Saturday, October 24, 2009

Palau: A Taste of Paradise

"The taro plant is very important to the Palauan people," explained Ann Singeo, the owner of Sense of Wonder eco tours, to my husband, John, and me. " The legend of Palau is based on food. A simple version of the legend has it that a giant by the name of Uab was consuming all the food so the rest of the people were starving. The villagers placed him on a fire; he exploded, and created the islands of Palau." Palau is an amazing group of 700 islands, most uninhabited, and one of the most eco of all locations we have visited.

Before John and I set out on our kayak tour of the mangrove, Spis, our other guide picked a sprouting coconut off the ground and split it. The white part had become spongy and Ann suggested we slather it on our exposed body parts, "It will keep away the mosquitoes and prevent sunburn." Deep in the mangrove we pulled our kayaks up on land and a short hike took us to a where Ann explained another Palauan legend. The taro goddess brought back samples from the taro patches she had created on the various islands. Pointing to upright stones, Ann said, "These are the taro plants planted by the goddess. Over the years they turned to stone." We were totally unfamiliar with taro, a root that is an important source of food for Palauns. The taro patches are the exclusive domain of women probably because they have to wade in deep mud, sometime above their waist, to harvest the plants so they often work nude. At the end of the tour Ann had prepared a lunch that included taro soup and taro salad.

The Rock Islands of Palau are a paradise for divers and snorkelers. John and I were dazzled by the brilliant blue starfish and the giant clams but the most amazing experience was swimming with thousands of jellyfish, which are virtually stingless. On our return from a snorkeling tour with Fish ‘n Fins the talk turned to food, Tova Harel, the owner of Fish n’ Fins, said if we returned for dinner she and Cesar, her chef, would show us how to prepare fish and some taro recipes. It was an offer we could not refuse.

When we were in Palau in March 2009 we loved the half-day tour and lunch ($75) with Sense of Wonder, Our cooking experience ($25) was an impromptu favor extended by Tova Harel, but one she will provide for other tourists along with her formal cooking experience that includes diving. She has authored a cookbook, "Taste of Rainbow’s End."

Taro Rosti
4 purple taro (or red potatoes)
1 medium onion
1 teaspoon salt
1 /2 teaspoon pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons of oil
Grate taro and onion.
Add salt and pepper.
Mix and form into hamburger shape.
Fry in oil until golden brown.

Broiled Fish
4 lb grouper or similar fish – scaled and gutted
3 sliced garlic cloves
Several slices of fresh ginger
3 tablespoons of sesame oil
3 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 large banana leaf (optional or corn husks may be substituted)
Score the fish.
Put a slice of garlic, ginger, and a lime leaf in each score and a few inside the fish.
Drizzle sesame oil and soy sauce on banana leaf and inside the fish.
Loosely wrap fish in tinfoil.
Grill about 15 minutes until the meat is white and flaky.

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