I hope everyone enjoyed the first episode of "Taste of Paradise" as much as I enjoyed making it!
Each Sunday in The Fiji Times I will share some of the behind the scenes stories of each episode, the bloopers and of course, the recipes. Setting up a portable kitchen in the middle of the Suva municipal market had its challenges, especially during lunchtime amongst hundreds of curious shoppers.
Even before the cameras started rolling, people surrounded me to ask all sorts of cooking questions which only reinforced my pursuit to teach Fijians more ways to cook the fresh produce that can be found at the markets.
"Do you use garlic?", "What are all those different sauces?", "Where did you get that fast gas burner?" and "What is that strange looking, round frypan?" were some of the typical questions people were asking as they watched, smelled and tasted a new style of fresh foods.
Different sauces are also an important part of any modern kitchen, as they allow you to create many types of gravy and flavours with any meats, seafood, vegetables and fruits.
What the market episode showed me was that the flavours of most Fijian cuisine only activates a few of the taste sensors and not all of them. This is the reason why everyone experienced a new sensation when they tried the foods I cooked.
The human tongue has receptors that detect saltiness, sourness, bitter, sweetness and the recently discovered fifth sense, umami. Umami is a Japanese word for the taste imparted by glutamate chemicals in certain foods. There is no direct English translation, but it is often described as "meaty", "savory" or "broth-like".
Only recently have taste receptors on the tongue been identified, which allowed umami to be officially classified as the fifth taste. It is the taste that gives certain foods a "meaty" taste like mushrooms, tomatoes, shellfish, broths, chocolate, chilli, cheese and soy sauce. I use very little salt in most of my cooking, replacing it with fermented salty sauces like light soy and fish sauce.
The fermented sauces activate the umami taste receptor that gives the food a certain "wow" as the fifth taste sensor comes alive. Chinese salt, or monosodium glutamate, also contains the glutamate compound for umami and is the reason why it makes food taste better, even if it does have side effects for asthmatics.
All the recipes featured on "Taste of Paradise" have no MSG or processed salt, yet still create a party in your mouth, as the combination of fermented sauces and specific foods will activate all five of the taste receptors naturally.
The thin-steeled wok and a high pressure stove are essential to fast stir-fry cooking as the heat transfers quickly to the food and allows the vegetables to retain their crispness, vitamins and flavour.
The burner is available from Fiji Gas stores for around $150 plus the high pressure regulator and hose. It is a small investment but this super hot stove will last a long time as its made from cast-iron and you can take it anywhere with you.
When using a steel wok for the first time, you first must remove the protective grease by washing it off in warm soapy water. You then must 'season' the wok by heating it over a hot flame and wait for the metal to change colour from silver to blue-black. Turn off the heat and with paper towels soaked in a little cooking oil, carefully rub the inside of the wok. It will smoke and be very hot, so be careful.
This process essentially opens the pores of the metal and allows the oil to lubricate the surface.
Everytime you wash the wok after cooking, you need to coat both surfaces with a little oil to prevent rusting.
The final recipe for the Suva market episode was my sweet and sour chicken with fresh pineapple. I love how market stalls sell the peeled pineapple, carved into easy-to-eat shapes.
Most of the live audience thought it was strange that I cooked green papaya in the first dish, then pineapple in the sweet and sour dish. Cooking with fruits in savoury dishes is not common in traditional Fijian or Indian cuisine, but the sweet tropical produce adds a perfectly sweet balance to many dishes that can be created with the local foods.
The Fijian sweet-tooth and palate for all things sweet is satisfied with the natural sweetness of the tropical fruits too, making many of the South East Asian recipes that use fruit perfect additions to the Fijian kitchen.
Next week on "Taste of Paradise", join me at the Suva fish markets and discover new ways to enjoy one of Fiji's most organic and wild produce of anywhere in the world - Fijian ocean fish.
* Catch a "Taste of Paradise with Chef Lance Seeto" every Thursday 8pm and repeated Saturday 5.30pm on Fiji One TV. Lance Seeto is an author and Executive Chef based on Castaway Island.