3 January, 2019, 8:45 am
KASANITA Botitu’s kitchen is where her family’s happiness begins.
It is also, where she is in tears every single day – rain or shine.
You’d easily spot her blowing to keep the flames at her fireplace burning every breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The Fiji Times caught up with her on Christmas Eve, preparing her version of babakau at Vatulele Village kitchen on Koro Island.
“This is true village life,” she said with a grin.
“My kitchen is the engine room of the family. Everyone’s day begins here and my job is to make sure that my family eats three meals a day.”
In the city, gas and kerosene are the main sources of cooking fuel. The case is slightly different in rural areas, where the high cost of fossil fuel and the availability of firewood, makes cooking in the open fire the preferred mode of cooking.
Girls are taught the basics of lighting a fire from a very young age –from how to start a flame to keeping a fire consistently burning. They also assist their mothers in preparing family meals and setting up the table, which is often the floor.
Kasanita’s relatives who were visiting from Suva, bought a 50kilogram bag of white flour and baking ingredients so she decided to do babakau, something similar to doughnuts.
“Babakau is deep-fried pancake made dough consisting of yeast, flour, sugar and salt. It is best eaten warm when fluffy and fresh,” Kasanita explained.
In urban centres, where life is fast and working mothers simply don’t have the time bread is often the main breakfast item.
“In the village, life is slow so women have all the time in the world to prepare a breakfast that takes time to prepare.
“We also use the fire a lot. People say food tastes better when cooked using firewood.”
But the fire has its hazards, one of them being excessive eye irritation caused by smoke.
“Women who live in the village are used to having tears while cooking, three times a day, 365 days a week. These tears show how we work hard and persevere to support the health and wellbeing of our family.”
“Rural women do not work in the office and put on perfumes and cosmetics to do their work. Our suwai (old clothes used for manual labour) are our uniforms and the scent of smoke from the fire is the only perfume we put on.
“Our hair smell of smoke the whole day and that is a sign that we are hardworking,’ she said laughing.
For her Christmas Eve breakfast, Kasanita had to prepare enough babakau to feed 12 people. She used up 13 cups of flour, eight teaspoons of yeast, five teaspoons of baking powder, a pinch of salt and three handfuls of brown sugar.
“Some women like to use warm water or coconut milk which gives a beautiful taste but I used tap water. Coconuts are scarce on the island because of TC Winston so we used them sparingly.”
“The trick with babakau is having the right dough texture and just the right kneading. If you fail in these two areas then your babakau might not turn out right.”
After preparing breakfast and feeding her family and guests from Suva, Kasa was again ready to take on other chores, almost having no rest time in between.
“After this, I will have to clean the house and wash our clothes, then its lunch and dinner cooking again. Tonight, I will bake a few pies and cakes for Christmas breakfast. For rural women, the Christmas period can be tiring.”
“But the sleep are always peaceful and deep. When you work hard you deserve a good sleep and when I do have mine, I just forget about all the worries in the world.”