Sunday, 20 September 2015

Solomon Islands - How I made Pacific-style Fish and Chips

When it comes to food from the Pacific islands, it seems as though all roads lead back to palu sami. As I've made palu sami twice before (once when I was blogging about Kiribati in 2009 and again when I was blogging about Fiji in 2012), I was determined to cook something else this time!  

Unfortunately, my internet searches for the Solomon Islands' national dish came to a dead end - one website even suggested the Middle Eastern Kibbeh as the national dish of the Solomon Islands, but that just didn't seem right to me!

So I improvised!  Interestingly, whilst reading my blog post about cooking palu sami as part of my research on Fiji - I'd noted how far along my cooking had come since 2009 - that I was now able to improvise and didn't feel the need to stick to the exact recipe.  Well, I guess this current recipe is a step further for me, as I'm not only improvising, but adapting one nation's dish and giving it a make-over with another nation's staple foods.

I chose Fish and chips for several reasons - mainly because all my reading suggested that, despite their love of tinned meats like corned beef and spam, people do still eat a lot of fish in the Pacific islands.  I also found out that people in Melanesia love sweet potato, so that gave me the idea of making sweet potato chips or wedges.  

Perhaps most importantly, I wanted to pay homage to the fact that the Solomon Islands were once a British territory, so my Pacific-style fish and chips is an attempt to capture the history, as well as the cuisine of this island nation.

The Sweet Potato mystery

My photo of sweet potato
When I was researching for my blog posts on Oaxaca, Mexico - I first came across the concept of the Columbian Exchange - how European contact with Central America saw the introduction of tomatoes, potatoes, chillies, chocolate and many other crops to the diets of people outside the Americas.  

Unfortunately, the other half of the exchange meant death, disease and decimation of the native American populations!  

The interesting thing about the sweet potato is that it appeared in the Pacific islands before the Columbian exchange. No-one quite knows how the sweet potato ended up in places like Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Philippines and Japan, but somehow it happened and sweet potato has been a part of the Pacific diet for more than 1,000 years!

The Ingredients

4 fish fillets
3 limes
1 bunch of spinach
4 sweet potatoes (cut into chips)
1 tomato
1 onion
1/2 tin of coconut milk

How I made the sweet potato chips

The first thing I did was to prepare the sweet potato - peeling off the reddish-coloured skin and chopping the flesh into chips or wedges.

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into wedges
I then parboiled the chips, before roasting them in the oven.  I did  think about deep-fat frying the chips but, in my (admittedly limited!) experience of Pacific-island cuisine, they seem to bake things more than fry them, so I thought baked sweet potato wedges would be the best option. 

Parboil the sweet potato chips . .

. . then bake them in the oven
How I prepared the fish and sauce mixture

I used fish fillets that had been frozen - defrosted them and marinated them for a couple of hours in lime juice, sprinkled with some rind.

Marinate the fish fillets in lime juice
I decided to also bake the fish, so put the fillets into an oven dish, in the marinade liquid, covered it with tinfoil and baked it for about twenty-five minutes, at the same time as the sweet potato was baking.  

Bake the fish for about twenty-five minutes
To prepare the ingredients for the sauce, I washed the spinach and chopped the tomato and onion.

Wash the spinach

Chop the tomato and onion
I fried the tomato and onion on a fairly high temperature, so they would make a kind of paste.

Fry the tomato and onion in a saucepan
I then added the spinach and coconut milk, bringing the mixture to the boil, before simmering for around twenty minutes.  

Add the spinach and coconut milk

The end result was really rather tasty!

Pacific-style Fish and Chips
Image credits:

All photos were taken by me on my trusty iPhone - please feel free to re-use them under the Creative Commons license: Attribution, Share Alike, Non-commercial

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Happy blogiversary! Six years of Learning about the World!

Today marks the six-year anniversary of Learning about the World.

I must admit that it feels like I've slowed down a lot in recent months.  I moved to a new department at work in March of this year and a new role which has been quite demanding of my energy and creativity!  Rather than giving up on my blogging, I've decided to continue at a slower pace.

It's been hard work at times during the last six months and I've also felt a bit restricted by having my reading, listening, culture explorations limited to the place I'm currently blogging about - so I've branched out a bit recently and expanded the scope of my learning beyond this blog, which has also slowed me down (but hopefully not too much!)

To date, I've blogged about 39 countries/places around the world, including four new places since my last blogiversary: Palestine, Quebec, Reunion and (not yet finished) Solomon Islands.    Highlights of the past year have included listening to Palestinian music, discovering the movies of Xavier Dolan, reading in French and learning about the beachcombers of the South Pacific.

Some stats

Worldwide visits to Learning about the World
My blog has had 64,284 page views, almost a 40% increase since this time last year.  April this year saw the most page views ever in a single month at 2,582 so it seems that Learning about the World is more popular than ever!

It's interesting to compare the top twenty countries to my blog this year with last year - in general it seems as though the blog has been steadily growing in popularity in places like Australia, Canada, Germany and France.  Other countries seem to be losing interest (Saudi Arabia, Barbados, India), perhaps because my blog posts about those countries are 'older' now?

There are some new entries to the top 20 list; Kenya, Russia and China, whilst a few other countries have dropped out of the top 20 list (Belgium, Brazil and UAE).

The USA and UK continue to provide the majority of hits on my blog, with people in the US making up almost 35% of my readership in the past year.

The top twenty

1. United States (-)
2. United Kingdom (-)
3. Australia (+1)
4. Canada (+1)
5. India (-2)
6. Germany (+1)
7. France (+3)
8. Kenya (new!)
9. Netherlands (+6)
10. Italy (-4)
11. Cambodia (+1)
12. Russia (new!)
13. China (new!)
14. New Zealand (+2)
15. Malaysia (+4)
16. Spain (+2)
17. Japan (new!)
18. Saudi Arabia (-7)
19. Barbados (-5)
20. Ireland (-14)

The blog has had visitors from 166 countries in total (9 new countries since last year) and the newest country to appear on my readership list was Cameroon in July 2015.

Popular posts

You can see a list of the ten most popular posts of all time below:

And it's interesting to compare this with the ten most popular posts when I blogged about this last year:

Sum total of my learning

Since last September, in my pursuit of learning I have:

Read 21 books
Watched 18 movies
Learned how to cook 4 new dishes
Listened to countless hours of Palestinian rap, Leonard Cohen, maloya and Pacific reggae!

I'm looking forward to another year of learning, reading, cooking, movie-watching and blogging - don't forget to join me!

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Solomon Islands - On the Silver Screen

As part of my research for this blog, I've been reading Lonely Planet's Solomon Islands 3rd edition, which dates back to 1997. Although that's almost 20 years ago, I like to read the LP editions from the late-90's, as this coincides with my early 20's and the time when I started travelling in earnest, so I feel like I'm following paths I never took - not merely armchair travelling, but time-travelling as well!

Something that's really struck me whilst reading through this older version of Lonely Planet Solomon Islands, is the fact that most of the main 'sights' that you are recommended to visit, are ship wrecks, war graves and pieces of aircraft downed during the intense battles that raged in this part of the Pacific during World War Two.

Pacific Theatre in World War 2
On Sunday morning, 7 December 1941, Japanese Imperial forces bombed Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, effectively declaring war on the United States and setting off a chain of events that saw Japan occupy former British colonies such as Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore and Burma, as well as islands in the Pacific such as the Philippines, Solomons and Papua New Guinea.

This Japanese expansion opened up a 'theatre' of war in the Pacific, right on the doorstep of Australia, so the Allied Australian, British and US forces were quick to respond.  Guadalcanal suddenly found itself in the spotlight, as Allied forces deployed a land invasion, capturing the main air base at Honiara and holding the island during a six-month campaign in 1942/43, which eventually saw the Japanese withdraw their forces.

The only movie I could find that was partly shot on the Solomon Islands was Terrance Malick's The Thin Red Line (1998).  Amazingly, I'd never actually seen this movie before and it wasn't like other war movies that I've watched - actually, I found it incredibly slow-moving, languorous and reflective, a welcome change from the usual action-packed movies full of explosions and violence.

Marines rest in the field in Guadalcanal
Malick has a way of expressing the horror of war, without showing the horror and I loved the fact that nature was everywhere in his movie - a painful human death would cut to the shot of a baby bird being born, or a lizard crawling on a tree.  It's like war itself is a repulsive imposition on the natural world.

For practical reasons, most of the movie was shot in Queensland, Australia, however, they did also spend twenty-four days shooting on Guadalcanal and it was really the first time I got to see the Solomon Islands on the silver screen.  The portrayal of the Solomon Islanders is fleeting and has a dreamy quality to it, the native people almost blend into the background, as nature does, removed from the war and its violent intentions.

It must have been bewildering for the Solomon Islanders to suddenly find themselves at the heart of the most globalised war in human history, when the islands had always languished in the shadows of the global stage, far removed from the forces that shaped the 20th century.  I'm sure the US soldiers' experience of Solomon Island culture was just as fleeting as in the movie and most of them would never have heard of Guadalcanal, had it not been for the Japanese invasion of the western Pacific.

Malick's movie also introduced me to the concept of ensemble epic - i.e. a large-scale movie with a massive cast of characters, each one of them claiming a similar importance of role, rather than having one or two defined 'heroes'.  Malick managed to secure a lot of really well-known actors for his movie - Sean Penn, Jim Caviezel, Ben Chaplin, Nick Nolte, Jared Leto, John Travolta, George Clooney, Adrien Brody to name but a few.  In fact he had so many actors and so many hours of footage that some performances like those of Gary Oldman, Mickey Rourke and Vigo Mortensen didn't make the final cut!

The Thin Red Line is well worth seeing and different that your usual war movie - a good Sunday-afternoon watch!

Image credits:

Both images used in this blog post are from Wikipedia and are in the public domain.  You can click on the images to see their source page.