Ethnobotanical foods of Micronesia

The SC/SS 115 Ethnobotany students presented plant based traditional foods of Micronesia. Vanessa and Julie Ann began with a presentation of mar - aged fermented breadfruit.
The breadfruit was aged for two years and was wonderful. Vanessa explained that the breadfruit is skinned and then put in water for two to three days. Afterwards, the breadfruit is put into a breadfruit leaf lined pit where the breadfruit ferments and then remains preserved for years at a time.

After retrieving the fermented breadfruit, the Pingalapese put the breadfruit in a cloth bag and immerse in water to rinse the mar. This step is omitted by Pohnpeians hence their mar having a stronger fermented flavor. Sometimes in the process of squeezing the bag is stood upon to fully expel the water.

The breadfruit is then kneaded until the dough becomes plastic. In times of lore, women would roll out their breadfruit into oblong masses that were significantly longer on one axis than on the other. In a contest situation, the masses would be flipped end-over-end. Most would apparently break in the process. The winner was the one whose kneaded breadfruit did not break. She was the "number one" woman on Pingelap.

Mar is then usually uhm baked. Mar provided a way to store breadfruit. This spread out the food provided by a short but bountiful breadfruit season. Mar also provided food after a typhoon wiped up other critical food supplies.The two year old mar had a wonderful creamy texture and a nice subtle tartness.

Lewis, Melinda, and Jackleen prepared Pohnpeian rohtamah from taro, certainly a favorite of mine. Grated taro is boiled and then coconut milk and sugar are pounded in. Rohtamah both tastes good and has a fun texture missing in so many other starch dishes on the planet.
Another crowd pleaser is pounded boiled bananas with coconut milk - uht sukusuk on Pohnpei. Anthony presented the dish which was made by Judyleen. Marla provided moral support. Anthony initially attempted to pass himself off as the chef, only to retract that when Judyleen provided corrections to his presentation. This provided an opportunity to discuss the gender shift from men as food gatherers and cookers (using the uhm) to women as food gatherers and preparers. Men were the cooks, now women tend to be in the lead in the kitchens of Micronesia.
Peter, Mylinda, and Syleen presented not one but two types of pounded dishes from Chuuk. Above is konun puna, pounded taro. Below is konun mai, pounded breadfruit. The patterns on top are traditional presentation of kon.

Within the main lagoon of Chuuk, men pound the breadfruit. Out in the Mortlocks, however, the women pound the breadfruit. The wood slab on which the breadfruit is pounded is called a nif. A pwin is used to peel the breadfruit, a po or pwo is used to pound the breadfruit.

Rather than present a dish per se, Elvira tackled the social structures surrounding food production and consumption on Yap proper. Land belongs high caste Yapese who live in three of the main villages on Yap proper. The high caste Yapese marry endogamously with respect to caste. Low caste Yapese from Yap proper have places that they are allowed to farm. High caste Yapese have other places that they farm. Each farms their own lands.

The low caste Yapese can contribute food to the high caste, but this practice is usually only in regards a particularly large fish or other uniquely special food item. The high caste Yapese farm their own lands and prepare their own food, as do the low caste on their land.

High caste and low caste cannot share a dish of food. This is rather different from Pohnpei where high titles and low titles can share a common ngarangar of sakau.

Mallone provided an entertaining, slightly irreverent, albeit a tad protracted description of mwehl en uht that was apparently actually prepared by Himena.
Juanita also presented uht sukusuk.
Hertin, Mae, Ceasar, and Arnold presented lihli. When breadfruit is cooked in an open fire, barbecued so to speak, it is called mahi inihn in Pohnpeian. Mahi inihn is used to produce lihli. Pounded and covered with coconut milk.

Mai uhm is breadfruit cooked in an uhm, mai sukusuk is pounded breadfruit that was boiled. Lihli is never cut with a knife. Only with a clean finger. A knife would also cut the banana leaf. Use of a blunt finger ensures the banana leaf remains intact.
Jasmine brought in a particularly rare and special treat, the Chamorro dish tininung piringena, also known as barbecue eggplant. On Pohnpei this is apparently known by the Japanese name "nasupi," although I have never previously seen the dish in my eighteen years on island.

Jasmine noted that tininung piringena goes for $3.99 for two eggplants up in the Marianas. That puts the above platter at over twenty-five dollars retail. The eggplant is barbecued until it just starts to burn slightly. Then the burned bits are removed. A sauce made of raw onions, lemon, salt, and soy sauce is poured over the eggplant, followed by coconut milk.
I ate my way through three of the eggplants myself. Jasmine noted that this was her first time to learn how to make the dish herself, although the recipe is in her family. Thus the class has provided an opportunity for a special dish to passed on to another generation in her family.

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