Meal 129: Palau

Palau is another one of those low-population island countries in the vast Pacific. We've discovered along the way that the traditional foods tend to be quite straightforward, and that recipes are quite hard to come by, as often the cooking is more defined as a way to put things together rather than a set of instructions and ingredients to follow. Once again I ended up figuring out what, if not now, to cook by scrolling through Facebook groups. 

Joining us on this probably inaccurate adventure through this gorgeous country's food were Christina, Nancy, Dale, Mary K,aren, Mark, Jeff, Carla, and friends.

Koroke | Croquettes | Based on this recipe

There's a strong Japanese influence in the modern food scene in Palau, due both to the occupation of much of the 20th century, and the p0pularity of Palau as a vacation destination for Japanese tourists. While following the classic Japanese croquette style of breading filling with tempura batter and then panko, the filling is a bit of a variation with purple taro and cabbage in addition to ground pork.

Ukaeb | Crab with coconut cream | Recipe

A very straightforward combination. The crabs I bought were very slim on meat, so we used the shells mostly for decoration, with most of the meat coming from a can I thankfully thought to buy.

Beldakl | Fish in broth | Recipe

I found this one tough to figure out and have no idea how well I executed it, but at its core it's a sort of fish soup with aromatic leafy greens and vegetables. My research indicated that it often has a fruit that's similar to starfruit, but I couldn't even find that, let alone the titiml leaf that was called for. I did my best with green onions, which was probably a travesty, but it tasted fine.


As we've seen time and again from this part of the world, taro is an extremely popular tuber. This time I boiled it. As always, if you're preparing it, wear gloves to avoid the tiny crystals irritating your skin.

Aiskater | Frozen starch dessert |Recipe

This seemed like it would be fun, but the contents froze very firmly to the cup, so there was no way to pull it out like a popsicle as we expected. When it softened a bit we managed to taste some with a spoon, and it tasted about how you'd expect sweetened, frozen cornstarch slurry to taste: fine, a bit refreshing, but at least to me not something to crave.

Meal 122: New Zealand

A little over two years ago, when our now-good-friend Deena did an NPR piece about United Noshes, someone in New Zealand noticed and I did a phone interview on Radio NZ. I promised that when we got to their country, I'd get back in touch. And I did! We did a fun bit where they had listeners send in advice through social media of what to cook, which we chatted through live on the radio. So what do Kiwis eat? Well, lamb, of course, since that's what they raise a ton of for wool and meat alike. Otherwise it's in large part based on traditional English foods like sweet and savory pastries, with a growing influence of fresher Mediterranean flavors, blended with some indigenous influences like sweet potato.

Joining us on a cold winter's night for a taste of the other hemisphere were Estel, Sarah, Laura, Patrick, Kal, Julie, Levi, Martha, Karen, and Red. (Oh, and Reba!)

Kiwi dip

While we Americans love our convenience, one thing we really haven't gotten into is canned milk products, so we suffer the inconvenience of a perishable product as the base for our otherwise dead-simple French onion dip (recipe: mix one packet of onion mix into sour cream; serve). Well, Kiwis have no such aversion, and their reward is no temporal constraint on their ability to whip up the equivalent dip, using a can of what they call reduced cream and what we can find in the States in Hispanic markets or supermarket aisles as media crema. They even gussy it up a bit with a dash of malt vinegar, but since any self-respecting NZer would have that on hand anyway, the extra effort is still less.

It's really tasty. Eat with thick or wavy potato chips, or veggies if you want to pretend you're being at least a little healthy.

Along with the dip, we had ray oysters on the halfshell. They were in homage to, but certainly no replica of, Bluff oysters, a particular species that's found at the southern tip of the South Island. Equally fatty, but much classier.

Mince and cheese pie Recipe

One Radio NZ listener wrote in that the national dish is really a "$2 mince and cheese pie from the dairy," which in American English means "$1.40 ground beef and cheese hot pocket from the convenience store." So I made one! The all-butter puff pastry crust probably made this a bit fancier than the grab-n-go version, and of course as a whole pie the crust-to-filling ratio was surely off, but otherwise I think this turned out to be a fairly accurate and tasty replica. Speaking of, "tasty cheese" is apparently what Aussies and Kiwis call what we'd think of as sharp cheddar cheese, to the extent that you can refer to "tasty and crackers" and people will apparently know what you mean.

Watties sauce | Recipes

It seems that Watties is to NZ what Heinz is to the US, the universal tomato condiment. Watties is apparently a little runnier, a little sweeter, and a little more spiced — it's known as tomato sauce, not ketchup. Not finding any here, I made my own, with frozen pureed tomatoes from last year's harvest. The recipe I followed had a shocking amount of allspice, so I cut back quite a bit and even then it was pretty strong. It was pretty good, but unless you have a strong reason to recreate the flavor of the original (like, if you have an around-the-world cooking project or are really trying to impress a Kiwi), you may as well just make do with ketchup.

Lamb with mint sauce | Recipe for mint sauce

There's about seven sheep for every New Zealander — and that's down from twenty a few decades ago! — and accordingly, those Radio NZ listeners made very clear that lamb was required on our table. It seems that the classic version, fit for a feast, is a roast leg, whether in a classic austere British style, or enlivened by garlic and herbs; the latter's what I chose to do. I got a whole leg (bone in, including the shank), studded it with garlic and rosemary, and let it cook for hours. I also whipped up some mint sauce with a splash of malt vinegar, two ingredients that contrast nicely.

The lamb was good, but not great, kind of a disappointment given the quality and expense of the meat. I mean, we all enjoyed it, but I was hoping it'd be something more.

Minty peas Recipe

Mint again! Green peas, green onions, and mint made for a vibrant hint of sunnier days. Easy to throw together, tasty, and decently healthy.

Kaanga waru | Steamed sweet potato and corn pudding |Recipe

To properly represent the cuisine of the Māori, the indigenous Polynesians who predated the British, I ought to have done a hangi. But that would have required digging a pit in the yard, superheating rocks in an adjacent fire, quickly moving said rocks into the pit, lowering in sackcloth-enrobed bunch of meat plus veggies, and covering the whole thing with soil for several hours. Even if I had all the space and time, it seems that watching a few YouTube videos isn't enough, that without having learned from others you risk making a muddy, undercooked mess of it all. Time for plan B.

Several listeners suggested that our meal include kumara, which as the sound of the name suggests is also a Māori food; Americans know it as sweet potato. While kumara is quite common around NZ, this dish is Māori through and through, though the cooking technique and most of the ingredients come from the British! It's a dense loaf of shredded kumara, cornmeal, flour, sugar, milk and butter, steamed in a cheesecloth. It's dense, and it's really pretty tasty.

Pavlova | Baked meringue with fruit | Recipe

Aussies and Kiwis may argue about who owns the "pav," but history is on New Zealand's side; while it grew very popular in Australia, it first took form in Wellington during the tour of the ballerina Anna Pavlova, who was described as dancing as if she were lighter than air.

A pav is a marvel of kitchen chemistry, starting with the goop of some egg whites and ending with a magical, etherial mass that's crisp on the outside and chewy like a marshmallow on the inside, all thanks to a ton of beating and strategic addition of sugar, cornstarch, and an acid. Once the science is over, the art begins: the pavlova is a blank canvas for decoration with fruit to your heart's and eye's desire. Of course, ours had kiwifruit!

Meal 120: Nauru

If you've heard of Nauru, it's likely because of the refugee detention center that Australia operates there. It's just about the only thing going on economically there, since the decline of the phosphate mines that briefly made the country the richest in the world per capita in the 70s. It's a strange and sad story, in which a small population decides to turn over most of the island to mining bat guano, making everyone on the island instantly wealthy with no reason to work, but the whole artifice crashes within a few decades as the phosphate dries up and the sovereign fund is woefully mismanaged. If you can believe it, one of the things that brought them down was an investment in an unsuccessful musical in London about Leonardo. While Leonardo did a whole lot of just about everything, now just about nothing (save for the detention center) happens on the island. Virtually all of the workable land was destroyed through mining, and the population gets by on foreign aid and leveraging its UN membership to trade diplomatic recognition for cash. (It's proven adept at playing Taiwan and the People's Republic of China against each other.) Anyway, the present reality of no farming, combined with the recent history of a taste for imported goods, means that the island's diet is limited and, frankly, unhealthy, as manifested in Nauru's inglorious status as the world's most overweight country.

Given how small the country is (just about 10,000 people), and how it pretty much has no cuisine of its own nor a tourism industry that might at least make a few local menus show up on a website, this was a really darn hard one to research. I ended up spending a lot of time scrolling through the "Nauru Wanna Buy/Sell" Facebook list and reading several depressing articles about poor nutrition. I have no idea how well I did with replicating what you might expect to eat in Nauru, but I sure did give it a shot.

Bringing a sense of obscure adventure to the table were Jon, Nicole, Annie, Will, Amie, Vincent, and his guest.

Coconut fish | Recipe

Despite the doom and gloom in the intro, it's not like all of the island's food traditions have disappeared. There are still coconut trees, and the seas still have fish in them, so like many of its far-flung neighbors, Nauru also serves tuna in coconut milk. Either you like it or you don't — the author of the recipe is definitely in the latter category. I found it a fairly unexciting way to treat raw tuna, but hey, I like raw tuna so I still liked it. If you're making this, if at all possible don't use canned coconut milk, as it'll taste tinny. Instead, find a coconut, shred it, squeeze it with a bit of warm water and use that milk. Or, be semi-lazy like me: buy shredded coconut from the freezer section of an Asian grocery, and squeeze that with warm water.

Spam fried rice | Recipe

I have to admit, I'd been looking forward to cooking this for a good long while. I've been told many a time that canned meat is a popular thing throughout the Pacific islands, a taste acquired from the rations provided by Americans during and after WWII, and of that, Spam is king. We even had canned corned beef in a Fijian dish, but it wasn't until this, our 120th meal, that we finally got our taste of Hormel's finest.

And I have to admit, with a grin both sheepish and impish, that it was super tasty. Fried rice is a pretty undeniably tasty thing, and the addition of crispy cubes of unnaturally spongy meat squares just made it all the better.

Lemon chicken | Recipe

Several sources say that most of the food establishments in Nauru cook Chinese food, and this one site says he had some good lemon chicken there once. Given how little detailed info there is online about the specific foods that they eat on the daily there, that was enough for me to go on. I have no idea how close to authentic this recipe was, but it was just as awesome as you would expect breaded and fried chunks of chicken in a thick and tangy sauce to be. Yum!

Pandanus tea | Recipe

I have no idea if they actually drink this in Nauru, but this recipe on a random site claims they do (see the pattern?), so I made it. As I've described in a few other Pacific meals' writeups, pandan leaf has the same nutty scent as basmati rice.

I had no clue of what to make for dessert, so given the indications of cheap-and-cheerful western foods, I went for mid-low-grade vanilla ice cream.

Meal 111: Micronesia

At 1 million square miles with only 100,000-ish people, the Federated States of Micronesia is both huge and tiny. (Obviously, almost all of that square mileage is ocean.) As with much of the rest of the Pacific islands, the traditional bland starches and simply cooked fish aren't the most stimulating cuisine. Micronesians have swung the pendulum far to the other side, with some really intense and novel uses of imported flavors. (Read below for what they do with ramen and Kool-Aid.)

There's precious little about Micronesian cuisine online. The two most useful sources I found were a few posts from this teacher's blog for traditional foods, and this astonishing account of some of the uses of modern foods on the island of Chuuk.

Along for the adventure were Emily, Jens, Molly, Will, Caitlin, Trish, Amy, Jordana, David, Michele, Emily, and guests.

Ramen snack "Recipe"

When I first saw that a common snack in Micronesia is dry ramen with its seasoning packet plus Kool-Aid, I thought it might have just been one person's crazy idea. But I read plenty more about the abundance of Kool-Aid, especially consumed in dry form, well, we had to try it. We tried various combinations: pork ramen with cherry Kool-Aid was best, and shrimp with tropical fruit was definitely the worst.

Kosrae soup

The island of Kosrae, where our friend Nathan did Peace Corps, is famous, at least throughout Micronesia, for its Sunday Soup. Below is a recipe, as given by LeiviaChenisa Situl in response to a Facebook post of Nathan's. You'll note from the photo that I included crab, because I saw clarified elsewhere that shellfish would work, and the crab was fresh at the market. Despite the simplicity, it was really quite flavorful.

Simple recipe. Boil your h2o first,bring up to boil then add the fish more better with bone for flavor for about 10-15 minutes and take fish out,make sure no bones in the stock and add on your uncooked rice cook all the way till rice cook and add on onions and salt and pepper and the last thing is coconut milk.


Half pot Fill 3/4 of the pot Fish- half fish or any meat 2 can coconut milk 1 onion salt n pepper with taste

Yapese taro salad

Picture a mayonnaise-based potato salad, but instead of potatoes, it's chunks of boiled purple taro. Pretty tasty, and the taro has a fun texture.

Rohtamah and kon | Pounded taro and pounded breadfruit with coconut milk | Description

The pounded taro with sugar and coconut milk, not pictured, was fine. The pounded breadfruit, pictured before being covered with coconut milk, was not. Never having had fresh breadfruit, I don't know if the overwhelmind blandness and mouth-drying texture came from being deep-frozen and potentially mishandled en route, or if breadfruit really is that unappealing. In any event, no more frozen breadfruit for me.

Sukusuk | Pounded banana with coconut milk

Straightforward and tasty, though yes, it's yet another mushy thing covered in coconut milk. The banana leaf made for a little variety in presentation.

Meal 107: Marshall Islands

For centuries, the fate of this Micronesian island group has been entirely subject to the machinations of much greater powers. Its very name, after an English explorer, was consecrated in maps by French and Russian explorers. It's been a territory of Spain, Germany, Japan, and the US. It saw major battle and deprivation in World War II, and was the site of enormous nuclear tests with all the destruction and long-term consequences you'd expect, and many displaced Marshallese who haven't moved to Arkansas (true story!) now live crammed on an island nicknamed the "ghetto of the Pacific." The Republic of the Marshall Islands is now an independent nation in "free association" with the United States, yet its future is very much out of its hands, as climate change now threatens to wipe these low-lying nations off the map in a way that war and nuclear testing couldn't. As you might expect from all this outside influence, the cuisine has absorbed some ingredients from elsewhere, but there still is plenty of food there that's stayed true to the place. It proved quite a challenge to figure out what to cook, since there aren't any Marshallese cookbooks or food blogs I could find, which is why you will see some of these recipes on discussion sites and other random places. This was actually a really fun one to research, as I learned a lot about life on these islands along the way.

Guests included Stephanie, Anna, Julie, Amanda, Terry, Geo, Bonnie, Audrey, and friends.

Banana coconut balls

I couldn't find a recipe other than vague mentions that this was a thing, so I simply mashed up some bananas with some sugar and coconut, and sprinkled more coconut on top. As far as I can tell this was roughly how it's supposed to be, and it tastes like you'd imagine: sweet, mushy, with the coconut holding it together.


Raw tuna. With onions. In...mayonnaise. Sounds gross, but actually tastes pretty darn good. The soft, fatty, slightly sweet and tangy mayo, the buttery and crumbly tuna, and the crisp and lightly pungent onion is the sort of thing you can really snack on while drinking a beer.

Roast pork Recipe

Pork is a pre-colonial fixture in Polynesia, and the traditional way to cook it is in an earth oven: dig a hole, line it with rocks, build a fire to heat up the rocks, let it die down, put leaf-wrapped meat on it, and bury it for several hours to let it cook through slowly. Now, I couldn't exactly go digging such a hole in our backyard, so I did this on the grill, and used a soy sauce and brown sugar marinade since that seems like the sort of thing that would go on. Only challenge was I couldn't find charcoal at the store, so I used straight up mesquite chunks. I don't know if it was supposed to turn out so smoky, but my goodness this beautiful, "barked" hunk of flesh turned out tasty.

Grilled fish

While Polynesian markets are spare in Portland (I know of just one), in the vicinity of SFO there's a gaggle of them. I happened to be in the Bay Area for work a few days before the meal with a bit of time on my hands and a rental car before heading home, so I stuffed my backpack with taro leaves and some other ingredients. Those leaves ended up wrapping some fish (I think I used mahi mahi) which I also threw on the grill.


I'm done with breadfruit, or at least the frozen chunks. They're just bland, dry, and mealy, with an unappetizing bit of crust, when I roast them as suggested. I hope to get my hands on a fresh breadfruit at some point, to see if that's really what it's like, or if I'm just making a mockery of this common food.

Rice-banke | Pumpkin rice |Recipe

Rice isn't a traditional food of Polynesia, but thanks to Asian influence (in the Marshall Islands' case, most likely the time as a Japanese colony), it's become quite popular. This dish, with steamed pumpkin and coconut milk, is one gloopy concoction, with a real stick-to-your-ribs aspect.

Pandan coconut ice cream | Recipe

Readers of previous posts will be familiar with my description of pandan leaf as the "vanilla of Southeast Asia," and this nutty-green leaf also flavors dishes across Oceania. (They also use the fruit of the tree for food, but good luck finding that in the US.) I'm not sure how common pandan ice cream actually is, but it's sure tasty, especially when you avoid artificial pandan extract (sold in Asian markets) and take five minutes to make your own with the leaves (also sold in Asian markets). Anyone who knows a vegan knows that coconut milk is a successful dairy substitute for ice cream; mixed with dairy, it takes on a more complex mouthfeel. This was a tasty one that went so quickly we forgot to take a picture!