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Pacific Island Recipes - French Polynesian Cerviche

Patty collects various recipes from past generations and is interested in early American history, the Civil War, and the 19th century.

Stopover in the Pacific

The peoples of French Polynesia and their Marquesas Islands have been traced only as far as about 150 BC, but perhaps to 2,000 BC from Indonesia, Southeast Asia, and other locales.

The peoples may have traveled to the Marquesas from several paces, notably from other Polynesian Islands and possibly from the region around Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, other nearby nations, other Pacific islands; and from Southeast Asia.

We know at least that Southeast Asians came through the Marquesas and left some fruits new to the area and that some South American and Mexican fruits came across to the islands in the other direction.

Whatever the exact origins of the Indigenous Peoples, their food traditions are very interesting and good tasting.

1909 Indigenous dancers.

1909 Indigenous dancers.

The Marquesas Islands are home to a number of fruits, including native plants and some brought in over the centuries by other nationalities.

Among these food plants we find bananas and plantains, avocados, cashews, coconuts, and vanilla. Citrus is abundant in lemons and grapefruit, and the islands also support pineapples, papaya, mangoes, and guava. Breadfruit is often found as well, along with taro.

A range of fish are found in the islands, particularly mullets, and the coconut crab is a popular food animal in the tropics. This large land dwelling crab is related to the hermit crab and grows to a size sometimes of 40 pounds.

TV nature shows tell us that the coconut crabs grow large pincers and can climb trees (see video below). They also eat coconuts as a main food source, making their meat sweet, but they eat other plant and animal life as well.

The recipes below will use the fish and fruits we have seen above.

Polynesian Cerviche: Halibut Poisson Cru

Serves 4. You can make this with any light fish, like tuna.

Ingredients

  • 1 Pound of halibut, cut into strips
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 oz. Lime juice
  • 2 Cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1/3 Cup onion, chopped fine
  • 1/4 Cup carrots, cut into matchsticks
  • 1/4 Cup sweet red pepper chopped fine
  • 1/3 Cup Coconut milk
  • Chopped avocado to place on top of each serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Using a ceramic (non-metallic) mixing bowl, put the halibut and lime juice in with the salt and pepper; mix well.
  2. Let the bowl sit 5-10 minutes to marinate.
  3. Add all remaining recipe ingredients, mix well, taste, and re-season.
  4. Serve immediately and discard any leftovers.
Marquesa Islands female chief in 1909.

Marquesa Islands female chief in 1909.

Coconut Crab Stew

Serves 4 to 6 people

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds of coconut crab meat
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp cilantro
  • 1/2 tsp each of oregano, black pepper, and salt
  • 2 Cups coconut milk
  • 1 Green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 Red onion, chopped
  • 2-3 Tbsp tomato paste
  • Cooked rice

Instructions

  1. Mix the raw crab meat in a bowl with all the spices and minced garlic, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a plate and refrigerate the bowl to marinate and for 30 minutes to one hour.
  2. Remove the bowl from the refrigerator and add in all the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
  3. Pour the crab mixture into a large pot over low heat; cook until the liquid is reduced by half and serve over hot rice.

Breadfruit Mash

Breadfruit may have its particular name, because more immature fruits of this large plant have a texture similar to some breads.

Several related recipes are used throughout French Polynesia, but this one is for a pie; it is a vegetable-type pie. Breadfruit can also be used to prepare a poi-like dish as well.

Ingredients

  • 1 Large breadfruit
  • 1 Medium onion, chopped coarse
  • 1 Large carrot, cooked and chunked into bite-size pieces
  • 1 Large rib of celery, chopped coarse
  • Any type of grated White Cheese - Parmesan, Romano, or any favorite.
  • Whole milk or cream

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Peel the breadfruit , cut if open and remove the core.
  3. Cut the flesh up into large chunks for easy handling.
  4. Boil the fruit chunks in salted water, until just beginning to soften. Turn off the heat.
  5. Take out each piece of fruit, one at a time and mash it in a large mixing bowl. Be careful not to over-mash, or the fruit will become very sticky.
  6. Add onion, carrot, celery and add enough milk just to make the mash hold together.
  7. Top with grated cheese.
  8. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown and serve.

The Draw of the Marquesas

These islands are isolated and made up of vocanic rock, creating an exotic setting that have drawn many visitors and residents in recent centuries, incuding the French before 1600. Among the renown residents have been writer Robert Louis Stevenson in the northern islands; and poet Jacques Brel, and artist Paul Gaugin in the southern islands.

Thor Heyerdahl wrote Kon Tiki while visiting the local island of Fatu Hiva; I remember reading that in middle school and enjoying it. The Marquesas Islands are a good place to get away and back to tropical nature.

© 2009 Patty Inglish MS

Comments and Additions

carriethomson from United Kingdom on March 31, 2012:

Great Hub!

Holle Abee from Georgia on April 17, 2010:

I love crab soups and stews!

sukhera143 from Home on October 12, 2009:

Wonderful.

dusanotes from Windermere, FL on October 08, 2009:

These are fascinating people. Thanks for another excellent Hub. Don White

Philipo from Nigeria on October 08, 2009:

Very detailed hub. Thanks for sharing.

Creativita on October 06, 2009:

Dear Patty: What a very interesting article about a truly exotic area of the world...and those recipes got my mouth watering, just reading them. Keep up the terrific writing.

-Creativita/Helen

lyricsingray on October 06, 2009:

What I would do to actually try these fruits right on the island. Thank you, very informative, for me anyway.

Lisa J Warner AKA Lisa Luv from Conneticut, USA on October 06, 2009:

Oh this is wonderful ~

I love the visuals ~

and the video wow!

Thank You --Really cool!

livingsta from United Kingdom on October 06, 2009:

the crab stew must be really yummy, i love crab meat. the other recipes also seem to be ones that will taste great. will try sometime. Thank you for sharing Patty.

Hmrjmr1 from Georgia, USA on October 06, 2009:

On my bucket list to visit and eat a breadfruit. Thanks