The World On A Plate

   

Eating Sea Cucumber Guts in The Cook Islands

March20

Sadly I tried and failed at this one. In the Cook Islands you can eat sea cucumber, which are those weird black things which loll around on the sea floor. You simply pick them up from the bottom of the ocean, slice them open and pull out their soft yellow spaghetti like guts and munch away. Easy. Unfortunately, no-one told me quite how far out you needed to go to get hold of the ‘right’ sea cucumbers.

Sea Cucumber in the Cook Islands

On this particular mission me and fellow food explorer Katy Warburton set out to grab hold of one of what seemed to be many black soft sea cucumbers which lay all over the place. They’re strange things because the minute you pick them up they go kind of limp and mould themselves to the shape of your fingers. Then they squirt a jet of water at you with alarming accuracy. Having negotiated these perils we took our sea cucumber to a local lady who duly sliced it open with a big carving knife. There was blood and icky orange messy guts.

“This is not the right on” she tells us, wrinkling her nose in disgust. “It is too small.” And so we take back our butchered friend to drop back in the sea and trek out further to find bigger prey. It should be noted here that sea cucumbers honestly do recover from this treatment – really they do. You can slice them and gut them and drop them back and they heal up all ready to grow some new tasty guts. Unless you get the wrong one and then they just heal up wondering why you picked on them in the first place.

At around this point Katy got bitten by a trigger fish (karma), and we realised we weren’t going to be able to get far out enough without a boat. I’m all up for having another try, but on this occasion didn’t manage to get the sea creatures to spill their guts.

Drinking coconut beer at the Boy’s Club in Aitutaki

April11

The Cook Islands have a big drinking culture, but with most of the populace living out in the sticks they also have a unique take on the local pub.

The deal is that one skilled person devotes themselves to brewing up a liquor based on fermented coconut milk. This is them distributed in weekly or monthly sessions from a big wooden barrel to a close-knit group of local men – including, of course, the brewer himself. Depending on which part of the island you live on and your level of personal gourmanderie you can pick and choose your ‘pub’ on the basis of the skill of the coconut fermenter and/or the conviviality of the regulars. The one which I visited was a jolly mix of singers and musicians, one of which had ingeniously made a bass from a tea crate and string.

Me getting merry on palm wine - I'd just come back from cave swimming

You sit, chat and play music as a wooden cup is passed around. It keeps coming and you down it in one, so it’s a sharp learning curve for those without a stomach for alcohol. The brew itself isn’t bad – sweetish and a bit like mild tasting sherry. But after several cups my memories are a bit blurred. I do remember, however that we all had to stand up and introduce ourselves as newcomers – like an AA meeting in reverse. Brilliantly, however, despite the drinky drinky nature, the clubs also operate in the grey areas of law enforcement, as social transgressions such as wife-beating are met with a lifetime ban. Although with most clubs out in the jungle wilderness and every member participating, I would hazard a guess that drink driving doesn’t feature on the exclusion policy.

You have to ask the locals where the clubs are gathered, as they don’t exactly advertise for guests, but most can be found on the island of Aiktutaki.

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