With cold nights and winter illnesses returning, I have been drinking lots of herbal liquids and soups this week, as I struggled to shake off a week of headaches, funny tummy and tiredness - all signs that we are adjusting to the change of weather.
Try to avoid touching or sanitizing surfaces that other people may come in contact with like the telephone and door knobs, and make sure you wash your hands properly and cover your mouth when sneezing. Bodily fluids like sweat and saliva can easily transfer germs from person to person. If you are sick and drinking yagona, take your own bilo so that your germs are not transferred to the tanoa, potentially making everyone else sick. Medication will help with the symptoms, but once youve got the bug, theres not much you can do but to feed your body healthy food to help it recover faster. Drink lots of clean water to flush out your system. Take lots of natural herbal remedies like lemon, ginger, garlic and virgin coconut oil to strengthen the immune system.
My staff make the squeezed ginger, lemon and honey concoction that gets a fire started in your chest but is excellent at clearing the digestive system and soothes a sore throat. Ive been eating lots of herbal-infused soups and stews as they are easier to digest and contain more healthy herbs for my body.
But a cold wasnt going to stop me spending a few days in Suva to finish off my book on Fiji and to catch up with Tony Qumi, from Fiji Tattoos, to finally get my first tattoo of a gecko with traditional Fijian design. Most types of lizards, even the iguana, are considered to symbolize renewal, rebirth and enlightenment, so it was fitting to brand myself with a design that embodied all of my experiences learning and absorbing the rich Fijian culture. Tony is also a local food lover and sitting with your tattooist for a three hour session with your arm stinging means you have plenty to talk about, if only to distract you from the darting sound of the tattoo needle. He asked why I was so fascinated by the Fijian culture and diet, when my own Chinese and Australian heritage offered so much more diversity.
The answer was simple. Fiji is at the crossroads between the traditional native diet and the more modern Western lifestyle and diet. Fijians can look back to see how a fresher diet of fish, root crops, fruits and vegetables, with very little processed tin foods, canola oil and margarine, helps you to live longer. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence in the outer islands and remote villages who are further away from the easy Western food like Kubulau, Bua on Vanua Levu.
The Tui Kubulau, Ratu Apenisa Vuki, told me recently that all his family have lived very long lives, many over 100 years of age because of the fresher diet. He tells his people his displeasure of the Western junk foods like snacks, fizzy drinks and two minute noodles, and encourages them to instead plant more fruit trees and different vegetables.
On Kadavu, where the Western lifestyle and diet is also not so dominant, the people also seem to be living to longer. So for me, old Fiji holds the clues to the dangers of not eating fresh foods and what eating processed foods
and oils has on our long term health.
And only Fiji is lucky enough to see the past, present and future of its peoples health all at the same time by looking at the remote village diet and lifestyle, and compare it the bigger cities and overseas countries. As a chef it is abundantly clear that what we are eating is directly affecting our health. Not straight away, but certainly later in life as the great tasting, easy to prepare, processed, tinned and deep fried food slowly begin to affect our cells, increasing the chance of contracting a non communicable disease. I applaud Ratu Vuki on his initiatives to use his own familys longevity to help his people realise the consequences of not eating a majority traditional diet. He certainly plans on living to 100 years too.
Back in Suva, one of my favourite lunch spots is Jojis Noodle Bar upstairs in the MHCC food
court. This popular place is always jam packed at lunch compared to the neighbouring stalls, and the noodle soups are made from very good chicken and beef stocks that are infused with herbs and spice. A steaming bowl of noodle soup is the ultimate in Chinese comfort food and Jojis has one of my childhood favourites served with beef brisket. The Chinese are very clever at turning cheaper cuts of meats like the sinewy brisket, flank and shanks into the tender pieces using either slow cooking with wines, or a touch of bicarbonate soda to break down the muscle and sinew into a natural gelatine that is good fat for our bodies. This brisket stew can be made with other meats like lamb or pork as well, and when served with soup noodles in a bowl, the herb infused flavour of the melted beef is the heart and soul of this winter soup. It takes 3-4 hours to get the beef soft, but you can make plenty for another meal. A good healthy chicken soup is also perfect for helping you to get back on your feet and feel better. My Tsunami Soup recipe from last year is made from whole chickens, drumsticks or wings (you need the fat and skin for flavour), with lots of ginger, onion and carrot. Cook it for 3-4 hours and you end up with a very tasty chicken stock which you can add your favourite fresh vegetables, meats, fish or noodles to create a healthy herbal soup.
So stay healthy this week and try not to touch or kiss people who are sick!
Lance Seeto is a chef, author and international food & travel writer based at Castaway Island, Fiji. Follow his culinary adventures of life, happiness and fresh food on his Facebook Fijian Food Safari page or www.fijianfoodsafari.com