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Food In Papua New Guinea

Food in Papua New Guinea is funny.  On one hand, many kinds of fruits and vegetables are plentiful.  Bananas, pineapples, papaya, lemons, white and orange sweet potato, cassava (yucca), taro, cabbage, broccoli, chili peppers, and some greens are all grown on the campus, such that we don’t have to buy them.  People just knock on our door and give them to us, we go and pick them, or we ask the grounds workers for some.

Annie enjoys one of her favorites: passionfruit

Annie enjoys one of her favorites: passionfruit

Just down the road is the village of Wara Kar, with a small market area and a few one-room shops. Spread out on a piece of cloth or sacking are string onions, raw peanuts, and avocados. Anastasia and I went there today and bought 2 avocados for 60 toea (~30 cents), while a street preacher played Johnny Cash gospel songs.

About 5 kilometers away is the town of Banz, with a much larger market area. Carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, passion fruit, peppers, green beans, coconuts, garlic, ginger, oranges, Irish potatoes, and English peas are all sold there.  Some of the prices are quite cheap – seven or eight passion fruit for one kina (~50 cents), five tomatoes for two kina (~$1).  The vendors have a tendency to give Annie things for free – like a cucumber or a handful of peanuts or a bag of oranges.  Public vans (called PMVs, essentially matatus) depart either way every few minutes.

About an hour away is the third largest city in PNG, Mt. Hagen. They have a huge market (Lonely Planet recommends it in their guidebook!) where I went shopping with some nuns about a month ago (I recommend it as a way to avoid pickpockets.) There, in addition to everything already mentioned, but at slightly better prices, are zucchini and eggplant.

Prepared food is more expensive and harder to get.  In Wara Kar, the stores sell essential dry goods: cooking oil, crackers (often flavored with beef or chicken bouillon), ramen noodles, matches, bullion cubes, tinned fish, rice, and a few fried takeaway foods- we tried something that looked like a corn dog once to find that it had 4 times as much batter and ¼ as much sausage as we were expecting.

In Banz, there are several grocery stores, all essentially selling the same things, since there is little brand diversity in PNG:  powered milk, white flour, tea, instant coffee, cordial mix (Kool-aid  liquid concentrate), Milo (a malt/chocolate power), Coca cola, canned corned beef, peanut butter and jelly. There are also a few bakeries in Banz. Large rolls, known as scones, are very popular- I see people walking away with wheelbarrows full, or pulling out of parking lots with their truckbeds stuffed.

A little farther out is the Christian Leadership Training College, a protestant school that features agricultural training as well as degrees in theology and marriage and family. They have a store selling their own beef, chicken, and eggs, plus PNG-made sausage, as well as dry goods like whole wheat flour and Danish spam.

At the best-stocked grocery store in Mt. Hagen, Best Buy, you can buy cheese, margarine, UHT milk, dry beans, oatmeal, raisins, pasta, local coffee beans, a few spices other than curry powder, and some expatriate foods — if you feel like paying 16 kina for the luxury of eating dry cereal.

Meat and protein sources are generally scarce.  People seem to mostly eat tinned fish or meat from the coast or from Australia, (There is also canned smoked goose in soy sauce. Surprisingly versatile!) There is almost no local fish.  Meat is mostly confined to chicken, or the mysteriously named “lamb flaps,” with pork being served at special occasions.  Dried beans are absurdly expensive – at least 13 kina a pound – and there is almost no corn. We were used to using beans and cheese as our cheap protein, but it’s the opposite here!

So what do we eat?  We normally have muffins for breakfast – they’re an easy way to get rid of overly ripe fruit.  We snack on fruits.  Lunch is often sandwiches – peanut butter and jelly or tuna – or rice and vegetable stir fry.  Dinner we often have soups, curries, or pot pie/shepherd’s pie.  We eat greens in peanut sauce about once a week.   Anastasia loves having all the bananas she could ask for, and has become quite attached to her breakfast Milo.

Finally, I recommend the Wycliffe cookbook, especially to my friends headed abroad. Their banana bread recipe has become, literally, our daily bread.

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