5.277 Local Lunch!

-Cycle 5, Item 277-
9 (Thu) October 2014

-Papua New Guinean-
Local Lunch!


from Hodava Hotel [delivery]

at WHO Country Office

-Waigani, Port Moresby-

with various members of NDOH

Mission to Port Moresby, Day 7 (see previously 5.276 Spicy Chicken Muchim).

In Papua New Guinea on duty travel.  Along with Carmen, we were dispatched to provide technical and legal support for the government in updating their tobacco legislation.  I'm here through tomorrow, though Carmen left yesterday.

Traditional food in the Pacific Islands is comprised largely of root vegetables and greens and fish, steamed or boiled, often unseasoned, maybe with some coconut milk (see for example 5.179 Mama Kokoda with Deep-Fried Taro Root).  Simple as can be.

The Ministry of Health and WHO share the same office space.

As mentioned before, restaurants in this country, at least the expat-friendly restaurants that I would have access to, don't serve local fare.  That's why I haven't had a single bite of anything local in the 15 meals that I've eaten since arriving last weekend.  I found the same to be true in Fiji.  From what I've been able to piece together, the reason is three-fold: first, Pacific Islanders don't eat out very often, the very concept of a restaurant being foreign to the culture; second, on the rare occasion that they do, they'd rather eat something different than what they'd get at home; and third, the inherent simplicity of the local fare doesn't really lend itself to being developed into a restaurant menu.

Unfortunately, dietary habits in the Pacific have changed dramatically in recent decades, lots of fatty meats and processed grains, resulting in 75% adult obesity prevalence; the stereotypical image of the hulking Pacific Islander, that's not what they looked like a century ago--couldn't possibly have gotten so big on the traditional diet, as explained above.

In heed of my constant grumbling about being unable to eat local, my new best friends in the Department of Health arranged for a proper Papua New Guinean lunch.  They requested the kitchen in Hodava Hotel, where we'd been working for the past three days, to prepare a full spread of local goodies.  Individually packed, the food was delivered to us at the WHO country office.  

The portion being enormous, all this for one person, I could only finish about a third.

The food was okay.  As anticipated, it consisted of root vegetables, including sweet potato, yam, casava, pitpit, and taro, plus tomato and banana and some kind of green cabbage, and a chunk of tuna, all steamed, lightly seasoned in coconut milk.  Not much flavor, aside from the inherent flavors of the ingredients, which is a good thing, I suppose.  The experience was more about varying degrees of mushiness.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the meal immensely, privileged to get a rare glimpse into the real culture here.

Holiday Inn

When Dominic was born, on July 15, a couple weeks premature, I was in Boston at the time, staying with my friend Hong Shik, whose apartment number was 715.

Somewhat shabbier than the room in Laguna (see generally 5.272 Char Koay Teow), but good enough.

*In the evenings, the pool and poolside bar are buzzing with the sound of people--living in Manila these days, I've grown dependent on buzz.

With Carmen gone, I elected to check out of Laguna yesterday and move to the Holiday Inn.  About $100 more per night--everything in PNG is extremely expensive, more than Korea in some ways.  But with the savings on internet, here just 60 PKG for 24 hours unlimited data, I may end up saving money.  It's located literally across the street from WHO, even though I'm still required to travel, just crossing the street, in the official vehicle.  Maybe the best part is that the place has guests, so it feels alive.*

I had dinner in the hotel restaurant.  While the menu didn't offer anything authentically local, it did at least have a fish dish that could have been partly inspired by tradition, especially the coconut topping.  Reminded me of something that I had in Fiji, also on my final evening in country (see generally 5.180 Mahi Mahi with Snake Beans in Lolo Sauce).  This sort of modernization may be the way to get more Pacific Islander cuisine on restaurant menus.

That's Scotch, bottled in PNG, another addition to my growing collection of whiskies from around the world, currently consisting of Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Spain, Germany, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Fiji, now PNG, USA, Canada.

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