South Pacific

Sea Fare: Victoria Allman in the Galley – Spring 2011

Tribal Bartering

By Victoria Allman

“Are they still there?” I asked Patrick as he walked through the galley.

“They haven’t left.” Patrick grabbed a slice of pineapple from the platter in front of me. “We’re surrounded.”

I swatted his hand as he reached for another slice. The fruit tray was for the guests on Pangaea, the 185-foot yacht I was chef of, not for the crew, whether he was my husband or not.

I removed my apron and followed Patrick down the side passageway to our aft deck.  The equatorial sun of Papua New Guinea burned deep into my skin within seconds of leaving the cool air-conditioned environ of my galley. I raised my hand to shade my eyes and squinted out over the tea-colored water.

Patrick was right; we were surrounded. Trailing behind us were half a dozen hand-carved wooden canoes, each holding a dozen tribal men and women.  To our starboard side, another four canoes were packed with dark-skinned naked children. Half of them smiled wide, half crouched behind the gunwale, the whites of their eyes peaking over the rim, too scared to look, too intrigued to glance away.

We were a novelty. A boat our size had never traveled that far up the Sepik River before. We had anchored the night before in the center of the river, unable to navigate farther in the dark. The guest on board had requested a trip up the Sepik, also known as the Amazon of the Pacific, to the center of the country along some of the wildest and remotest terrain on earth to view spirit-houses and tour primitive villages. So far, our journey had twisted through steamy mangrove jungles, untouched dense rainforests and boggy swamps.

The guests were on a National Geographic-like expedition, only, it was being done in the luxury of a twenty million dollar yacht.

Sweat trickled between my breasts before I even reached the swim platform. A mosquito landed on my arm. I swatted it away with one hand while with the other I motioned to one of the canoes to come closer.

A man wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and an elaborate headdress of feathers and vines maneuvered his prow alongside the swim platform of Pangaea. Patrick reached down to steady the dugout vessel.

“Welcome.” The man’s rough smile showed betel nut-stained misshapen teeth. He spit velvet red juice into the muddy-brown water. It swirled a moment and disappeared in the fast-moving current. “We sell bananas and coconut.”

I smiled. The local market had come to me. “How much?”

I had been to Madang, the local town earlier that week and had a rough grasp of how the Kina worked. In such a poor country, five kina bought you almost anything. I had spent more money than the market-sellers had seen in a long time on sweet potatoes, water spinach and papaya to feed our twelve crew and twelve guests.

I pulled coins from my pocket and pointed to the branch of bananas on the rough-hewn floor. I held out my hand, but the man shook his head. The animal bone piercing his nose swung back and forth.

“No good here.” He waved his hand toward the river banks lined with clusters of wheat and wild sugarcane. The village we anchored in front of consisted of stilted one-room huts made of wood and thatch. Jungle forests stretched forever beyond the clearing. Of course, where would he spend the money? On what?

Patrick stepped in. “Batteries?” he asked.

The man nodded. Our local guide on board came down to translate.

Patrick disappeared into the engine room to grab some of our spares while I stood smiling at a two-year old, curly-headed girl draped in a dirty white cloth for a diaper. I wiggled my fingers in a wave that sent her burying her face between her mother’s bare breasts.

I looked from one woman to the next. Each was bare-chested with long, flat, shriveled breasts that hung low and uneven down their bellies. Some wore skirts of grass, some a cloth wrapped around their hips. I felt self-conscious in my white polo with the yacht’s logo stitched on the chest.

Patrick returned with a box of batteries and a plastic container. The man nodded and handed me the branch with dozens of green bananas attached. 

Patrick bent down beside the children in the center of the canoe and held out his hand. One child shrieked and huddled in the far corner, but a boy of about six years tentatively peeked into Patrick’s cupped hand. He reached out a scrawny arm and touched what was inside. He, too, shrieked. But, this one was out of excitement.  The other six children pushed and leaned in to get a view of what the strange white man with hair the color of the surrounding wheat fields had in his hand.

The first boy grabbed at what Patrick held and snuggled it to his chest. Finally, I could see what the excitement was all about. Patrick had brought a container of ice from our ice machine. The children pawed at the ice in the boy’s arms, but within seconds, it had disappeared. All heads turned back to Patrick, wide eyes pleading for more.

Patrick laughed and handed out cubes to all the children. The men from other canoes paddled close to see what the excitement was all about. One by one, each canoe approached the boat and as I traded batteries, an old frying pan and crew t-shirts for tropical fruits from the fields, Patrick entertained the children with the ice.

Within minutes, all the crew and guests had come to trade. Extra clothes were exchanged for carved masks, flashlights for weaved baskets. As the rudimentary bartering progressed, Patrick produced the exchange item of greatest value.

He and our engineer, Scotty, lowered the jet-skis into the water. One-by one, Patrick took each boy for a ride. They straddled the seat behind him; smiling and waving as they passed their village, showing off to those on shore waiting their turn. He taught them to drive our machines in exchange for them teaching a thirty-nine year old man how to balance in their round bottomed vessels.

“Stand in back. Just paddle.” One boy instructed. Patrick rose, balancing like he learned on his surfboard as the hollow tree trunk swayed beneath him.  He teetered right and corrected too quickly to the left.

Splash! He emerged from the muddy water laughing. Children and elders roared with laughter around us. To their immense pleasure, he ended up in the water many times, tipping out of the canoe before he mastered its balance. 

By mid-morning, when we had to pull anchor and continue our voyage up the river, we had emptied our reserves of essentials and loaded in their place a bounty of carvings and fruits.

“You’ve been taken advantage of.”  Our guide shook his head. “Two batteries for something that grows free on trees.”

I disagreed. For me, it was the other way around; two little batteries for the chance of creating our own market aboard.  The smile on the woman’s face when I handed over a pot for boiling water and the memory of children’s laughter at my husband’s ineptitude at mastering the canoe was well worth any amount of trade. I was definitely getting the better end of the deal.

We set off for our next destination leaving a trail of canoes and laughter in our wake and navigated toward our next stop for more tribal bartering.

———-

 

Fruit Salad with Coconut Rum Caramel Sauce - Photo Courtesy of Victoria Allman

Fruit Salad with Coconut Rum Caramel Sauce - Photo Courtesy of Victoria Allman

Tropical Fruit Salad

with a Coconut Rum Caramel Sauce 

Tropical Fruit Salad of:

 

  •  Pineapples
  •  Mangoes
  •   Papaya
  •   Bananas
  •   Grapefruit
  •   Oranges

 Coconut Rum Caramel Sauce:

 

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 orange, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons coconut rum
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 vanilla pod, split and seeded

 

In a heavy-bottomed saucepot, cook the sugar and juice of the orange over moderately high heat until it turns a deep caramel color. It will darken quickly so watch closely, once it starts to color be ready to add the rum or the sugar will burn. At this point, the sugar is extremely hot. DO NOT TOUCH.  Remove from the heat and pour in the rum. The caramel will “spit” so stand back and be careful. Add coconut milk and vanilla pod and seeds and return to the heat. Simmer for 5 minutes until the caramel is dissolved.

Cool and serve with fruit salad.

Serves 8

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Victoria Allman, author SEAsoned: A Chef’s Journey with Her Captain, has been following her stomach around the globe for twelve years as a yacht chef.  She writes about her floating culinary odyssey through Europe, the Caribbean, Nepal, Vietnam, Africa and the South Pacific in her first book, Sea Fare:  A Chef’s Journey Across the Ocean.

SEAsoned, Victoria’s second book is the hilarious look at a yacht chef’s first year working for her husband while they cruise from the Bahamas to Italy, France, Greece and Spain; trying to stay afloat.

You can read more of her food-driven escapades through her web-site, www.victoriaallman.com

Narrative and recipe Copyright © 2011 by Victoria Allman.

Copyright © 2011 by OceanLines LLC.  All rights reserved.

Posted by Tom in Cruising Under Power, Cruising Under Sail, Destinations, megayachts, Passagemaking News, People

Sea Fare Autumn 2010 — Victoria Allman in the Galley

Editor’s Note — Victoria Allman is the chef aboard a 143-foot megayacht and the author of the recently released “Sea Fare:  A Chef’s Journey Across the Ocean.”  This is the ninth in a series of periodic columns here on OceanLines featuring her irresistible recipes. Best of all for OceanLines readers, who are travelers of the first order, Victoria also gives us a nice taste of the destinations and context in which her recipes were developed. Last month, we joined her in the raucous good eats of the Hong Kong dim sum restaurant and Victoria’s take on Har Gow.  In this  installment, she is in the South Pacific and her friend Nunu supplies her with the freshest possible Mahi-Mahi.  If you’d like to read her book, just click on the ad in the right sidebar on OceanLines and that will take you to an Amazon link where you can order it.

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Cruising in the South Pacific

Cruising in the South Pacific

The South Pacific Dream

“Iorana, Victoria.  Mahi today?” Nunu, a dark Tahitian man with tribal tattoos of tikis, turtles, and rays wrapped around his bicep and stretched down his muscular calves, dropped a blunt-nosed fish on the back deck.  The iridescent greens and blues still flashed on its silver skin indicating it had just been caught.

“Thanks, Nunu.  Will you stay for lunch?” Nunu had been bringing me mahi each time we anchored in the lagoon of Maupiti. With guests on board, I rarely had time for more than a quick hello and to ask about his family, but today it was just the crew.

His face lit up like our navigational spotlights.  “Me? On here?”  He looked up at the towering levels of teak decks and polished stainless rails.  Pangaeawas quite different from the fishing boats he was used to seeing come through the pass in Maupiti.

Maupiti, the smallest and most isolated of the Society Islands in French Polynesia, is a minuscule version of Bora Bora, with a sharp ridgeline summit that dominates the middle of the tiny island.  The calm sapphire water of the lagoon and sleepy swaying palm trees of the surrounding motus are what South Pacific dreams are made of.

 But we had to fight for that peaceful feeling of paradise inside the lagoon.  A storm had hit the area earlier that morning, creating rough waters. 

Most French Polynesian islands are ringed by submerged reefs, part of their volcanic evolution, having erupted from the ocean floor and cooled to create fertile mountain islands. Breaks in these reefs allow boats to enter and exit the lagoons.  Many are wide enough to pass through without incident, but some, like Maupiti, are narrow and dangerous.  The tides rush out daily, carrying extreme volumes of water through the small gap and create a monstrous standing wave with enough force to push even large boats like Pangaea up onto the reef.  On top of that, a south swell from the storm ran against the outgoing tide, creating another challenge to get through. 

Michael, our captain, and Patrick, the first mate, surveyed the scene with binoculars, checking for wave breaks and currents before deciding to enter the lagoon.  This was not a place to be shipwrecked

“Come to starboard to line up the range,” Patrick called to Michael.  He read the water for the slightest change that would send Pangaea off course.  Churning white water lay before us, paving the way.

“How far to the reef on starboard?” Michael asked, without taking his eyes off the bow of the boat. Without rearview mirrors, he relied solely on distances called to him by Patrick.

“You’ve got a good line. You’ll clear by fifteen feet.”

We entered the pass at eight knots and heeled to the right.  I ran down stairs to the galley and lunged for the bowl of noodles I was preparing as it began to slide off the counter.  But just as quickly, we righted and sharply turned to port.  I slammed against the counter. The movement of the boat settled down.  I went to the aft deck to look at the cut we had just passed through. 

The thunderous waves roared high.  Water rushed through the break with the speed of white water rapids.

But inside the lagoon we were sheltered. The water was blue and sparkling, like a mermaid’s bath.  I stood baking in the menacingly bright sun. While lost in a daydream, a sleek yellow and white fishing boat with Tahitian designs stenciled on the side approached.  I smiled and waved.

Nunu pulled up alongside the back of Pangaeaand threw me the line to tie off. His boat was specially designed to drive from the bow with one hand while holding a spear with the other.  He was a professional, adept at catching fish as they raced the same waves we had just sailed through.  One of Nunu’s victories lay in the bottom of the boat.  My smile widened.  Forget the noodles, we were having mahi for lunch that day.

“Iorana, Nunu.”

 Nunu followed me to the galley, his eyes wide with wonder.  He laid the mahi on the counter like a delicate flower and picked up my filleting knife.  He tested the sharpness by running the blade across his thumb.  With a nod of approval, he inserted it behind the fish’s gill and ran it down the backbone in one fluid movement.  He flipped the large and cumbersome fish over like it was no more than a paperback and repeated the procedure.  Nunu lifted the flesh from the backbone leaving a bare skeleton as if it had picked clean by vultures.  He peeled the skin from the fillet and with the speed of a samurai warrior he sliced his catch into sixteen equal portions. 

Now it was my turn to have wide eyes.  “Nunu, you’re a star.  I’ve never seen a fish butchered so quickly.”  It would have taken me half an hour to perform that task and it wouldn’t have looked anywhere near as perfect. “Or so cleanly.” The portions were smooth and exact. 

Nunu winked.  “I do this everyday. Fish is the only food on the island.” 

I looked out the window at the beauty surrounding us.  I could get used to this.  Sunshine, blue water, and a diet of mahi everyday.  Maupiti was quickly becoming my South Pacific dream.

———-

Mahi-Mahi Corn Chowder by Victoria Allman

Mahi-Mahi Corn Chowder by Victoria Allman

Mahi-Mahi Corn Chowder

  • 2 slices thick-cut bacon
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • ½ red pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup potatoes, diced
  • ½ serrano pepper, minced
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 12 grinds black pepper
  • 1 can (400 ml) coconut milk
  • 4 ears of corn, shucked
  • 2 pounds mahi-mahi, sliced into 1” squares
  • 3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced

 

Chop all the vegetables no bigger than a kernel of corn.  Slice bacon to similar size.  Sauté bacon in a heavy-bottomed soup pot, over medium-high heat, stirring often, for 5 minutes until crisp and golden.  Add onion and garlic and sauté another 3 minutes until soft.  Add celery and sauté 2 minutes.  Add red pepper and sauté 2 minutes more minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add thyme, chicken stock, potatoes, serrano pepper, sea salt and black pepper.  Bring back to a boil and reduce the heat to medium.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Add coconut milk and fresh corn from the cob.  Simmer 5 more minutes. Slice mahi-mahi into 1” squares and add to the pot.  Simmer 5 minutes until fish is cooked through. Add chopped cilantro and juice of a lime. 

Taste for seasoning and serve.

Serves 6

Recipe and narrative Copyright © 2010 by Victoria Allman.

Copyright © 2010 by OceanLines LLC.  All rights reserved.

Posted by Tom in Cruising Under Power, Cruising Under Sail, megayachts, Passagemaking News