Western Springs is all dressed up for the most exciting celebration of Pasifika culture in the world and there are fantastic flavours to be discovered. Eleven villages, each representing a different Pacific culture, will be offering traditional food and drinks. Anna King Shahab looks at the tastes on offer and speaks to two people behind the magic.
Hangi, the traditional Maori cooking technique, sees food steamed over heated stones in an oven dug into the earth. Versions of this style of cooking are traditional all around the Pacific as far as South America. Nothing beats the smoky flavour and tenderness of fresh vegetables, meat and poultry of a well-executed hangi, so get your fix here. Today, 10.30-11.30am and tomorrow, 11-11.30am Ruth Woodbury and Grant Te Whare will be giving talks on the tradition and process, by the hangi pit at Aotearoa Village, and the food with be ready to taste from around 11.45am while stocks last. Also, keep an eye out for paua fritters and smoked eel.
Taste the delights straight from Fiji's earth oven, the lovo, including pork, chicken, taro and palusami (layered taro leaves and coconut cream), where host Jale Kama will talk visitors through lovo cooking while the food is being unearthed at around midday. Make sure you leave room for dessert - vakolo sees grated cassava covered with coconut cream caramel sauce and freshly grated coconut, and purini is a popular Fijian steamed pudding.
Hawaiian poke has exploded in popularity recently. Here's your chance to try an authentic version. Rice or vegetables and taro are topped with fresh raw salmon or ahi tuna, and here are shoyu, spicy mayo or Californian style toppings.
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For something less well-known here, head to Tahiti village to try mape, a Polynesian chestnut; it's shaped like a kidney and enjoyed fresh or cooked. And in Kiribati village, give te taari n ika a go, it's fish that has been dried in the sun, served with taro.
Cool down with a Tongan otai, a refreshing drink made with water blended with fresh coconut flesh, coconut milk and tropical fruit. Try Tonga's favourite dish, usually reserved for Sundays and special occasions, lu. Chopped beef, chicken or lamb is combined with coconut milk and onions, wrapped in taro leaves and cooked in the umu (earth oven).
Boiling fish in coconut milk lends a beautiful sweet, tenderness to sua ika, a Tokelauan speciality. Same goes for fai kai ika - fish baked in coconut cream - which you'll find in the Niue village. Mop up the juices with some arrowroot and coconut bread - pitaki pia.
As well as the beloved palusami, there is serious sweet action happening, with fa'ausi (taro or pumpkin cooked with coconut cream and burnt sugar), sua fa'i (banana and sago pudding) and koko alaisa (a chocolatey rice pudding made with koko samoa).
Bernard Tarei is tasked with co-ordinating the Cook Islands village, and he's been busy sourcing the best fresh ingredients direct from the Cooks to make authentic dishes, including 33kg of wonderful fresh a'ai tuna, and a good helping of maroro (flying fish). Rounding out the seafood offering are tupa angai, land crabs from Aitutaki. "I've also bought 250kg of goat meat. It's being made into a delicious dish you must try - puakani'o ta renga, a curry of goat in fresh coconut milk and turmeric." Loads of tropical fruit will be made into fresh, no-sugar-added smoothies. And flying out the door will be the famous Cook Islands tonati (hot doughnuts).
Over in Tuvalu village, co-ordinator Elena Tupuaiga is gearing up to introduce Auckland to the island's unique beverage, coconut toddy, which the Tuvaluans call kavele. Extracting kaleve is a delicate process, as Tupuaiga explains. "A sprout of a coconut tree must then be tapped twice a day, this is done by hanging a bottle at the end of the sprout to collect the sap. Then the tip of the sprout is slightly trimmed now and then so that it does not turn hard and stop producing sap."
Once collected, kaleve can be used in many ways - sipped fresh or fermented into an alcoholic beverage, it can also be used to produce yeast and as a tonic for a sore throat. "Kaleve kula," says Tupuaiga, "is made by boiling down fresh kaleve until the liquid is thick and a red-brown colour. It's used to make desserts like our fekei tapioca, as a cordial - no need for extra sugar - and if you continue to boil it down and cool it, it can be used to make lollies like puleleti, where it's mixed with grated coconut and rolled into balls." Now that sounds like the most blissful bliss ball ever.