Foods of the Pacific Islands

By Juliette Budge, Urban and Regional Planning PhD Student
While helping in an afterschool and workforce-training class in Kalihi-Palama, I got to know a group of women who often cook for events in the community. I asked if they would be willing to share their knowledge of some Pacific Island foods with me. The women agreed to cook on-camera and the foods were identified with the help of children from the afterschool program, who chose three of their favorite dishes to focus on.
Fried fish with sweet potato and taro was the first meal filmed. The chefs—Marie Akitekit, Asarina Yerten, and Ignacia Terno from Chuuk—explained the process as they skillfully prepared the meal at Shem Hall in Kalihi-Palama. The end result was not only delicious but also a record of their valuable cultural knowledge.
The next cooking segment focused on tapioca. The chef was Rakei Aunu from Chuuk. Filming began in Chinatown as Rakei navigated the shops with precise knowledge of the place that would have the ingredients she needed. Back in the kitchen, she stirred, kneaded, wrapped, and boiled the roots. While preparing and cooking, she told stories about learning to cook and the meaning of these foods for her family.
The final film was about otai, a Tongan specialty made with watermelon, pineapple, and coconut. With the help of Mina Ikavuka, Fane Lino, and Lilette Subedi, thirty children in an afterschool program set up stations for each fruit. They harmoniously went to work cutting, shredding, and juicing each ingredient. Fane showed the teenagers how to split the coconut without spilling the juice, and Villiami Lino, Fane’s son, taught the younger children how to shave off the white flesh of the coconut without scraping the shell.
The preparation of these foods was enjoyed by all participants. The short films will be screened in the afterschool program and will hopefully contribute to the interesting culinary and cultural knowledge that is here in the Islands.