Fijian Pancakes – Babakau – light and delightful

IMGP7331These little pancakes are a favourite for breakfast here, and sometimes for any other meal where I need bread, the only resort, as a trip to the nearest bread shop is a half hour walk down the dirt road, then a bus to town, then return which all takes about 2 hours.  By the time I get back, my “need” for bread has often passed, so I make these instead while I am pottering around.

This recipe is for a half batch as it is enough for us, and if you eat the pancakes the next day, while still nice, a lot of the “air” goes out of them, so they are best eaten fresh.  Plus, it makes a lot!IMGP7333

Method and ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • half cup flour for kneading
  • one and a half cups water
  • one big spoon sugar
  • 5 grams yeast
  • pinch salt
  • oil for cooking
  • sugar, lemon, lime, butter or jam for serving

First, make yourself a coffee the old fashioned way, using a small pot of water on the stove.  Keep some of the hot water.  Drink coffee and enjoy.

IMGP7306In a mixing bowl, put 2 cups of normal or plain flour, a pinch of salt, a tablespoon of sugar, and half a sachet of yeast.  I use DCL yeast here in the 11g sachet, so this recipe only requires about 5 grams.  If you are making the full 4 cup recipe for a party, use the whole 11g sachet. DCL seems never to fail me.  Not sure what brand you can access where you are.

IMGP7307Add about a cup and a half of tap water or other room temperature water and mix roughly with a butter knife or spoon until it seems to start coming together (only takes about 30 IMGP7310seconds).

Bring it together with your hands until it comes into one large piece.  If it is too sticky, sprinkle on a bit more flour and cut through with the knife again.

IMGP7313Cover with a tea towel and place on a plate or saucepan lid on the top of the pot you used to make your coffee.  The water will be a bit hotter than lukewarm by this stage.

Go about your Saturday morning activities – take the kids to sports, read the paper, clean the house, practice yoga, spend quality time with your spouse, or whatever.

Just when you have just about forgotten that you are making pancakes (about an hour or two, it really doesn’t matter),IMGP7314 the dough will have risen to about 3 or 4 times the original size of the dry ingredients.

Use a large mixing spoon and turn it out onto a large board that is liberally dusted in flour (about another half cup).

Using a floured hand, pick up one side of the dough and kind of fold it in half lightly.  Do that a couple of times until the dough has been dropped onto itself maybe four times, and tIMGP7316he surface is all covered in flour.  The dough will be very light, and easy to manipulate.  If you touch the dough without flour on your hand, or if it touches the board on a part that is not floured, it will be sticky.  I normally irritate my husband by doing this in the kitchen and making a little cloud of flour that drifts to the floor, but you could do it outside.

Kneed the dough now that you can manage it, and as you do, fold it in half, turn, turn over, fold in half etc.  Just a IMGP7318minute or so.

IMGP7319Use a rolling pin and roll out the dough so that it covers the surface of your large board.

Then fold the dough into thirds, press, turn clockwise, fold, press, turn over, fold press, for a few times (about another minute).  This is just to get some air embedded into the dough.IMGP7320

Roll again to cover the surface of your large board.  Go right to the edge and the dough will be quite thin (less than 1cm thick).

IMGP7321Put a 1cm layer of oil into a heavy frypan to heat on high.

Cut dough with a knife into triangles.

Work quickly now (maybe drink the coffee you made for yourself before but forgot about!)IMGP7322

IMGP7327Place 5 or 6 of the pieces into the hot oil.  They will puff up immediately.  Turn over.  They will be golden brown and puffed up to about 3 or 4 times the size they were when they went in.

Don’t worry if the oil starts to go a bit dark as it is just the excess flour, and doesn’t affect the taste of the pancakes.IMGP7328

Take out of pan and put into serving dish.

IMGP7331Serve with fresh lemon or lime wedges and a dusting of sugar, butter and home made jam (here I have grapefruit marmalade that I made a

few weeks ago), and enjoy!

IMGP7336

My guests, Vuli and Koto

Recipe – Fijian Roro and corn balls with tamarind sauce

IMGP1693

Roro balls served with braised bele and cucumber, and fresh corn in our back yard

Fijian food is delicious!

If you come to Fiji, whether your hosts are iTaukei (indigenous) or Indo-Fijian, make sure that you ask them if it is ok if they serve you the normal food that they eat, as so many Fijians really do believe that you won’t like the food at all, and are really not sure what you will eat at all, as they believe that there is nothing in the cuisine that you will like.

IMGP1827

dinner at our place on a school night – mashed dalo, braised beans, and other goodies

Here is a little recipe which can be easily adapted if you want to try it.  These balls are really light and delicious and are the perfect quick fix if you are having friends over for drinks at the last minute, or have to take something to a party.  It is my husband’s only concession to Kava (yaqona – pronounce yangona) drinking and our mix of cultures.  Traditionally, food is not eaten at all until all of the Kava is finished and the guests are gone.  In fact, it is traditional that the male guests do not eat no matter what kind of feast is prepared, but you must pack a meal for them to take home.  It is a real panic if you have inadvertently run out of yoghurt containers for the purpose!  Anyway, I digress: if my husband invites people home, he asks if I can cook this quick snack, and serve it while the kava ceremony is in progress, which is normally several hours.

IMGP1826

Dom with his dinner

This snack is served at roadside food vendors all over Fiji (here, they are called Bean Carts).  Roro is actually the name for the green dalo leaf which looks like an elephant ear, but the balls are not made with roro.  If you do try and use roro, you will find that the balls make your throat itch, as roro needs to be cooked for a long time to take away that side effect.  Indo-Fijians use mothe which is kind of like English Spinach, but I use bele as a substitute.  Bele has a bigger leaf, and is related to the hibiscus plant, and for me at least is much easier to grow.

The only thing you have to do is make sure that you have some pea flour (besan flour), normal flour or plain flour, and oil in the cupboard just in case.  The rest you can wing it.

This recipe is courtesy of Mrs Kumar of Shane Cafe in Nausori, Fiji, but I have adapted it slightly as I like to use the coconut scrapes (or fresh grated coconut) as many families simply throw it out.

All of the fresh ingredients normally come from our garden, and you can use your common sense and substitute for other stuff you have lying around.

Ingredients

  • 1 cob fresh corn – cut kernels off the cob (or a small tin of corn)

    IMGP1626

    Roni with some corn from our yard

  • 1 cup very finely chopped bele, mothe, or spinach/silverbeet (bele and mothe are soft leafy vegetables freely available in Fiji)
  • 1/2 cup pea or besan flour
  • 1 and 1/2 cups plain or normal flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • juice of one lime OR half a lemon, OR teaspoon of any type of vinegar just to get the baking powder going
  • 2 small hot chilies or to taste
  • 1 small onion, very finely diced (or chopped to within an inch of its life without blood loss if you are in a hurry)
  • a couple of cloves of garlic chopped as above
  • salt, pepper
  • a pinch of any type of curry or masala powder if you like
  • corriander (dhania/cilentro) if you like
  • cooking oil
  • newspaper or paper towel to drain
  • 1/2 cup fresh coconut scrapes, or 1/4 cup dessicated coconut
  • 2 cups water

How to do it: Don’t labour over it, as it is really very quick

  • take the skin of the onion and garlic, and chop roughly on a big board
  • chop the spinach, chili, mothe, or bele roughly (and corriander if you like)
  • then with them all on the same board, chop them up some more until they are a fine dice but not mushy
  • put into medium mixing bowl

    IMGP2647

    Dom and Save Jnr as little chiefs at the Palm Sunday lunch, which included the roro balls

  • throw in the pea flour, normal flour, salt and pepper, and the baking powder, and curry powder if you like
  • throw in the coconut and corn
  • pour in the water
  • mix quickly and not too much
  • it should be a bit sloppy, so that you can pick some up with a spoon, and use another spoon to drop it into the oil.  If it is not sloppy enough, they won’t cook through
  • put enough oil in a saucepan to deep fry (but you don’t need a huge amount, as you can turn the balls over)
  • heat the oil on medium high heat until it is hot enough that when you drop in a tiny bit of the mix it starts to bubble, turn golden and float
  • then start spooning in about
    IMGP1686

    mixture should be sloppy but not too sloppy – just so that you can put some on a spoon, and use another spoon to drop into the oil

    half a desert spoon of the mixture at a time into the hot oil

  • depending on the size of your pot, you can take up about half the surface area.  I normally put in about 6 at a time.
  • they cook quite quickly so make sure you are organised with a tray and some paper towel or newspaper to drain them
  • once they float and turn golden, you can turn them over a bit in the oil to make sure that they are cooked
  • test one to see if it is cooked inside.  If not quite, then add a tiny bit more water, and a bit more baking powder to the mix
  • cook all and drain on the newspaper, paper towel
  • serve hot or cold and they last even outside the fridge for a good day or two, however, they are so yummy that it is hard toIMGP1689
    IMGP1685
    the oil will bubble briskly and they cook in about 30 seconds each side

    test that theory as they normally disappear by the handful!!!!

  • serve with tamarind sauce (recipe next time), or tomato sauce, or barbeque sauce.  You can add some chopped chili to the tomato or barbeque sauce if it is for lovers of hot food young or old
  • here, we serve on a banana leaf, and it looks and tastes great

Is Paradise really a Possibility?

IMGP6675

Roni at Namoimada, a white beach near Rakiraki

My life in Fiji -I met my husband in Australia.  At the beginning of 2012 he returned to Fiji due to visa issues.  The day before he returned, my dad had an accident and landed in hospital for many months, so I stayed behind, working at a University in Queensland, and caring for him, traveling back and forth to Fiji over the year, traveling to SavuSavu on Vanua Levu (the second largest island), but basing ourselves in Suva.  In November 2012 we made the decision that I would move over to Fiji with our son so we packed what we could in suitcases and said goodbye to friends and family.  We landed in Fiji on 18th December 2012 and I have been here since.

Since I have been living here in Koronivia, my life has changed so much.  We live in a semi rural community on a long dirt road that runs along the Rewa River.  We live in a corrugated iron 2 bedroom house with no hot water, no fridge (although I did buy a freezer), no washing machine or dryer, a TV that only gets one channel, no stove or oven, (just a two burner camping stove), no bed, no furniture save a folding plastic table and three chairs, a bed for our son, no car, no high heels… you get the picture.

So what do we have?IMGP0005

We have time with family here, and friends, although I miss my family and friends from home so much.

We have lots of time to think and observe while traveling by bus.  We have a garden that grows almost everything we need – corn, bele (which is like spinach), pumpkin, rosella, dalo and more.  We have neighbours who know our names and consider us their valued friends.  I have internet – sometimes!  We have time to travel cheaply and in every place we go we seem to have relatives.

I have been to Levuka, Rakiraki, Suva, Nausori (our closest town), Korolevu, Beach Cocomo, Sigatoka, Nadi, Savusavu, Namoimada and seen every place in between.

Fiji is truly a paradise, but it is being drowned by rubbish.  No need for us to go and investigate the famed “garbage island” in the Pacific, it is right here!

To think is easy. To act is difficult.
To act as one thinks is the most difficult of all.
Goethe

Major corporations that are overseas owned are trading profitably here, but seemingly with little corporate responsibility for either community projects or packaging stewardship and recycling.  Is it because in other countries there are covenants such as the Australian Packaging Covenant and other regulations with respect to waste water, water efficiency, and corporate responsibility to adhere to, but those things are not developed here?  Is that what they mean when they call Fiji a Developing Nation?

IMG_9151

Mist on the mountains, Levuka town

Fiji, unlike what may be in the press and propaganda back home, is a peaceful and harmonious place to live, looking forward to a 2014 election, and hopefully democracy.  There is progress everywhere you look.  There are approximately 48% iTaukei (indigenous) Fijians, and 43% Indo-Fijians who have been here for many generations since they came on “Girmits” (agreements for indentured labour), with the rest “Other”.  “Other” includes Chinese, any other nationality, plus importantly, Fijians of mixed race.  This group are people who may have had a European great grandparent, but also who have lived here for generations.

IMGP1274

Our friends and neighbours, the Narayan family. We were honoured to be invited guests at the 21st and 18th birthday party.

Informal settlement. Source: http://www.usp.ac.fj/?id=10926

There are still many people living in informal settlements (which we would call shanty towns) of corrugated iron, tin, and wood, all held together with a hope and a prayer. Fiji is a nation of islands, with a surfeit of shipping containers.  Couldn’t we make safe and secure tropical homes from shipping containers?  Couldn’t we make mobile libraries and health centres from these resources?  The cost of buying a used shipping container here is approximately $5,000 FJD.  The cost of building a corrugated iron two bedroom house is approximately $25,000 FJD.

IMG_1836

Market Savusavu

We have fresh fruit and vegetable open air markets daily, but about 40% of women and children have anaemia.  There is an alarmingly high maternal and infant mortality rate. For some reason it seems to be a source of pride that Fiji was recently placed the 40th best place to be a mum out of 80 less developed countries in the Save the Children State of the World’s Mothers Index 2013.

Many Fijians live with boils, believing they come from a change in the weather.  Diabetes is a growing problem.

Paraquat (weed killer) is a popular suicide method.  Very few public toilets have toilet paper or soap for the fear that it might get stolen by the needy.  Suva City Library staff informed me that if you want to use the toilet, you have to go downstairs to the front counter and ask for toilet tissue, and that this, unbeknown to me, is a FACT, known by all others.

IMGP1693

Produce grown at home

Fijians all hope sincerely that tourists will return in droves after the election, but my fear is that intrepid travelers wanting to see “the real Fiji” will be saddened beyond belief when they see the refuse along every beach, waterway, road and path.  What will sadden them most is perhaps the feeling that they can do nothing, but they can!  Purchasing power is an immense tool.  If consumers when reaching home purchased only products from companies that traded ethically in developing nations, would that make a difference?

If instead of shaking their heads and returning to the hotel or resort after an excursion, each person picked up a bag of rubbish and took it back to the hotel for disposal, would that make a difference?  If before going out and about, each person asked the hotel staff for a bag and disposable gloves to do just that, would that make a difference?

If on a one week holiday, each person volunteered to replant coral on the reef for just one day, would that help?  If the resort organized the coral planting material which is available from the Department of Fisheries, would that help?  Should resorts also take a greater corporate and environmental responsibility and be proactive?

IMG_9096

Children walking to school, Savusavu

Couldn’t we recycle here, rather than baling up recyclables and sending to Hong Kong?  Couldn’t we create some “Spiral Islands” and use them as educational facilities?  Couldn’t we do something?  Is it possible to create a good news story from our situation?  With recyclables being worth $1 FJD per kilogram, and the cost of a year’s schooling for a child being $280 FJD, couldn’t we turn our problem into a solution?

Could we make recycling bins from recycled plastics? Could we have a total 100% recyclable solution?  Is it possible for Fiji to become a change agent and leader in the Pacific?

Which companies are going to stand up and do what is right, not because they have to, but just because it is right?

Please post your comments as you travel with me through Fiji, and perhaps, united, we can make a change!