At the start of the month I shared my attempt at a Chilean pisco sour with the Chile subreddit. There were lots of positive comments, and one user suggested another pisco drink, the camahueto. A camahueto is a mythical one-horned bull from the Chiloé archipelago in southern Chile – if you plant pieces of its horn, new camahuetos will burst from the earth with such force as to cause landslides.
Goma (or gomme / gum arabic) syrup is a bit tricky to get, so I’m going to use simple syrup instead. They’re both neutral sweeteners – the gomme syrup really just makes things a bit smoother texture-wise. It’s also used for frothed egg drinks like Peruvian pisco sours to keep the froth up. I’m also going to use a non-alc ginger beer instead of plain ginger ale, normal ginger ale in Canada is really bland.
Oh that’s tasty. Ginger, basil, and pineapple go great together, and the bright smooth pisco melds in perfectly. Eating the pineapple chunks after finishing the drink is mandatory, they soak up the other flavours and are a treat on their own.
Addendum: The Chilean subreddit has informed me that this is an extremely uncommon drink – I’ve only found one or two other references to it online, however, the other reference is from a Chilean pisco cocktail book. It’s still delicious.
I had a nice chat via email with Lamine at Bahdja Market, the great online Algerian grocery here in Ottawa – I’ve picked up pastries and somesnacks from there and really enjoyed them! Lamine gave me some neat suggestions for Algerian content to explore, particularly classical music:
There are a couple of styles (Hawzi from Tlemcen, West of Algeria), Andalusi (Andalusian heritage of the Muslim rule in Spain, a heritage shared also with the Sephardic Jews of Spain), Nouba (a type of Andalusian music), Malouf (Constantine Classical music, East of Algeria).
Here is the diva of Andalusian music currently in Algeria:
And a virtuoso of Malouf music from Constantine. This guy is apparently making history in his musical genre.
Mok Saib is also very popular in Algeria. He lives in England. This song was viewed by 122 million people.
So a few weeks ago I took a kick at a truly authentic Nauruan dish – coconut fish (tuna sashimi in coconut milk). I couldn’t find any recipes, so I extrapolated form travel notes (it was pretty tasty). However, a few days later I had the fortune of getting to talk about Nauru with Elmina Quadina, and shared with her my post and asked her advice on the dish.
The good news is that I had got the basic idea down, but I had made a very stripped down version – more like a “spur of the moment dish to fill your hunger”, to use her words. She also mentioned that the fish slices should be smaller, and it needed more coconut milk. Elmina shared with me her recipe making really good Nauruan coconut fish – let’s give it a go!
Coconut Fish. What you will need:
1 or 2 coconuts, scrapped and squeezed. Or tin of coconut milk.
A chunk of tuna depending. Sliced up or in cubes.
Cubed or sliced onion in pieces.
1 Half or whole tomato. Or use cherry tomatoes.
1 or 2 bullet chilies. Or any kind preferred.
Vinegar, lime or lemon juice
Bowl of water
Method : mix fish cubes with coconut milk. Add some water depending, ensure there is enough juice. Mix other ingredients according to your taste. Note: always use a tablespoon to mix the rest into the coconut milk as you keep tasting to your liking. Remember there should be enough juice in your bowl as it is part of mixing in with your bowl of rice. – oxo and can be added in your plate if you desire. Chilies can be added to make your dish spicy if desiring a spicy dish.
It’s more like a dish of snack food for alcohol drinkers. Like having peanuts to your drink. But then as you said, this is Nauruan food. Then still it will count for Nauruans are not fussy with what they eat. Whatever you say that fills the stomach and gives you energy. Then thats good enough. Hee!!!
I used a sliced-up tomato, a jalapeno for spice, chicken OXO, half a red onion plus a topping of green onion, lots of lime juice, and made sure to cut the tuna sashimi into smaller pieces.
Oh wow, adding lime and tomato gives some really complimentary acidity – this is way better than the first attempt. This is an addictively good dish, the flavours really work together. I should have had with rice but I ended up just drinking the milk like a broth. Yum! Thank you Elmina!
I had the great fortune of getting in touch with Nauruan writer and teacher Elmina Quadina and got to ask her about life on Nauru as well as Stories from Nauru – her 1990 short story “A Plea For Help” really stuck with me, and has stuck with others, as one of the most emotionally moving piece of writing in that book. In the story, Elmina writes about her frustrations and challenges and lack of understanding about her hearing loss in her 30s. We chatted about the short story, how things have changed since then for Nauruans with disabilities, and she shared some great details about traditional food and dress on Nauru.
All photos are courtesy Elmina Quadina, and responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
Tell me about Stories from Nauru, how did people respond to “A Plea for Help”?
I was just trying to raise awareness of what it’s like being with a hearing impairment, since l was not born with it but acquired it through later in life. Also to the fact of being made fun of and to think your own doctors think its nothing compared to other disabilities. Just imagining those born without it at all. Got me the guts to do what l did. Yes for sure once l opened up, l was sure surprised to find quite a number of my own people coming forward for hearing tests on the first day the doctors brought in some specialists after launching the book of Nauruan stories.
Elmina previously was a stewardess with Nauru Airlines, which included travelling all around the world, including to Japan, Taiwan, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia. She is now a teacher at a special needs school on Nauru, which was established in 2002.
At this time I’m teaching pupils of special abilities. They can be a handful, but they are lovable. Myself now being disabled with my hearing impairment, it’s hard trying to catch up with the needs of my students. Though l try to the best of my ability to work with them together as one. Though l was not born with my disability. I have come to understand the needs of these children. There is nothing more important than showing them love and care. I am not the 30 year old but now l’ve turned 60. So don’t be surprised if l’m still on my feet. Hee!!! I guess I’m still young at heart.
What are some traditional Nauruan foods?
Well food to say may be quite different in the old days and how they cook them. But nowadays l guess we people become too dependent with money talk. So usually we buy tin food mostly.
But local delicacies are usually fish. Deep fish ocean fish and reef fish. Local delicacy is raw fish in coconut milk (tuna, bonito, skipjack, yellow tail or others). Octopus cooked in coconut milk. Or salted and dried under the sun. Sea urchins eaten raw.
Actually some Nauruans eat them but not me. I’d collect them for my cultural handcrafts. As you can see from one of the beauty pageants. Shells are used for necklaces, adornment on costumes. And other uses such as house decorations outdoor curtains etc.
Black terns are another Nauruan delicacies.
This is a hermit crab [picture above] that would grow much bigger and becomes a coconut crab. Why its called coconut crab is because it then can climb up a coconut tree to eat of its fruit.
Usually Nauruans are good divers as well. They wouldn’t leave the waters till they have acquired some good catch.
What’s daily life like on Nauru?
Well since this is a very small island. And Nauruan people have acquired more of the modern style of living. I’d say our regular days are just lazing about.
Daily life is just like any other people around the Pacific. Though nowadays gambling is a more fun way of spending the day, though these games are mostly played at any private houses.
Local handfans woven with the use of pandanus leaves, hibiscus fibres or now with modern resources available such as raffias.
Tribal weaving of mats or baskets is not allowed to be used with other tribes. This type of pattern [picture above] usually belongs to the lruwa tribe and cannot be used in any other tribal clans.
You might think Nauru should not be divided into tribes as it’s pretty a small island. But as you can see from our flag, we have the twelve pointed star which represents the 12 tribes. We are of a matrilineal society and our children each follow on with their mothers tribe. So, so far we have lost two tribes to the fact that these two tribes have only male children left and no more women to bare their offspring to continue the tribe.
Traditional costumes are made with our local resources. They are now usually worn during special occasions such as Angam celebrations or Constitution Day and or other such as birthday parties, etc.
Elmina also shared with me some tips and a further recipe to make really good coconut fish – I’ll be sharing that soon! A huge huge thank you to Elmina Quadina for sharing her story, her experiences, and these wonderful pictures.
As I look up new stuff to learn about Finland, I’ve been noticing a bit of a common theme. A lot of articles or videos in English, both by Finns and non-Finns, seem to really play up the “Finland is so wacky and different” angle – where they take things that are unique to Finland and really ham it up. I wanted to see how people in Finland saw this – was it seen as a way to share their country and culture, or does it feel like stereotyping or ignoring real life in Finland? I posed the question to the Finland subreddit and here’s a sampling of some of the answers I got:
“…it gets somewhat tiring to read about heavy metal knitting, mobile phone throwing contest and hobby horse racing as if anyone does those things.”
“I think every country likes to emphasise their uniqueness, even if those specialties are in fact shared with others (eg. saunas of different forms are actually part of other cultures too). As for Finland, for me it depends on what the “wacky” thing is.
I like seeing folks try our foods and sauna. Personally I’d like to see more people try out kalakukko and Karelian stew, but I understand those can’t really be exported without spoiling. I also like when visitors showcase our nature, though again I wish swamp tours with their own natural features would be more common. Many of our national parks have swamp routes that are safe and they are even in our name (swamp = suo, Finland = SUOmi, though it’s just a coincidence AFAIK).
What I don’t like are the alcoholic stereotypes. I have grown to hate the overused pic of the shirtless guy waving our flag obviously drunk, that is often used to imply celebration. I also dislike the lazy swear words that everyone learns and overuses online. Great, you know ‘perkele’ and ‘vittu’, you are a genius language learner, yey /s. But do you know even what those words mean?
Also as has been discussed in this sub recently, it feels like some stuff is more commonly brought up online than among Finns themselves. Like the glorification of sisu or the epic sniper Häyhä. We don’t really emphasise them, though of course we appreciate them.
So to sum up, it depends. We Finns sometimes care overmuch what others think about us, but it’s nice that others are interested in how we live. Even if it’s just to make a youtube video of grimacingly trying out salmiakki for clicks.”
“They’re something anyone could remark about if you said you’re Finnish, and I personally prefer clear, humorous stereotypes to being completely unknown. It’s also a great feeling for most foreigners to be able to show that ”Hey, I know that place! (somewhat)”
It’s just a thing folk can say when they see something related to Finland and they recognize it. People want to belong and flaunt whatever, whenever on the internet, and showcasing the fact that they know stuff (even stereotypes or very simple surface level linguistics) about a relatively weird country to them is probably a really cool thing to showcase.
That’s why I personally don’t mind but I do see how people might be growing tired of it of course.”
“Each of the singular things gets really tiring after a while. The general ‘Look, these guys are weird’ also gets tiring after a bit of a longer while, after you have rotated through many enough of the singular cases, which also got tiring in a shorter while, as I said.
However, the laws of human behaviour and laws of media probably dictate that we’re stuck with this bullshit, so you just need to do your best to avoid it.
If it can be the catalyst of someone learning things they didn’t know about Finland, I mean learning those things properly and not some scandal-laden entertainment, that is definitely good, nonetheless. Same is true if someone gets genuinely interested in Finland because of that – such interest must not be shunned for extraneous reasons. What I’m saying is kind of like an ‘Accept good gifts given even for wrong reasons’ mindset.”
“Foreign media reports on Finland are usually very generous. I think from the Finnish side there’s someone feeding these stories to internationals news outlets. I’ve noticed that Finns are very very sensitive to perceived criticism of Finland – so as long as there is no critical content then Finns will be o.k with the stories”
I know that several things I’ve touched on this month – free buckets, 40 year old graffiti, the WWII solider on meth definitely end up in “Wacky Finland” type lists. However, I hope I’ve also been able to get a bit deeper than that superficial level this month.
It’s really interesting to hear from folks from Finland on how they navigate these kinds of questions, and a big thank you to everyone on the subreddit that answered!