Eating in Kiribati

Flying into Kiribati is still a delight, and the surf-fringed, green crescents of the coral atolls in the vast ocean remain a thing of beauty. But on the ground on Tarawa, the ‘capital’ island, much has changed since I first arrived 24 years ago. It’s over-crowded, and very polluted. Still, if you squint you can look past that and still see the beauty!

On this visit I stayed at Mary’s Motel, the preferred accommodation for many visiting consultants (and the place is crawling with them!), but even there it pays not to have particularly high expectations. For the first few days the fresh fish, my choice morikoi pan-fried in butter & garlic, served with either rice or chips and a dollop of coleslaw, is welcome, but after a while, even when occasionally varied with tuna, the diet does start to pall.

But at least the fish is fresh. There’s not much else available that’s fresh. One of the consequences of the over-crowding is that there’s great competition for land, and I’m guessing that any fresh produce is jealously guarded. About all that’s available are fresh bananas, imported from the northern island of Butaritari, and sold at the roadside. At AUD3 a kilo they’re probably out of reach of many i-Kiribati, at least on a regular basis, which is a real shame. But for me, of course, not a problem, and so I ended up keeping a supply in my room, taking a couple to breakfast to slice into my (slightly stale) cornflakes  at breakfast, or over the (rather good) pancakes I also sometimes chose.

An odd thing, though, that Mary’s never seemed to have bananas in the kitchen. Except one day, and that evening I was determined to treat myself to banana fritters & ice cream. Imagining fritters as flattish & brown, picture my surprise when they came out whole and coated in a virulent GREEN batter. Most of which I scraped off, as it tasted nasty & artificial. Maybe the green batter was somebody’s invention in a home economics class … it should have stayed there!

But, in case all this sounds like a long complaint, let me say that I ENJOYED this visit. Much better than my last, five or six years ago, my first since I left after living in Kiribati for two years. Then, I found it a very dispiriting experience. This time I was prepared for the changes, was working with & meeting good people, and had, I guess, realistic expectations. It was all good, all fine. But, let’s face it, Kiribati is never going to be up there as a tourist destination!


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