Sunday, March 4, 2012

Going Bananas

Living in this country wears away at edges of your life and perspective, softening and molding a person to better fit into the pattern of existence in Papua New Guinea. POC is the place where many of the students begin to discover this… and in ways they didn’t expect, some of which may seem rather crazy.

Take, for example, breakfast. Have you ever noticed how typical American breakfasts consist of a combination of eggs, meat, cheese, or box cereal? Well, they do. But, if you chose to eat those four ingredients with any regularity for this morning meal, you would soon find your other meals could only consist of Maggi Noodles (the equivalent of Ramen) in order to balance your budget. (In fact, whenever I’m offered any of these four items as the main entrĂ©e, I feel like a royal guest!)

So, we have to look at other options. Homemade granola is super tasty—except most recipes use oats, which happen to be in short supply in this country currently (we run out of ingredients regularly here…). Even such gargantuan resources as aren’t particularly creative in coming up with oat-substitutes that are actually accessible here (they are either extremely exotic grains, like flax or wheat germ, or they posit outlandish ideas such as “grind up 15 cups of almonds” or “include sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and other nuts for a healthy, nut-filled base.” Yeah right. At that expense rate you’d practically be eating diamonds for breakfast.)

Making yogurt is also good idea—until you realize that it uses a lot of milk powder, which is also currently not available in this country. So what do we actually have that doesn’t break the bank? Flour, for one. So, we make things from scratch like muffins and French toast and waffles and pancakes and biscuits and bagels and variations on rice pudding and cream of wheat and grape nuts and bread soufflĂ© or kropsu (an oven pancake). Yes, flour is a great staple…but more than flour, my breakfast diet is often revolves around one lowly ingredient.

See the bananas? They grow everywhere here.
The banana.

The banana is a staple of PNG life—and the country is home to dozens and dozens and dozens of different kinds, each with their own slight variation on taste (all of which are far better than the imported brand common to the snow-bound state of Minnesota). They are divided into two categories: banana kuk (cooking bananas or plantains) and banana mau (eating bananas). Both are extremely tasty in their own way, and our current overflowing abundance of bananas has led my housemate and I to do some breakfast experiments.…

We mash them and freeze them and chop them and dice them and blend them and liquefy them and carry them on hikes and feed them to babies. They come in green and yellow and white and red and black, ranging in length from your little finger to your forearm, and the bunches can be taller than a child. We stand in the kitchen and scratch our heads and try to make banana cobblers and banana spread and bananas rolled in peanut butter and bananas in smoothies and roasted bananas and baked bananas and fried bananas and banana fritters and banana crisp and banana bread and banana muffins and banana cake… and then, for some variation, we cut up a papaya or a mango or a pineapple and add it to our fruit mixture…but always with a base of bananas.

Yes, some things are slightly crazy here. But then, it’s rather acceptable to just go bananas.