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Tukuni, traditional tale of taste

Sashi Kiran
Sunday, December 03, 2017

MOUTH-WATERING kokoda, kaikoso, lovo, tavu ika or eggplant or any range of curries; food cooked in villages somehow just tastes better. Whether it's the freshness of ingredients, nature's fuel — firewood — or the love and joy of the ones who prepare the food, it's all a wonder.

Even while on the outer islands, while they may not have the basic amenities, the food feeds the soul!

Isn't it a wonder when many thought the world was flat, our ancestors were conquering the reefs and deep seas, voyaging across oceans and continents and through their travels brought the best of food and sustainable practices of fishing, hunting and growing to Fiji.

Stories relayed by many villagers educated me on various types of fishing methods, sustainable and using all local materials, such as releasing smaller fish. Also, the tradition of totems ensured protection of diversity.

Lemon juice seasoned seafood, charcoal-cooked seafood, bamboo-cooked delicacies and earth oven cooked food, all much relished even in the modern day- not only sustainable methods of cooking but the most healthy ways of preparing food!

Our ancestors, during their travels, brought herbs and vegetables to add to the mix and today we have a very rich variety of crops (considered old school). Consider the range of cucubits like bitter gourd, snake gourd, leafy vegetables, root crops or herbs and spices.

Fiji is blessed with naturally growing foods that sit on top of global nutrition charts. How did our forefathers manage that? We are turning to processed foods at our own peril.

We all love our food, more so the home-cooked meals, the taste of tradition whether it's spicy curries or simple non-spicy food cooked in an earth oven with a delectable smoky taste.

In a fast-paced world, these simple tastes are quick disappearing as we turn to processed foods. We are trying to rekindle our memory lane through the tastes of our traditions and offer the joys of home-cooked meals through a museum themed restaurant named Tukuni. Tukuni means storytelling. Whether its food or the décor, it all tells stories of our people, their lifestyle, hard work and their journeys. The restaurant, 15 km from Lautoka going towards Ba, sits at the base of Tuvu hills overlooking the ocean and offers a 360 degree view as you enjoy your meals.

Growing up in a rural settlement, with limited budgets, most of the food was home-grown.

Ducks, chicken, eggs were farmed at home using local feed. Each season there was enough crops harvested and preserved whether it was dry season rice, different dhals, vegetables, mithori and satwa prepared from toasted lentils, range of pickles and chutneys to increase the range of tastes for our meals!

Despite the hilly terrain the family knew how to grow food sustainably. There was very little waste, there was a use for everything. If taroi (ridge gourd) was used as a main, the skin would be slightly toasted and made into chutney each time with different flavours; mint leaves, coconut or sesame seeds.

From surplus fresh milk, handmade ghee, butter milk, curd will be prepared and any surplus went into animal feed. Each item was delicious, each meal had a wide variety of items and some of these tastes we now try to give to you through Tukuni.

The curry menu brings a range of vegetables, mithori, chutneys, pickles, meat made using hand ground spices and our own hand pressed virgin coconut oil. Our dhals are bought from farmers and uses hand made ghee for that extra home taste.

All the meat is free range, bought directly from the farmers and includes goat, lamb, chicken and duck, we now have the halal option as well. Roti is made from maize flour also supplied by local farmers. The best is that the meals are cooked village styled by village women from recipes passed down for generations.

The fresh organic vegetables are brought from villages in the Saivou district of Ra. They were severely affected by Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston and then hit again by two floods early this year.

Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises & Development( FRIEND), a home-grown NGO has been working with five villages in the area post TC Winston trying to support in recovery and rehabilitation with the support from UNDP Farm to Table initiative funded by UNSDG Funds. After months of toil these vegetables are being picked for the Tukuni menu.

Tukuni brings in fresh seafood from coastal villages of Nakorotubu District, Ra, the declared ground zero of Severe TC Winston. Most of the villagers had lost majority of their homes during the Category 5 cyclone. FRIEND worked on relief and rehabilitation and have sought assistance to provide fishing boats to five villages.

Because of the roads and distance, markets are difficult to access. These same communities have been assisted by Pacific American Climate Adaptation Fund (PACAM) to re-establish their sustainable organic farms. Through weekly pick-ups, these communities supply their organic vegetables and seafood.

The seafood is turned into delicious kokoda, ika tavu, lovo, curries and salads, each high in demand.

The coconuts, yams, turmeric, local gluten-free flours are supplied by farmers from Macuata and Dreketi every two weeks. 200 Vanua Levu farms being organically certified have been able to access their market at Tukuni.

The logo of Tukuni is inspired by rourou (taro leaf). Taro is an amazingly versatile plant and all its parts are used. The rourou signifies our theme — it's rich in flavour, nutrition and tradition, locally grown and direct from the soils of our farms.

The handmade made wooden tables and chairs, bamboo finishing, the bure bar, driftwood furniture, water fountains are the handiwork of the Tukuni team; men from neighbouring Matawalu Village who have been trialing their hands at much of the art work for the first time. With the amazing creativity from our communities you will feel the authenticity of the restaurant. The ceiling cover is masi kuvui with seafood theme made by different families of Namuka-i-Lau.

Tukuni team members are from local communities. They bring with them the Fiji style tastes and traditions and have been trained in house on hospitality.

Some of the best lovo and ika tavu (charcoal fish) are prepared by village men now on our team. Home-styled lote, vudi vakasoso, paysum or halwa are all available on the menu.

Tukuni sits on top of the FRIEND office and is solar powered. FRIEND is very focused on recycling and composting to grow healthy crop and guests can also take a tour of organic gardens and see making of recycled paper.

? Sashi Kiran is the founding chief executive officer for Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises & Development (FRIEND) Views expressed are hers and not of this newspaper.

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