Saturday, 21 June 2014

Relaxing in Tonga

After the very exciting trip to the Vava'u island group in the Kingdom of Tonga, the time had finally come to relax. My first stop in Neifau, which is the main town of Vava'u, was the Dancing Rooster Marina Wine Bar. The place is run by a real Swiss chef. And by "chef" I mean someone who went to a culinary academy in Europe and has a diploma to prove it.

The Dancing Rooster is not only a restaurant, but also a supply depot for yachts mooring in the marina. And because many yachts choose to wait out the South Pacific cyclone season in Vava'u, the place can get quite busy. Especially on Sunday nights when it doubles as the town's only cinema.

After relaxing at the Dancing Rooster I went to visit some people in town. Vava'u is very popular with Australian retirees, who want to spend their golden years in a tropical paradise. The only problem is that after a few years in Tonga, they go native and adopt the Tongan ways. Which may also mean having a pet pig instead of a dog. And I don't mean a miniature pet pig, as sometimes happens in the west. I mean a full blown, pig sized hog.

After filling up my belly and petting friendly pet hogs came the time to visit the beach.

And because I felt particularly brave that day, I decided to try snorkeling. Not my favorite activity, I must admit.

Having been fascinated by the traditional Tongan "grass skirts" even back in Nuku'alofa, I was amazed to learn that every Tongan is a proud owner of his or her own traditional attire. And every Tongan wears it proudly when the occasion calls for it. And because the Sunday mass is definitely a good occasion, you will see the entire country decked out in their Sunday grass skirt best.

Have you ever seen the Tongan money? The currency is called Pa'anga and as in any self-respecting kingdom, the banknotes bear the image of the beloved royal. The Tongan people are very proud of their king - Tupou VI and the queen - Nanasipau'u Tuku'aho, who, incidentally, is Tupou's second cousin. Yeah, keeping the royal blood in the family is the way to do it.

Shopping for souvenirs proved quite difficult. What is Tonga famous for? Even the natives were hard pressed for answers. We finally settled on handicraft, and I spent the better part of the day looking for a suitable handicraft shop.

I didn't find anything in Vava'u, but back in Nuku'alofa, I stumbled upon a small traditional crafts studio. Run by women to empower women. I liked the idea, and to support the brave womenfolk of Tonga, I purchased two lovely dishes.

And no visit anywhere would be complete without sampling the local cusine. Unfortunately, the traditional Tongan dishes are not know for their subtlety and finesse. That was fine by me. I wanted to try something real. Something authentic. This turned out to be lu.

There are many different varieties of lu. If made with mutton (the version I ate) it's called lu sipi, if with pork - lu puaka, corned beef - lu pulu, or with fish - lu ika. And it's really simple to make, providing you can find taro leaves somewhere. But don't worry. No taro leaves, no problem, you can use spinach or cabbage instead. Do you want a recipe? Here you are!

Line a small baking dish (an ordinary pie pan works great!) with aluminum foil. Leave plenty of foil hanging over the edges. Line the foil with spinach leaves or cabbage. In the center of the dish place cubes of cooked meat (a great way to use up whatever leftovers you have sitting around in the fridge!) Add some chopped onions, or a tomato, if you like. Pour a can of coconut cream (if you can't get coconut cream where you live, you can mix some coconut milk with creme fraiche) over everything and wrap the foil around it. Stick it in the oven and bake at 175 degrees (Celsius) for about an hour, or a bit longer.

And voila! You have your very own Tongan lu. Serve with sweet potato wedges for extra authenticity. Enjoy!!!

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That was my last day in Tonga. I did enjoy this warm place. But time to go home now. See you back in Poland next week.

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