and fretting about not being able to locate the dude I want to do my student documentary on. All of a sudden I heard someone performing a gorgeous cover of The Beatles song ‘Across the Universe’. Further up, at the Bourke Street intersection, a young lady strumming a guitar. Apparently this is Jessica Paige’s regular busking spot.
I love that song. I love covers of that song. So naturally, I stopped to listen. After Jessica finished she commented on how cool my orange wheelchair is. I stuck around to hear some more songs. A cover of ‘Imagine’ was next, followed by some of her originals. They are all beautiful. Jessica Paige is a Melbourne based singer/songwriter and has just produced her album, Once Upon A Time. This is her website:
If you ever come across her busking in the city be sure to stop and share the love. Or check out one of her gigs. She’s great.
Jessica told me she had been the subject of a student documentary before. And here it is, on YouTube. It features her song ‘Never Land’ (which is the first track on her new album). And a guy in a panda suit. And the quote above (wise words). I can really relate to the “little voice in my head” part…
RAD! (RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS)
Whilst Jessica was performing an old man approached her and attempted to put money in her guitar case. It was clear from the dialogue between them that she knew him well: “You’ve spent enough money on me, Vincent…”
Vincent then stood like a British Guard beside her as she performed, holding one of her CDs in front of his chest. After a few songs he put some more cash in her case, picked up another CD… and then gave it to me. Jessica then dedicated a song to me. Double kindness… makes me smile 🙂
Listening to Once Upon a Time now… and it really is lovely.
One more thing…
I hope this post wasn’t too disjointed. I have a headache and I’m feeling a little out of sorts today. Assignments and deadlines and the universe on my mind…
Here’s an original song by Jessica Paige, “Maybe This is Love”… last track on album: