(98) São Tomé and Príncipe – Matata

Pico Cão Grande. Source: elevation.maplogs.com

Here we are with yet another African Island country, São Tomé and Príncipe. This nation made up of two islands, two atolls that’s found in the Gulf of Guinea near the equator along a volcanic chain. It was another country that was uninhabited until Portuguese explorers discovered it in the 15th century. The main crop of the country is cocoa and at one time of the world’s biggest producer. You can rest easy if you explore the rainforests of the island- the most predatory creature is a mosquito!

Cuisine of São Tomé and Príncipe include seafood and local crops such as bananas, plantains, pineapple, maize, and avocado. Coffee is frequently used not only as a wake me up drink but a seasoning for meals! The main influences of their cuisine is Portuguese and African. For São Tomé and Príncipe I found a recipe called “matata” which is a seafood dish with recipe that involves vegetables and clams cooking in port wine. This dish is also popular in Mozambique. You can find the recipe I used here.

I have to admit the aromas were not desirable compared to past dishes- definitely a strong seafood odor. If I had fresh clams I wonder if the experience would be any different. Prep and cooking was easy, not time consuming at all. I couldn’t buy pumpkin leaves so I substituted spinach.

It was better than what we were expecting- man was it smelly! The flavor was relatively bland, however the flavor of the wine came through. The peanuts did help the texture and surprisingly worked well with the rest of the dish giving an extra dose of saltiness. We weren’t super into it which warranted a rating of 4/10. Side note I am aware the plating is not the greatest- Ian let me know about it after the fact 😅

(79) Cooks Islands – Moana-Roa Mahi Mahi

Mitiaro Cave of Rarotonga Island. Source: Pinterest

Hello fellow foodies, today we are at the Cooks Islands, a group of 15 islands in the South Pacific. You can find these scattered islands below Tahiti and close to New Zealand. Rarotonga is the capital island and most populated with approximately 13k inhabitants. This country was named after the exploring Captain James Hook, however he never visited the islands. Known for its tropical beauty the islands are not overdone with fancy resorts and flashy lights- actually no stop lights either! You can explore the limestone caves, pristine sandy beaches and underwater scuba excursions. The Cooks Islands is a top producer of the black pearl- a very scientific and precise process of inseminating oysters with sphere like shells. Over time the oyster will avoid the foreign object ultimately coating shell to make a black pearl over a few years time.

The Cooks Islands pride themselves of clean waters and immaculate seafood which their cuisine is filled with. Coconut and other native fruits are commonly eaten as well. All other foods are imported from their neighbor New Zealand. Today to honor the Cooks Islands I made Moana-Roa Mahi Mahi with a side of beats and salad (my easy way out of not making a potato salad). This traditional island fare includes taro leaves, green bananas, coconut cream, ginger, taro root, and more to accompany the fish. If you want to experience the real deal try this dish.

Once again there was no mahi mahi at my local store so I used tuna steaks instead! I also could not get taro roots or leaves so I substituted potatoes and spinach. This was definitely a new for us since we can never prepared or eaten bananas in a savory fashion before. I think this was easy enough to make just difficult to get my hands on all the right ingredients!

We thought the Cooks Islands brought unique flavors to the table. The bananas and fish may sound super strange, but the combination was actually pretty good. The cooked bananas didn’t lose their flavor and tasted like the uncooked fruit. It was surprisingly pleasant, but didn’t blow us away. We rated it 6.5/10.

Before traveling to ITALY we will be making a pit stop in Puerto Rico! Stay tuned!!

(32) Vanuatu – Coconut Sweet Potato Soup with Spicy Shrimp

Port Vila, Vanuatu. Source: SPREP.org

Welcome back! Today we are in the tropical Vanuatu, a country made up of 83 islands in the South Pacific Ocean near Australia. Bungee jumping was first done here when brave boys and men would jump from 20-30m (60-90ft) with vines tied to their ankles off wooden towers as part of a ritual called Nanggol. I think I’ll pass on that one!

The Vanuatuan cuisine consists main ingredients such as mangos, bananas, taro, yam, coconut, and seafood. You can find chickens and pigs used as a meat source, however seafood is primarily used. With that being said today’s dish screams Vanuatu!

I ended up finding a wonderful recipe that consisted of seasoned shrimp on top of a shredded spinach which sits in a sweet potato and coconut soup, yum yum!

Their national dish lap lap did not seem possible for me to attempt which is the product of pounded taro root paste which is layered with cabbage and meat wrapped in a banana leaf.. something tells me this would only taste good if eating it local.

All in all we appreciated the sweetness from the coconut and sweet potato and slight kick of chili powder (did not have cayenne). The shrimp was seasoned perfectly and had a bit of a crunch to it. The additional of spinach brought a freshness to the dish. We ended up rating it 7.25/10!