Bush Food in Kiunga

I mentioned in Avian View 1 that I’m going back to PNG with hopes of capturing images of the elusive bird-of-paradise in the wild.  Well, I’ve been here in Kiunga, Western Province for six days now but had to stay in town most of the time for work-related appointments.  Finding the bird-of-paradise will take days in the bush and I simply don’t have the luxury of time. Still hopeful though that I’ll still get a chance to find the elusive bird but, for the meantime, I spent a short downtime investigating what foodstuff are sold in the local food market just to satisfy my curiosity.

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#1 Fish is abundant in Kiunga because of its proximity to the Fly River and its tributaries

Western food being served by the guesthouse where I’m staying is not bad.  In fact I feel that I’ve gained weight after just a few days here. But since people from Kiunga and nearby villages buy their foodstuff from the local market, I seriously wondered what sort of things are being sold there.   After a short leisurely walk to the place, I was quite amazed by what I found.  There were regular food items that made me imagine delectable dishes on the table and there were those that  were a bit harder to imagine on my plate (For those with weak stomach, you may want to skip the succeeding photos).

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#2 And more fish! I’m a fish lover so I concluded that I can survive in this part of the globe.

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#3 And plenty of dried or smoked ones

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#4 Lots and lots of greens, some regular garden items and many which can be found only in the jungle

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#5 Sago, the primary staple food is of course in abundance. In this case, they were dried and apportioned in plastic bags.

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#6 Bananas and root crops are a good substitute for sago and they are in abundance as well.

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#7 River clams made me think of clam soup ( I don’t know what those yellow things are).

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#8 Yes, there were parts of wild animals such as this dried rib cage of a wild pig. I was told that deer meat also gets displayed from time to time.

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#9 A preserved thigh of a cassowary displayed beside a pair of bananas. Cassowaries are huge, flightless birds that are still being hunted in the wild although there are present efforts to breed them domestically. The price of the smoke-dried thigh (around US$10) suggests how valuable the meat is.

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#10 Coconut grubs, wriggly and rich in protein. Somebody explained that it has to be wrapped in some kind of bush leaf and then cooked with little amount of water. The grubs, which live and feed on the pulp of the coconut palm, can actually kill a mature palm tree so harvesting them once the palm dies is just a small compensation for the loss of a valuable crop.

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#11 And a snake — yes, a live snake! Being sold at 50 Kina (around $25), the snake is said to make a good stew and a variety of other preparations with some internal organs such as the liver  believed to be medicinal. I’m not sure what kind of snake it was but it weighed at least 8 kilos.

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#12 Noticing that I was taking pictures, and encouraged by the bystanders, the sellers took the live snake out of the bag and did several poses for the camera. I took photos from a safe distance, quickly thanked them, then hurriedly left for the other parts of the food market lest the snake got loose and mistook me for dinner. :)

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The Kiunga Market

The downtime was well spent and I learned a lot from the short photo walk. I had to remind myself, though, that I should not be judgemental when it comes to indigenous food sources as many cultures have food items that other cultures may find bizarre (just check out Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern!).  Papua New Guinea has a good share of these ‘bizarre foods’  which are probably a lot more nutritious than the more common stuff we place on our food plate.  And I also know that these are just some of the food items that sustained whole tribes  in Papua New Guinea for generations.

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