Top Shelf: by Chef Tim MacDonald
“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip, that started from this tropic port aboard this tiny ship. …”
Been upriver – as in up Federal Highway – to the Mai-Kai tiki bar recently? Well, I have been to the real deal.
While far up the coast in Papua New Guinea, an invitation is extended to attend a local village celebration. With the want to lose Goran, the 25kg suckling pig that’s been dead weight rolling around my freezer for months, we change course and power upriver.
Using the most excellent guide services of Ange, from Melanesian Yacht services in Cairns, the bridge is gapped between the village elders and the yacht. Goran is donated as a gift, and we are in like Flynn with the villagers.
A local cook prepares the feast and a pit is dug in the sand. A large pit fire is then lit with charcoal and stones. The suckling pig is placed in the pit, wrapped in a jacket of banana leaves and chicken wire. Many hours later, when the fire burns down to smoldering embers, the pig – which had been prepared with American-branded pork barbecue rub – is unveiled to the waiting guests.
Earlier in the day, not long after the yacht anchored off the village, the local children paddled up in handmade canoes, selling local pineapples, starfruit and limes that are wrapped in handmade, grass, Prada PNG-style handbags. A local fisherman also approached and, for a song, spiny lobsters were snapped up. All are simply prepared: lobsters par boiled and barbecued with a squeeze of lime; pineapples grilled in MacKay truck stop-style.
All is a perfect harmonious match by the time the pig comes out of its pit. Barbecue pineapple with lobster and lime, coconut water, the flesh of young coconut, tropical fruit, root vegetables cooked in a stone pit oven, and slow-cooked hog add up to a truly island experience. Not dissimilar to the New Zealand “hangi” that I enjoyed as a young Cub Scout in Australia. The pig falls apart when challenged.
Considering Australia’s proximity to the Maoris, Solomon Islanders, Fijians, Tongans and Samoans, this type of experience potentially could break the mold with charter guests wanting something off the beaten track.
All that’s missing is Mary Anne’s famous coconut pie.
Tim MacDonald (timothymacdonald.weebly.com) has more than 20 years experience as a chef. He was named Concours de Chefs winner for Yachts over 160 feet at the 2011 Antigua Charter Yacht Show. His recipes are designed for the owner and guests. Comments are welcome below.