I have two passions in my life…food and travel. I am willing to try just about any kind of food. My attitude is, if I don’t like it I don’t have to eat it again. I have had friends over the years who took a different view.
I remember having dinner in South Florida with a guy I’d dated for years. We were in a restaurant, considering the dessert menu. I have quite a sweet tooth and when I saw cheesecake, I was sold. I asked if he wanted to share a piece. When he said he didn’t like cheesecake I was shocked. Who could not like the creamy goodness of cheesecake?
Then he confessed that he’d never tried it but just knew he wouldn’t like it. He said he liked cake. And he liked cheese but he just couldn’t imagine eating them together. I think he envisioned something like a slice of apple pie and a chunk of cheddar, with cake replacing the pie.
We ordered the cheesecake and I bullied him into tasting it. It was love at first bite. “See? “ I scolded. “You’ve spent over 50 years without the joy of cheesecake in your life, just because you didn’t want to try something new.”
Tonight I got a taste treat. I’ve had breadfruit before. When you live with a family in Samoa, you get many, many chances to eat breadfruit. I’ve had it sliced thin and fried like potato chips. I’ve had it boiled and then mixed with coconut cream. I’ve had it baked in the umu. I really like breadfruit.
But today was different. First, because I helped my sisters pick the breadfruit. That’s a boys job, but there were no boys available. When I offered to help, the girls laughed until I took the very long stick with a notch at one end and used it to reach up, capture the stem of the ulu in the notch and twist until the ulu fell to the ground. I confessed that Tino, the boy next door taught me and it wasn't my first time ulu picking.
They were using a special kind of ulu to make ulu tuno. First a sort-of-like an umu is made. The fire is made, the rocks are heated and the breadfruit is placed in the rocks to cook. But instead of putting out the flames with leaves, the fire keeps burning, darkening the unpeeled breadfruit.
Next, some brave soul with asbestos hands has to peel the steaming hot ulu. As the ulu is peeled, it is placed between ulu leaves and pressed. Then it is ready to eat. I tried and piece and declared it the best ulu I’ve ever eaten.
But it wasn’t done. A few minutes later, after I’d gone back to my house, my sister came to the door with the leaf-wrapped breadfruit and a cup of fresh coconut cream. The ulu, when dipped in the cream is rich and almost buttery. It is delicious.
And to think I’ve gone almost 62 years without enjoying it…