Food shopping on Tarawa in 1995

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I used to live on Tarawa, a remote coral atoll in the middle of the Pacific and the  capital of the Republic of Kiribati – and where my debut crime thriller, Food of Ghosts, is set. I asked if you could guess the kind of things I missed  while living on Tarawa. Well, one of the biggest things I  missed was fresh fruit and vegetables.  The main local food on the island was fish, coconuts, taro and bananas. Almost everything else had to be imported, usually from China. This included tinned lamb flaps, packet noodles, packet soups, frozen chickens and tinned dried milk. However, every six weeks or so a ship would arrive from Australia bringing supplies of fresh fruit and veg. When this happened it was a bit like Christmas for the foreign workers on the atoll. The You Tube clip is of a shopping trip from my time there – it’s taken before and after a ship arrives. Do let me know if it gives you an impression of what it was like 🙂

Have you lived anywhere, where food was an issue? Have ever lived on Tarawa or live on Tarawa now? What was/is your food shopping experience? Do you know what the food situation is like now? Better or worse?


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12 Responses to Food shopping on Tarawa in 1995

  1. john gray says:

    Hello Marianne
    I’m really enjoying following your blog. Loved the you tube clip! Did people get upset if somebody bought more than their fair share of fruit and vegetable. I can imagine arriving late at the shop and finding nothing on the shelves and everybody at the till with boxes full of fresh produce. I would be a little upset!

    • Marianne Wheelaghan says:

      Thanks for kind words about the blog, John. Yes, there could be tension and words said, if someone arrived late and missed out on some of the goodies (like the strawberries, tomatoes, cheese and even Cadbury’s chocolate!). For a while it became a bit of a thing among some women to see who could cook the best meal with the ingredients available. In fact, it became so competitive that one woman cheated and had her husband sneak her fresh ingredients in the “diplomatic bag!” Ha ha! ;o)

  2. Wendy says:

    Yes, it does give a really good feel for it. What on earth are tinned lamb flaps!!

  3. When I was in Tarawa 15 years a ago I filmed an interview with a German (?) who was working for the UN trying to encourage the locals to grow green veg. He was making some progress and there were a few locally grown greens for sale in the market. But the fundamental problem was that the Tarawans had no tradition of eating or growing green veg, and he was fighting an uphill battle!

    • Marianne Wheelaghan says:

      When we lived on Tarawa there was the agricultural nursery place (possibly funded by the UN?) – I can’t remember the name of it now, but it was near or close to Bikenibeu, – where a certain Arthur Webb (and others) grew various veggies and fruit (I remember lemons and passion fruits clearly, it was like an oasis of green). They then sold the easiest-to-grow-on-Tarawa plants at a subsidised rate to locals, and explained how to look after them etc. It was a whole programme, I think. Another group was also involved …can’t remember its name now – Foundation of The South Pacific possibly? Anyway, as you rightly say, there’s no tradition of growing green or orange veg ( I think there was also a night blindness problem because of the lack of orange fruit and veg in the local diet but maybe I’m making that up?!) and so, I suppose it’s no surprise that it was still an issue when you were there. Do you know if it is still an issue?
      Thanks for comment:)

  4. Joy Claridge says:

    I remember how much fun it was when you guys arrived in Melbourne on your way home. We stocked up on fresh fruit and veges and cheese and red wine – it was a pleasure to cook for you because you were so excited by real food. Happy memories.

    • Marianne Wheelaghan says:

      Ha ha ha 🙂 I remember fantastic meals and I have one particular memory of a bowl of fruit at the side of my bed with delicious chocolates smuggled in amongst the strawberries and cherries and raspberries … YUM! YUM! Happy memories indeed 🙂 xxxxx

  5. I love learning about different places. My only experience is with Pakistan, we usually go in the summer due to school holidays and its actually the worst time to go as its at its peak climate, the insects are out and the vegetable though available aren’t really ediable due to being infested. As the years go on they are having things imported like cheese, pasta etc…

    Its not so common now but there was a time when people kept goats, cows, chickens for food, they grew their own fruit (oranges, mangos, apricots etc… I never saw any bananas but maybe they grow somewhere), corn, wheat etc… The problem now is that most people have at least one member of the family working abroad that sends money so people are slowly getting in to buying it from the shopping areas so its not the same.

    The thing I really disliked when we first went is that everything had sugar in it and we were bought up on sweet things but sweet yogurt instead of plain was strange.

    My auntie lives in France and she says its slightly better now but there are still a lot of the exotic foods they struggle to get as well as halal. She always filled up a suitcase with things when she came or if we went would request certain things that she really missed.

    • Marianne Wheelaghan says:

      I love visiting different places too, though I’ve never been to Pakistan. It sounds fascinating and how interesting to hear how the lifestyle is changing. I think life in Kiribati these last ten years has changed a lot too, at least that’s what my friends tell me. There’s a shopping mall on Tarawa now complete with shopping trolleys ( though not sure what they are putting in the trolleys!) ! I love seeing any fruit on a tree – I have a wee apple and plum trees in my garden – but to see exotic fruits like oranges and mangos and apricots would be especially exciting. When we lived in PNG we had pineapple plants and avocado and paw paw trees in our garden, it was lovely – and very different from sandy Kiribati. Getting used to different foods, though, is, I think, is one of the hardest things when living somewhere else. Maybe it’s because food has such strong connotations with home – sometimes I think we crave familiar food items not just to nourish our body but to give our souls a boost as well;)
      Glad things are getting better for your aunty in France! Edinburgh used to be terrible for getting a choice of fresh food and veg ( forget anything exotic), but it has improved massively since then:)

  6. Tamika Miller says:

    A shopping mall? What? Haha, I’ve been there twice in the past 3 years – how did I miss the shopping mall on that tiny little island?! I’ll look out for that next time.
    I wonder if they are talking about Nei Obera’s store in Teaorereke.

    As for your question though, lifestyle has surely changed since you we’re last there but some things havent changed at all! I first visited Kiribati to meet my natural Mum 12 years ago, and remember the poor “imatangs” along with locals desperately lining up to get there hands on some “fresh”vegetables and I can tell you now, it still happens to this day, they are still running out of things on Kiribati regularly! Including petrol. People still line up to buy excessive amounts of vegetables, especially if they have a Bootaki coming up. You need to go back! 😉 Hehe.

    • Hello Tamika
      a big thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! I’m not sure where “the mall” is – someone else told me about it – so it could well be Nei Obera’s store in Teaorereke. If you find out where it is (if it exists!), do let me know ;o)
      And it’s interesting to hear that while some things have changed, others have not! Yes, I think you are right, I need to go back :))

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