Monday, September 30, 2013

Kava - and Prawn Salad. Not Together.

1 October 2013

We went to Nadi today to do a few errands, getting ready to head to the Yasawa Islands tomorrow.  And I just had to take a photo of these gorgeous pineapples piled in a pickup truck, as well as the Indian women's lovely clothing.

I stopped in a store, just to look, and started chatting with the men who own the store.  Their village is up in the mountains, and is known for wood carving; they sell the carved crafts in the store.  They were very interested in finding out where the Virgin Islands was located, how many people live there, the size of our island (32 square miles) compared to their island (around 7,000 square miles) - we had a nice discussion.

Then one of the men said I had to try the kava ceremony.  Kava is a the national drink of Fiji, although it is equally popular in most of the South Pacific islands.  And there is a whole ritual to drinking and sharing kava.

First, kava is a member of the pepper family, although it really isn't pepper.  The root is dried and ground, and the powder is steeped in water to create the drink.  The kava contains kavalactones, which give the kava it's, well, sedative and anesthetic qualities.  Yes, kava makes your mouth numb.  Enough kava will numb most of your body - which is great if you're going through the traditional tattoo ritual with a pointy object and a hammer.  And kava supposedly makes you all nice and relaxed and happy, though I didn't really notice those effects either.

So, my friend sat on the floor with the kava bowl (called tanoa in Samoan, but I don't know the name in Fijian) - he explained as he put the powder in a pouch, poured water over it, and squeezed it out.  Then he used the water to wet the rim of the bowl.  He had both of us clap our hands three times.  He asked, in English, for safe and enjoyable travels for Richard and me (though Richard was out getting some files printed).  Then he spoke in Fijian, I'm not sure what he said.  We again clapped three times.  He scooped some kava into a cup made of coconut shell, had me say "bula!" (greetings), clap my hands once, and drink the kava in one swallow ("like tequila," he told me).  He drank his kava next, with the clap and "bula!" and all.

Yes, my tongue was kind of numb.  I think I'm already pretty cheery and mellow, so I didn't feel any different.  But we had a nice chat over the kava - the funniest part was that he told me kava is good for family planning.  I asked if that meant kava helped prevent making babies, or if it helped in making the babies.  All the men in the store laughed, and agreed that kava helps in making the babies.  So my friend said that when we come to Fiji again, I will bring Junior along, who will be our kava baby.  

It all was pretty trippy, for lack of a better description.  Kind of theatre of the absurd, without being totally off the wall.

To end the kava ceremony, we again clapped our hands three times, said "bula," clapped once, drank a hit each, clapped three times again, he said something more in Fijian, wiped out the bowl, and we shook hands.  It was all very interesting, but, as I said, pretty trippy.  

Okay, so maybe the kava added to the trippy aspect, it is a mild narcotic, or something, so I don't know.  It was just one of those strange and interesting cultural experiences, and why we travel.

Okay, I promised to say something about the wonderful salad at the restaurant next door.  This is the prawn and avocado salad.  Fabulous!  Delicious!  Light but filling, and so nutritious!

Easy to make:  put a bunch of salad greens on a plate.  (In Fiji, this is a mix of lettuce and shredded cabbage.)  Put some sliced tomato, carrot, and cucumber around the edge, in a nice pattern.  Place some sliced avocado around the salad - maybe about 1/4 of a nice ripe avocado.  Drizzle a little balsamic vinaigrette over the salad greens.  Place eight steamed shrimp (or prawns) across the salad.   Spoon some pineapple and papaya salsa over the top of the shrimp.  Enjoy!

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