It was my great pleasure to witness the incredible hospitality of the people in the Namosi Highlands of Fiji. Not only did they make sure we were properly fed and watered at all time of day, but they made every aspect of their village culture into a lesson learned by us sponge-like backpackers on a mission to absorb the true Fiji. Only a couple hundred years ago, Fijians were picking their teeth with the bones of men, that is until cannibalism was wiped from their list of approved behavior. And with that outside influence also came luxurious items like pots and pans, which made cooking much easier than the techniques they used before.
My friend, Ambele (or Abel in English), was the first to jump at the opportunity to show us how it all used to be done here in the Highlands with two techniques: cooking in bamboo shoots and using an underground oven called a lovo.
Taking a young and fresh bamboo segment, Abel placed some cassava down nature’s pipe, filled it with water, and covered it with taro leaves. Putting this on the fire for about a half hour or more created an end product that tasted as smooth and luscious as a sweet potato.
The lovo consisted of a rolling fire that heated up stones sitting on top, after which the fire is put out and stones are covered with taro chunks and coconut shells filled with taro leaves and other jungle goodness. A little banana leave coverage makes this baby cook up a mean feast within an hour, one which we graciously enjoyed on our last night in the depths of the Fijian interior.
What made these cooking lessons that much sweeter were the kids who popped in and out of my video production, posing for the camera and teaching me phrases like “Au nakwati na tavioka” (Gee golly, do I like cassava!).