Many experience French Polynesia differently.
All islands have something unique to offer.
And they all look different. Somehow.
I chose the old South Seas experience. The cultural and historical experiences.
The remnants of coconut planters, beach bums and missionaries.
And it’s still in my mind. I miss it.
I wonder what all the people met along the way are doing now.
Téké, Sandra, Violetta…
And among all the things I miss, here are 20 of them.
1- 50 shades of blue – more blueish colors than I could count. All different from one another, yet blending but setting themselves apart.
2- Banana everything – jam, raw, in a tart, on the markets, on the side of the roads, in gardens, in my bag, in my hand.
3- Laying down under coconut palm trees – looking up at the sky and diving into the blue surrounded by palm leaves.
4- Motu hopping – small islets trapped in bright turquoise waters ready to be explored and discovered.
5- Tahitian coconut milk ceviche – for lunch or dinner, with Chinese spices or Tahitian vanilla sauce. Memories of catching the fish with Téké who prepared the ceviche on the beach with all the ingredients he had brought in his cooler.
6- Dark skies and days – the darker the sky and horizon, the brighter the ocean and lagoon.
7- Maupiti and its wild untamed side. Renting bikes to go around the main island in less than 40 minutes.
8- Le lycée agricole de Moorea – discovering how pineapples grow, their pretty shapes and cosy nests, walking along shimmering lemon and lime trees, smelling the grapefruits hanging on thick branches.
9- Sunsets – their colors, brightness, shades of orange, purple and pink. They looked different on every island. The prettiest were on Raiatea looking over Bora Bora.
10- Colors on the table – orange fruit, white coconut milk, freshly caught colorful fish, yellow bananas and green ‘hulus – breadfruit – all displayed on tablecloths and napkins with traditional Tahitian colors.
11- Sailing on the Pacific with friends – life on a boat at sea, freshly baked bread made every morning by one of the “sailor”, fish, seafood, and quick stops at local markets on the coasts.
12- French Polynesians – meeting people along the many roads travelled. Being invited to dinner on Huahine by a local man walking his daughter back from the beach for dinner time. Vous avez faim ? Come have dinner with us, he said!
13- Les petits et les gros poissons – tiptoeing on long wooden decks stretching into the blue ocean to observe fish crawling under rocks in the transparent waters, catching the warm sun rays filtering through. Yellow, blue, purple, a colorful symphony of fish. Rays and baby sharks too, all happily playful with each other.
14- Tiaré flowers – smelling them every day walking down the road was a sweet sugary olfactory treat, which one can never forget. Creamy white. Easy to spot among the shrubs.
15- Les marchés – the produce, the variety of fruits, French, Chinese and Japanese influences in the food served from food trucks, the loud hubbub of French mixed with Tahitian, Marquesan and sometimes Chinese dialect, the vibrant smells tickling my nose and the incredible need to try to eat everything.
16- Vanilla beans – discovering those thick, plump, flat and moist beans compared to those that I know from Madagascar or Mexico. Surprisingly very sweet and fruity – strong in flavor. Fewer seeds to scrape but an easy vanilla paste to extract from the pods. Un délice !
17- Looking beyond the horizon – blue sky, blue ocean and a thin line between the two. Always wondering what’s beyond those seas, what’s across from me? And if you’re lucky, between Moorea and Tahiti, you can see whales rubbing elbows with boats as they pass by.
18- Maraes – a big hierarchy of Gods, stories and legends. The ancient temples (maraes) and their ruins still visible on some islands, those meeting places for elaborate religious ceremonies and the importance of the northwest corner of each island where it was believed that the souls of the departed would leave – the direction of Asia from whence the ancestors came from.
19- I won’t lie but sipping Tahitian Mai Tais on the beach is always an added bonus to any end of the day as the sun is ready to set.
20- Banana jam – and especially Sandra’s banana jam. Served for breakfast in a big oversized jar with a red lid. And after many questions, sneaky attempts to get the recipe, she remained tight lipped. A secret recipe kept secret.
And in honor of this trip and Sandra’s secret jam, this is what I’d like to share with you – my own version of a Tahitian banana and vanilla jam. It’s not Sandra’s, but it’s really close!
And with it a bit of French Polynesia remains in my fridge for grey and rainy winter mornings, or for an afternoon pick-me-up-treat after a long day.
Tahitian Banana and Vanilla Jam
the juice of 3 lemons
1.3lb (600 g) of bananas (about 5) – sliced
1/2 cup (100 g) of blonde cane sugar
1/2 cup (100 g) of brown sugar
1/2 cup (120 ml) of water
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
a dash of freshly grated nutmeg
2 vanilla beans – Tahitian beans if you can – split open with seeds scraped out
In a big bowl, combine the sliced bananas with the lemon juice so they don’t turn brown. Coat well.
In a big pot over medium high heat, pour the sugars and water together and stir to dissolve them. Mix well until combined but do not let the water boil.
Place the slices of bananas and any remaining lemon juice inside the bowl in the pot along with the cinnamon stick, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla seeds and the beans.
Cook for 15-20 min over medium low heat and mix often.
When the back of the mixing spoon is coated with banana jam, remove the pot from the heat and let it cool.
Keep in a jar with a tight lid in the fridge. I leave the cinnamon stick and the vanilla beans in the jam for added flavor.