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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Raw Fish 1: Fijian kokoda

"Cooking" raw fish by marinading it in lemon juice is a technique used by people in many lands (see for example the Ecuadorian recipe in the next posting). Different Pacific Islands have different styles, but they all generally involve sharp citrus juice, coconut cream, and chunks of a white-fleshed fish.

The following recipe for Fijian Kokoda is adapted from A Fiji Table - a cook book of the Fiji Islands, compiled by Gaƫtane Austin for the Holy Eucharist Church and published by Islands Business International in 1989. This is one of the best Pacific Island cook books I have seen - it contains many authentic local recipes as well as the usual expatriate favourites - and is well worth getting hold of.

Ingredients to serve 6-8

  • 500g white fish fillets (walu - Scomberomorus commerson, mahimahi - Coryphaena hippurus, or even albacore or yellowfin tuna)

  • 3 large limes (or lemons)

  • 1 cup fresh coconut cream

  • 1 large onion, minced or chopped fine

  • 1 potent chilli (or teaspoon Tabasco)

  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced

  • 1 large capsicum (green pepper), diced

  • pinch salt

Cut fish into bite-sized pieces. Marinate overnight in juice of limes and salt. Add coconut cream, chopped onion and chilli just before serving. Decorate with tomato and capsicum. Serve in a large bowl, or as individual servings on a bed of lettuce in a coconut half-shell (bilo). Note: if you refrigerate the kokoda for too long after combining the ingredients, the coconut cream will solidify.

Different parts of the Pacific have different methods of preparation: some drain off the marinade before mixing the fish into the coconut cream, others marinate for a shorter time. French Polynesian fish salad, or poisson cru, can be marinaded as little as 10 minutes.

By the way, kokoda is pronounced "ko-konda", with the accent on the second "ko". The written form of Fijian is fairly new (the language was first written down in the missionary era of the 1800s) and as a consequence the spelling of Fijian is very regular. Most Polynesian languages consist of a sequence of vowel and consonant sounds and when Fijians (or so the story goes) first started trying to read their language as transcribed by missionaries, they automatically inserted a vowel if two consonants appeared together. Thus, if kokoda had been spelled "kokonda", it might have been pronounced "kokonanda" when it was read out. Whatever the story, the language compilers were able to take advantage of the fact that the "d" sound is always preceded by the "n" sound in Fijian, to simplify the spelling. Other unusual (to English eyes) pronunciations in Fijian include "g" (pronounced "ng" as in "singer"), "q" (pronounced "n-g" as in "finger"); "b" (pronounced "mb" as in "lumber"); and most unusual of all "c" (pronounced "th" as in "rather").

That's nothing compared to Kiribati though, where "ti" is pronounced "s". The word "Kiribati" itself, when spoken aloud, sounds almost like "Gilberts" - the former colonial name for this island group.

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