Monday, April 5, 2010

Bonus: Fish Fries Fijian Style

Guest Entry: The Lovo Pack

My family are not church-goers, but our Fijian nanny is, and recently we supported her church fundraiser by buying one of their freshly made, home delivered, 'lovo packs'.

First, I should explain that we live in Fiji and a lovo is the traditional Fijian earth oven. And second, I will admit, I would have bought a lovo pack from T, our nanny, even if it wasn't for her fundraiser, because lovo food, if you've never had the opportunity to eat it, is yummy. In fact, my husband's cousin's wife, J, actually makes and sells lovo packs, as a side gig to her catering business. Her’s are very tasty.

But, here I'll start with T's Orepi Original Pentecostal Church lovo pack, perhaps a Fijian equivalent to a Catholic church fundraising fish fry.

You have to book ahead, so that the lovo-makers know how much food to get and put into the ground to cook. So, a couple of days before, T asked me, "Hey, do you want a lovo pack for Thursday? $20. It's for my church. Here's the menu." She produced a little scrap paper with the list of what my FJ$20 (US$10) would buy me: 1 x Dalo (Translation: Taro), 1 x Palusami (Taro leaves layered with coconut milk, onion & garlic), 1 x Piece Fish, 1 x Vakasakera (no idea, see below), 1 x #14 Chicken, 2 x Kai (fresh water mussels), 2 x Cassava. Hmmmm. Ok. I'm in.

On Thursday morning, T said that her son was helping dig up the lovo at the Orepi Original Pentecostal church. They started at 8 am and it cooked for 2 hours. At about 4pm, some guys from the church dropped off the cardboard box, our lovo pack, to our house.

It wasn't hot, like straight out of an underground oven full of smokey rocks. In fact, we were the last to get our delivery, so the box was soggy. The other packs were delivered to office workers for their lunches that afternoon. Yet, I was still excited that this was going to be our not so warm dinner because the box smelled like your clothes do after sitting next to a campfire all night.

When my husband, T, came home, he was skeptical about my choice for dinner, "you know you can't trust these lovo packs. Sometimes those churches use frozen chickens, past their use-by date." Bleh! You will eat it because I didn't cook anything else.

I noted that the fish looked like it was over fried. That's because it wasn't cooked in the lovo at all, but instead fried separately. So, it was not remarkable. The chicken, while it's skin looked soggy and grey (It was in the ground for 2 hours, so maybe that's normal), it tasted nice, moist and smokey. No complaints from T either. I wasn't aware of the chicken numbering system until I got to Fiji, but a #14 chicken is a smallish one. It would probably only serve two adults if eaten without all the other goodies in our lovo pack.

The two fresh water mussels, or kai, looked like food-poison-in-a-half-shell. They were also not cooked in the ground, but fried or baked instead. T said I could have both of them, so I did. But they were very gritty in texture and tasted just plain odd. I quickly followed them with a Fiji Gold beer chaser. The dalo was as to be expected, dense, sweet yet smokey. The cassava, very dry, but maybe that is to be expected as well.

The palusami was very creamy and tasty, the perfect balance between onion, coconut milk and dalo leaves. Sometimes palusami, if the wrong type of dalo leaves are picked, can give your throat a razor blade itch, but luckily with this one I didn't feel any discomfort. It was just pure yumminess.

The absolute best was the vakasakera, which I hadn't tried before. I think it's best described as Fijian coleslaw. It's a mixture of thick coconut cream, kai, fish, clams (kaikoso) onion and a certain cabbage, finely chopped, that is called mosita in Fijian. It tasted fresh, crunchy, creamy and zingy all at once - lovely.

Our daughter, E, loved the dalo (the texture/taste is growing on her), forced down the palusami and vakasakera and she will always eat chicken, even if it was old, previously frozen and cooked in the ground.

The Orepi Original Pentecostal church lovo pack, while it was a little bit suspicious on delivery and presentation, was tasty, convenient and great value for money. We had enough lovo lunch leftovers for the next 2 days.

I must share though, that we all came down with a bad bout of gastro on Sunday, but we are attributing that to our walk with the puppy at the very dirty Suva waterfront on Saturday afternoon, but I'll spare you the details.