It’s hot. In London, I’m sweltering in 35 degrees plus. The city isn’t really built for those temperatures. So I wanted to make something light and refreshing. I racked my brains for delicious dishes from warm climes and settled on a fish dish I first tried in Tahiti, French Polynesia: poisson cru – (‘raw fish’). The word-for-word translation of its name doesn’t give much away though. It’s like ceviche. Cubed raw fish – my source recipe used tuna – partially ‘cured’ in lemon or lime juice, and mixed with coconut milk, tomatoes, cucumber, garlic, and onion. It’s light and refreshing yet packed full of flavour.
I’ve tried a similar dish in Samoa where it’s known as Oka i’a. And according to this article, local varieties are also made elsewhere in the South Pacific.
Fishy tuna varieties
My source recipe called for thon blanc, ‘white tuna’. I’d heard of yellowfin, bluefin, but not ‘white’ tuna… more research was needed.
I found ‘albacore tuna’ listed as a translation for thon blanc. And ‘albacore’ was listed on the MSC UK website. So that stacked up. But then I found thon albacore listed as a separate variety, with the scientific name of thunnus albacares. After a bit of head-scratching and looking at the two websites above, I think I’ve figured out at least two of the varieties, whose French and English names are confusingly similar:
FR household name/s: bonite du nord / thon blanc
Scientific name: thunnus alalonga
EN household name: albacore tuna
FR household name/s: thon albacore
Scientific name: thunnus albacares
EN household name: yellowfin tuna
Turn of phrase – unfamiliar, unusual, regional, or author’s idiolect?
My source recipe is published by a member of the public on recipe website Marmiton. The author, presumably Tahitian, adds a few comments at the end of the recipe, including this sentence:
Cette recette fait partie de notre repas traditionel tahitien
(Word-for-word translation: ‘this recipe is part of our traditional Tahitian [cuisine?]’
It’s the use of repas I was interested in here. Generally, it can be translated with ‘meal’ or sometimes ‘dish’. But here, I understand it to mean Tahitian food or cuisine generally, i.e. the group of meals or dishes that are traditional to eat in Tahiti. A more idiomatic translation option could be: ‘This is a traditional Tahitian dish’.
But interestingly, I haven’t noticed repas being used in this way before, as a singular collective whole. Maybe it’s common and I’ve simply never noticed it before? Maybe it’s unusual and is part of the recipe author’s idiolect (the unique way an individual speaks)? Or maybe it’s an expression that’s common in French Polynesia?
Well, ‘cooking’ isn’t quite the right word here. Though I suppose the fish is ‘cooked’ in the lemon juice to a certain extent. Anyway, there were no major difficulties in preparing this dish, apart from what seems to be an error in the source text (‘onion’ appears twice in the ingredients list – it seems that one of these should have actually been ‘spring onion’).
Recipe ideas and substitutions
This Spruce Eats recipe looks like a good one.
My recipe asked for tuna, but I imagine any type of fish can be used, though it will of course change the flavour. For a dish like this, you want your fish to be the freshest possible. The best is probably to go to a fishmonger and explain what you’re making, that you’ll be eating it raw, and ask for their recommendations.
My source recipe used coconut milk from a fresh coconut, and while it may well be better, canned works just fine too.
Next week’s post will be week 52. My year-long challenge will draw to a close. So what will I make to mark the occasion?