Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Toiyo and Paw Paw Salad - Solomon Islands

It's finally here.  Day one of @EwanMitchell's Olympic Food Challenge.  Despite having a good few months of notice that this day was coming, I still got caught napping, thinking that we were starting tomorrow.  So I got my knickers in a bit of a twist for only having enough ingredients to do one dinner, no time to shop on the way home tonight.  The dog ate my homework, Miss!  And all that jazz.

It's paw paw - not carrots.  Honestly!
I do have a list of recipes for my countries, neatly organised into an excel spreadsheet with links to the websites (I never made it to the library to look for books) and notes about accompanying dishes and anecdotes for the blog posts I'll be writing.  But I still haven't put them into an order.  The Ocado man is coming on Friday and I have no clue what to buy still.  Other than our usual staples.  Most of which don't fit in with the countries I've got on my list.

Nor have I solved the problem of where to buy cassava from (I really must check out the fresh section at Morrisons on Friday).  I have a feeling I'm going to have to improvise a lot.  As I did tonight in order to deliver my first dish.

The Solomon Islands are group of over 1,000 islands located to the east of Papua New Guinea.  Despite having heard of Guadalcanal before (in relation to WWII) I never new the islands existed before they popped up on my list.  Their head of state is none other than our own Queen.  Population of approximately 523,0000 (thank you Wikipedia!)  You can find out more about their Olympic progress here.

Despite a largeish population,  I found tracking down recipes online harder than for some of my other listed countries.  There was one really good blog about a lady who lived in the Solomon Islands for a while.  And many of her stories reminded me of a holiday that the husband and I had in St Vincent where my father is from (even though it's half a world a way).

When you're from the 'Western World' it's a whole other ball game in so many ways.  Especially when it comes to food.  When we first booked our trip to St Vincent I was looking forward to feasting on all manner of exotic fruits, fresh from the tree.  Two years previously we'd 'done' Antigua for our honeymoon, staying in the Americanised Sandals compound.  But going 'native' is very different.  My father owns several banana plantations and gave us some fresh-from-the-plant bananas one day.  They tasted bizarre.  But that is how a banana should taste when it's left to ripen on the tree.  Not how they do in the UK where they've been plucked from the tree whilst still green, transported thousands of miles and then artificially ripened in a massive warehouse somewhere.
Solomon Islands Flag

Likewise mangoes.  I love the sweet-sharp taste of a 'decent' mango.  Yet when you eat a ripe sugar-mango straight from the tree, it's the most sickly-sweet fruit I've ever tasted.  I picked one that was green as you'd find them in the supermarket in the UK.  My aunt nearly had a fit.  Yet it had a more familiar taste to me.  I was then shocked to hear that my aunt and uncle who had several enormous mango trees in their garden, bowing down under the sheer weight of their fruit, would just leave most of the fruit to fall and rot.  Such a waste.  I calculated that if I paid £2 for a mango in the UK, the tree probably hand about £500-worth of fruit on it.  But they had so much and no market for it, it just went to waste.  I guess in the same way as you often see people with amazing traditional apple trees, just allowing the fruit to fall and rot.

Of course, the exotic fruit and vegetable import industry in this country dictates the state of ripeness we get our fruit and veg in.  So the recipe I chose from the Stilettos in the Solomons blog was doomed from the start.  It was a slightly tenuous Solomons recipe anyway because it was inspired by a Thai dish eaten in Hawaii, but adapted to use local ingredients.  The key ingredient being green paw paw. So I cheated and used a ripe paw paw instead.  I did manage to source a Kaffir lime which I assume is the same as a Bush Lime (they look the same).  Stupidly I only bought one which I used in the dressing so had to use a regular lime for the garnish.

The recipe suggests substituting red cabbage for the green paw paw, but I wanted to try it with the fruit so just went for regular, ripe papaya.  I've never liked papaya so the dressing made a welcome mask for the bland flavour of the fruit.  Again, I wonder how they'd taste eaten fresh from the tree rather than with after gaining a whole bunch of food miles. In all honesty, I didn't much rate the smokey undertones of the sesame oil.  It was different.  It worked.  But it isn't something I'd do again.

I added a handful of coriander (wilted by the intense sunshine in my back garden) and some mint to give it some colour and additional flavour.  The crunch of peanuts was a welcome contrast to the soft flesh of the paw paw and the rather excellent slab of tuna I'd managed to procure to go with it.

I chose to serve it with a simple piece of griddled tuna (seasoned with salt, pepper and lime juice) as I understand that Toiyo is commonly eaten in the Solomons so hopefully I'm not going to lose too many OFC points for not staying true to the original dish.

All in all, an interesting start to the nineteen days.  Do check out the recipes from my fellow participants.  You can find out more over on the OFC blog.


  1. Having just read that you used paw paw as an ingredient, now I have 'The Bare Necessities' stuck in my head! That dish looks amazing as well

  2. *Sings tunelessly* If you pick a paw paw or a prickly pear and you get a raw paw, next time beware....


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