The topic of this post is fish and food. I am going to write about food while showing you pictures of fish. The fish pictures are all taken in waters surrounding Tahiti at some of our favorite snorkeling spots.
One thing that is very true for both Cindy and me is, we’ve always eaten well. We both love to cook and in our landlubber days hosted more dinner parties than I can remember. I’m not sure I’d classify ourselves are foodies but we’re probably close. We are not the types of foodies who like to dine at fancy and expensive restaurants. Nope, that is certainly not our style. But, we like to cook and appreciate a darn good meal. Perhaps we are foodie lites.
When we moved onto Cream Puff to live full time, the appreciation of good food came with us. It is a little bit more challenging now with limited burners, a small oven, and lack of counter-top space. But regardless, we make do. A little while ago, we swapped out our microwave for a convection toaster oven. I can count on one hand the number of times we used the microwave. I detest food cooked in the microwave. The only exception is popcorn. Having the toaster oven has given us the ability to expand our menu including things like lasagna, pizza, roasted potatoes, cakes, garlic bread, etc.
You are probably wondering why we can’t cook these things in the propane “marine” oven that is a part of our stove. Well, we can. But, not very well. You see, marine ovens are basically large chunks of stainless steel crap. They are either on or off. There is very little temperature control. The heat is uneven. But because they are “marine” ovens, they cost ten times more than a household appliance model. Yes, there are some “marine” models that have good ovens, but for these you must pay twenty times more than the household appliance. Or, you can do what we did and buy a nice convection toaster oven.
Because we like to eat well, we are also very good at food shopping. And, this brings me to my point for this post: provisioning.
The first thing I have to do here is give Cindy all the credit. She is the provisioning queen. I promise, I am not going to go on and on about how to buy groceries. Instead, I thought I’d share some of the lighter sides of the challenges we have.
We were recently asked by a sailing group to which we belong to be a part of a discussion panel zoom thingamajig to talk about provisioning. The meeting was streamed live to the audience and was also recorded for people to watch later. This presented a bit of a challenge for the provisioning queen. She really knows her stuff when it comes to meal planning and storing food. But, she is shy and hates to talk in front of groups. I was surprised when she agreed to do it. I offered to sit in for moral support.
One of the things Cindy does is she keeps a spread sheet. All the accountants and analysts reading this just said, “Hell yeah, baby! Thatta girl!” If you would like to know how many packages or flour tortillas or pork & beans we eat in a year, Cindy can tell you the exact number. Because of this spreadsheet, Cindy knows exactly what to buy for a month, two months, or even six months when we are loading up the boat with food. Her spreadsheet also tells her when we are low on stuff and need to go grocery shopping. Yes, I know. Normal people look in the pantry and when they see some items are gone or low they shop. Boat life is far from normal. We have food stashed in nooks and crannies all over the boat. We have no way of really knowing when we are low of food unless we use the proven canned ham method.
What is the proven canned ham method, you ask? From a blog post a couple of years ago:
I asked Cindy how long she thought we could stay in the San Blas. Her rather unusual answer was, until the canned ham is gone. Believe it or not, I understood this answer. Let me explain why. In Puerto Rico a couple of years ago we provisioned the boat at Costco for our journey down the Caribbean Islands. Keeping fresh meat on a boat is difficult. Our freezer space is limited. Often times the meat on some islands can be questionable. We toyed with the idea of buying some canned meats based on an article I read about how far canned meats had advanced regarding improved taste. Now I think about it, the article was probably propaganda written by Hormel Foods, the makers of Spam. Not being at the point where we were willing to try Spam, we opted for some canned ham. Being at Costco we knew two things would be true. It would be good quality and we’d have to purchase a multi-pack. It was in fact sold in a three-pack. The picture on the label made the ham look delicious. It wasn’t. After trying one can, the others two cans were tossed to the back of the pantry for a day in the distant future when we found ourselves desperate for food. I had forgotten all about the canned ham. We reluctantly ate it the day before we departed. It was all we had.
Sometimes when we shop, we need to be very careful about what it is we are buying. This is especially true in countries whose main language is something other than English. For instance, good luck buying canned mushrooms in French-speaking countries. The picture on the can shows perfectly beautiful whole mushrooms regardless of whether they are whole, slices, and include stems or not. Opening the can is always an adventure.
In Central America, most of the canned food is imported from Mexico. Mexico does a better job than France with the label pictures. Some of the French brands have no pictures at all. They have these beautiful classy-looking beige cans so elegant it makes me think I am missing out on something wonderful. I have no idea what this particular brand sells. And, it’s a pretty good size section in the grocery store. So, I am assuming a lot of people buy these pictureless cans. I have even stood in front of a section typing into Google Translate. Not once has anything translated. I’m at a complete loss. I guess I could just buy something, open it, and try to see what’s inside the can. But, this is where I remind you the French eat things like frog’s legs, goose liver, and snails. My guess is, regardless of what is in the can it is going to taste like chicken. And, will never be as bad as the canned ham.
Pictures are important. Think about buying something as simple as canned green beans. Okay, you find the canned vegetable aisle – that’s pretty easy. Then you find the green beans. Okay, that’s also pretty easy. But, which brand do you buy? American brands are always more expensive as they are imported and this is assuming there are some. There are the lesser-priced store brands but, are they as good. And then there are the couple of brands we don’t recognize at all. So, how do we decide? Whichever one has the best-looking green bean picture. That’s how!
The same can be said for soaps, deodorants, detergents, shampoos, cookies, and so forth. We use all of our senses to make a purchase. There is touch, sight, and smell at the store and taste when we get back to the boat. Okay, maybe we don’t use our ears. Eventually, after a few trials and errors, we will find brands we like. Then, we move to another country and the whole process starts all over again.
Sometimes you take what you can get. Gone are the days where we go to a grocery store and expect to find and buy everything on our list. In most countries, shopping is hit or miss. We recently talked to some friends in the USA who have been frustrated with food items not in stock on their shelves as a part of the current supply chain issue. We have little empathy. Welcome to our world. Our mindset going into a store is to see what they have and then try to make meals out of the stuff we can buy rather than a list of items needed for a recipe.
When we provision for the longer trips we usually rent a car. This serves two purposes. First, we don’t have to lug everything back to the boat on a bus, taxi, or dinghy. Secondly, most of our experience provisioning requires us to visit multiple stores. I am not making this next part up – I promise. During on of our last shopping trips we were buying for about a month. We visited four grocery stores near us and managed to get about 98% of the items on our list. A very good day of shopping. However, there was something that was a “must have” and it was sold out everywhere: flour tortillas. If you know me, you know my love of tacos, especially breakfast tacos. There was no chance in hell the rental car was being returned without finding flour tortillas first.
We know of a large grocery store on the other side of the island. It is about an hour and a half away. An hour and a half of driving on Tahiti is a really really really long way. This is like Elvis taking his plane for the PB&J+bacon sandwich. We called a couple of friends and asked them if they wanted to ride to the other side of the island for lunch – we may not have mentioned the real purpose was to get tortillas. They were game. The road trip is on. We enjoyed a fabulous lunch at one of our favorite restaurants. Then, “Oh, buy the way we need to stop at the grocery store here”.
Bingo! We landed the flour tortillas and a catastrophic culinary event was avoided. In all honesty we have a tortilla press and can make our own tortillas but driving to the other side of a beautiful island with friends for a day is a lot more fun.
Another nice thing about renting a car is we can take some time to smell the roses and perhaps make a side trip between stops. We are currently getting ready to leave Tahiti and we are stocking up on groceries. This past week we went to Belvédère de Taravao. It’s an area up on a mountain on the lower side of Tahiti with a few picnic tables. From these tables is perhaps one of the best views in the entire world. It is absolutely stunning. We sat with our picnic lunch for about 3 hours and thanked our lucky stars we can enjoy this. After mellowing out in the cooler temperatures, we came back down and continued our shopping. I have to say, moments like being up that mountain and taking in the view are really what makes this lifestyle addictive.
Prices are comical. Sometimes in a good way and other times not so much. In Colombia, we purchased food and were amazed how cheap everything was. I recall buying large rib-eye steaks for about US$2 each. They tasted like shoe leather – but hey – they were cheap. In Panama, we purchased watermelon from the farmers on the side of the road for US$2. And, fresh pineapples were US$1 each. This is the good side of comical.
Recently, I stood in the store laughing. A fresh head of iceberg lettuce – well almost fresh – it had some brown spots – only US$11 each. Yes, you read that correctly – $11! The part I think is funny is that a buyer somewhere for this grocery chain thought this was a good idea to have this flown in and stocked on the shelf. Perhaps this is part of a secret experiment to find out what the absolute highest price a person will pay for a head of iceberg lettuce. Across the aisle, a head of locally grown lettuce was US$3 each. No doubt as the iceburg lettuce browns some more and becomes soggy, it’ll be put on sale for $7.
I think I might have mentioned once before on this blog about the sticker shock I experienced on a pint of strawberries. I don’t remember the exact price that knocked me back on my heels but, it was somewhere in the US$20 range per pint. Yikes! Needless to say, they don’t exactly fly off the shelves. If you lived on Tahiti what would you buy, eight strawberries or two tons of bananas for the same price? Okay, maybe two tons of bananas might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. Iceberg lettuce and strawberries are not a part of our current diet. We need to move to another country before we eat these items again.
When you see an “on special” sign on any particular item this is warning to check the expiration date. We learned this the hard way with Oreos. Incidentally, Oreos and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes are about the only two American foods we find are sold globally. We noticed a big display of Oreos – excitement!
Back on the boat later that night, we’re watching a movie on Netflix. A cold glass of milk and some Oreos seemed like a great way to make the movie we were watching more tolerable. A bigger disappointment than the movie, the cookies were stale. Cindy looked at the expiration date. They expired a couple of months ago. We’ve learned that “special” means, about to go bad or already expired.
If you are from the USA you need to get used to items not being refrigerated. I think I have already posted before on here about eggs. In the USA, there are white eggs and brown eggs that come in all different sizes available from the refrigeration section of the store. Not so much outside of the US. There are eggs. They are typically not sorted by color or size. Just eggs. In most countries we’ve visited, eggs are sold at room temperature. This might come as a shock to Americans but the truth is, so long as eggs are not refrigerated from the start they will last just as long at room temperature. Once refrigerated, they must stay refrigerated. So why refrigerate them to begin with? Good question.
We have seen meat being sold from butcher’s markets without refrigeration. If it is fresh, it doesn’t need to be sold cold. I may have lost a few of you with this one. Wah do ya mean warm beef for sale? Yuck! We once walked to a meat market with some friends in Grenada. They sold “fresh” meat. We opted not to buy anything. It wasn’t because the meat was fresh and warm, it was because the conditions were filthy. The husband of the couple we went with purchased some pork. Cindy quietly told the wife we have plenty of stomach meds should they need them.
In all honesty, the market was packed as many of the locals were purchasing meat as it was much cheaper than the grocery store. We may have lived to tell the tale but the smell and the flies suggested otherwise. You see, this lifestyle goes much deeper than rum drinks at sunset.
The same is true with fish. I don’t think there is a place in the world that sells fresher fish than the Panama City Fish Market. The fishermen unload at the dock just outside the market. We see fishermen all over the world selling their catches at makeshift roadside stands. We’ve learned this is where to buy fish if you want the freshest catch. Once in Martinique, we happened to be driving past a stand when we notice a fisherman hanging up a massive tuna. We stopped and he cut us off a fabulous fillet.
Fishing for food was a question that came up on the zoom panel. It made me laugh a little bit. If our existence was dependent on fish we caught to eat, we’d die. If there were awards for catching seaweed, I’d be the world champion. We do try to fish but as another member of the panel quipped, one of the steps of successful fishing is putting the lure into the water.
When on long passages, most of the time one of us is sleeping. Of the 24 hours in a day, there are really only 8 hours when we are both up. Subtracting for a meal together, showers, and perhaps an ad hoc repair this might leave about 4 hours for fishing. It takes two of us to land a fish onto the boat. If we need to slow down to reel it in, we have to reduce the sails. Because of this, we tend to be very slow about putting the lure into the water. Unless the fish is suicidal, chances are we’re not eating it.
A question that was asked of us was, do we miss items from or homeland and how do we compensate or get goodies we enjoy. Cindy had the perfect answer for this. She talked about the lifestyle including new things. Trying new things is a huge part of our adventure. I’ll give you a couple of examples.
I am not very keen on potato chips (crisps for the Brits reading this). In the US, I struggle with deli’s that served potato chips as a side to sandwiches without other choices. However, here in French Polynesia I discovered a flavor and brand of chips I love. It was probably the color or the picture on the label that made them look so delicious begging me to buy them. They are kettle style balsamic vinegar and onion flavor. They are like heroin to me. Once I open the bag, I will not stop eating them until their all gone. When we leave French Polynesia I will have to go to rehab.
In Puerto Rico, it was strawberry milk. I am not a fan of most things chocolate. And since in the US chocolate milk is everywhere and other flavors are rarities, I basically gave up drinking flavored milk. Then we arrived in Puerto Rico where on a whim I purchased some strawberry milk. It was awesome.
I explained to Cindy how as a young kid I’ve always loved strawberry milk. When I was a little boy waiting for the bus to get home from town, I sat on the bench enjoying cold strawberry milk. At our local bus station there was a milk vending machine. The flavor of this particular milk was so good it has burned a sensation in my brain that I can still trigger the smell and taste. Again, kinda like heroin. I have never found any milk as good. That is until we arrived in PR.
The strawberry milk happiness was hit and miss throughout the Caribbean Islands. None were ever as good as the PR milk but a few were close. We had some success in the ABCs, it was hit and miss in Colombia. In Panama it was Nestles Quick brand – kinda nasty but okay for a quick fix to avoid detox. And now, alas, I am clean of strawberry milk. There is none to be found.
We discovered lemonada in Colombia. When first arriving at a restaurant we were always offered lemonada. Each restaurant proudly serves their own ice-cold concoction of a lemonade style drink. In the ABCs, Colombia and Panama we enjoyed fantastic arepas. Most recently, we tried raw tuna “cooked” with lime juice and coconut milk – to die for. So do we miss the foods from home? Yeah! We do. But to be honest, there is usually something locally that has our attention.
Sometimes as I look back on our adventures, I get nostalgic about a bakery or restaurant. Like the bakery in PR just outside the marina that made incredible donuts. I’m talking heroin laced donuts. Once you try one, it’s all over. You’re gonna get fat. Yeah we miss the food from home, but where is home now. We’ve been doing this for over 7 years and really have no idea where we’ll land when we’re done. So the real answer should be, Cream Puff is our home and we can make most anything we set our minds to. What we don’t know is what fabulous tasting delicacy awaits us over the horizon. I’m sure whatever we find will replace any cravings for stuff we miss.
A short video of what it is like to snorkel Tahiti. (If you do not see the video below, click here)