Vanuatu is one of those rare places these days that hasn’t been completely taken over by the tourism industry. The locals have retained their traditional way of life, something that I will never forget seeing on our family holiday.
After a risky drive through the capital, our family of 4 headed to Port Vila’s main market with thousands of Vatu in our hands. (1000VT = about $10 NZD). This market is hard to miss even for the most foreign of people as it is right on the waterfront, perfectly located for the Melanesian women to purchase their weeks’ worth of fresh produce.
It’s all about carbs on carbs here as starchy vegetables such as taro, kumara and yam (not the one we think of) are a staple part of the local diet with imported rice and canned food added.
According to Unicef, 20% of children are deprived of food and you only need to go walking near some rockpools to see that the land has been stripped of most of its natural resources. We saw some children in bare feet walking along the sharp coral who were sent to find lunch only to return with a mere few cockles.
You couldn’t help but feel guilty that we were going back to tuna sandwiches for lunch!
Despite most of the population living in severe poverty, Vanuatu is well known as one of the happiest places on Earth. Whether the locals were selling food, driving taxis or just walking down the road, they were the friendliest people I have ever met and left you in a massive grin.
The fruit and vege markets scattered throughout Vanuatu and are completely different to the typical bustling Asian markets full of haggling old women trying to rip you off. In Vanuatu, it is so far removed from this image to the extent that you have to get the stallholders attention to buy something as they are just sitting down minding their own business!
Laid out on a long stall was Laplap, Vanuatu’s national dish, which is basically a dough from ground up starchy vegetables. This is then wrapped up in banana leaves to be cooked in coconut milk using an underground oven. It is sometimes served with a small amount of meat.
At the back of the market, there were food stalls where the locals (and adventurous tourists) sat down to eat a meal of rice, sauce and either meat or fish for only 3500VT ($3.50 NZD). We left with some winning purchases including a bag of passion fruits for $2 NZD and few bunches of bok choy for $1.50 NZD.
Because of Vanuatu’s French settlement, there were still some pockets of French influence such as a supermarché with all imported French products. Hello French cheese and pastries! Dinner that night was fresh fish poached in coconut milk with a side of steamed bok choy and kumara mashed in coconut milk. When in Rome right?!