Vanuatu: eating the Mamas’ food.

Locals eat at the Mama’s Market. Tables covered in colourful aged plastic in neat rows with simple benches. Strangers and friends sit together, wherever there is a space.

The Mamas cook in big pots over gas rings, with water from the roof collected in a tank. Boiled cabbage, island vegetables, taro, chunky beef or fish casseroles. Every meal with rice. 300 to 400 vatu ($3.60 to $5) leaves me well fed.

There seems to be a sense of community between the Mamas: women who work long, hot days away from their islands, some probably sleep here when their work is done.

I prefer to take lunch early, before the Mamas get busy. One or two may sit with me and cut up chillies in a warmly companionable fashion.

These hardworking women who feed me every weekday are unconvinced that ‘no pikinini, no man, tu puskat’ is a legitimate life choice. There is consensus that Peanut is a fine name for a puskat.

Leaves of pandanus trees have always been woven on these islands. Practical and beautiful objects are made with skill and care. I invest in an intricately made, and subtlety complex basket to take to work, and fill with market vegetables on my way home.

While eating, a Mama sits next to me, tells me with quiet pride and a broad smile that the basket was woven on her island. She tells me that she doesn’t go home often, because she cooks.

There will be the occasional group of young Mormon men in white short-sleeved shirts, black name badges and identical haircuts. They eat together and discuss their serious business quietly. I wonder what country they are from, I haven’t spoken to them, and they haven’t tried to save me.

Cruise ship visitors are in town every few days. Many enjoy looking at the colourful vegetables in the market under the same roof. Some passengers seem curious about the rows of locals eating big hot meals, and the Tasmanian in amongst it as she sweats impressively in conservative tropical office-wear. With her lovely basket.

IMG_4428sm marketsm foodsm bag