Sunday, October 24, 2010

When there’s food, we eat

by Geoffrey Heard

Here in paradise, aka Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, we have scheduled meals just like anyone else anywhere else -- but we also have a lot of what can only be called opportunistic eating.

It’s not like snacking in Australia where you decide to buy something more or less labelled “snack” and then eat it, often at a designated time (e.g. morning tea or, as Queenslanders call it, little lunch or smoko). Here in paradise the process is product driven, we eat stuff when it falls to hand -- literally.

A ripe mango falls -- and they’re falling all the time right now in the middle of the mango season -- we eat it. Right away, regardless of the time of day or night and whether or not a scheduled meal is in prospect or has just been eaten.

Someone picks a bunch of ripe bananas, they despatch the kids with a hand here and a hand there. Invariably at least one and probably more will be consumed by the recipient on the spot.

A pineapple is in the offing -- the ubiquitous bush knife goes into action, and in no time, slices of the luscious fruit are being passed around, hands dripping with sweet juice.

Fruits here are consumed in season and on the spot with no preparation except slicing them or ripping off the skin where appropriate.

You don’t need to do a lot of preparation in paradise -- the fruit straight off the tree is just so delicious that anything more elaborate than a squeeze of lime and a few grains of sugar on your slice of pawpaw (papaya), a particular weakness of mine, is likely to spoil the taste sensation. Or should that read: “sensational taste”?

In general in Papua New Guinea, every tree and every fruit is owned by someone. While most land is clan owned, usage rights are very clear and woe betide a clan member who pillages another’s tree. And as for a non-clan member who is caught thieving ...

Some trees are in the public domain, however. One of our mango trees has branches in a neighbour’s air space -- the mangoes on those branches belong to the neighbour. Other branches reach over the public road and it is open slather on the fruit for personal consumption.

The level of complexity of it all is illustrated by a soursop tree growing on the roadside verge opposite us. While cassava planted on the verge by our neighbour clearly belongs to the neighbour (in fact, they are harvesting some of it as I write), the soursop tree and its fruit are in the commons.

The other morning -- too early for our eagle-eyed team of juvenile fruit fall spotters -- a ripe soursop fell to the ground. A woman walking down the road later saw it in the grass, inquired of one of our household whether it was available, and on receiving clearance, broke off a handy snack for herself and her child, leaving the remainder with us. Needless to say, despite the fact that most of us had just breakfasted, we honoured her gift by doing the right thing by it, with enough left over for a couple of solid snacks for passersby.

At another level, we ate a mid-morning meal the other day. One of the couples in our house had returned from their garden early with sweet potatoes and greens. My expectation was that I was looking at ingredients for lunch or dinner. Nope. They just cooked up the food (with coconut cream sauce) right then, dished up plates for everyone present, and we ate -- because they felt like it.

Uh oh -- here we go again. My hostess with mini-water melons in hand is heading towards my possy in the shade of the mango tree. What can I say? Thank you, they’re excellent! ###


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2010.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

No comments:

Post a Comment