Here's the crew: Magreth's mom, Rupi, sister Jen, me, Magreth, and cousin Priscilla. What a sweet family! Since I started this post, I was able to hang out one other full day with them while they taught me to make "mambor," a cabbage-ish plant. We made it with cooking bananas and strong coconut milk - yum! I must say, mambor tastes a lot like grass (and they even said they think it smells like grass), but it fills the belly and was fun to learn.
My friend Magreth and I had planned to get together so she and her cousin could start teaching me to make mats. Magreth's dad didn't want her to show me though because the dye from the mats stains hands and everything else it comes in contact with. He didn't want her new white friend to be pink. She's close to having him convinced that I really am ok with that so we'll see... Anyway, making laplap was a great alternative. I went and hung out with her and her family last week and met most of them, but got to meet a few more and get to know them a bit more. Here are her 2 girls, Sevanda (8) and Lin (7) as well as her nephew, Jak (on the right with the crazy hair). :) She also has a 15 year old son, Prin, who is visiting family on another island right now.
Here's how the process works (sorry for the poor quality videos - just imagine you are on a rollercoaster and it will seem more fun... also, FYI, some language on the videos is Bislama, the trade language I'm learning and some is this family's tribal language from Tongoa island where they are from):
0. Purchase all ingredients and cut or buy laplap leaves.
1. Prepare island cabbage by spreading out leaves and breaking off stems an inch or so from the base of the leaf. Keep back all small leaves in a separate pile.
2. Peel yams and wash them
3. Grate yams into a huge bowl with water in it4. Add salt and sugar to grated yams, then squeeze it until it is pudding-ish. (hands must be washed after so they don't get itchy from the yams)
5. Crack open coconuts, then grate them into a bowl with the water from inside them.
6. Squeeze out the milk from the grated meat ("melekem"). This can be done with hands like I did out in Pango or with the gratings inside a piece of cloth, or the husks off the coconut can be used to put the meat in to be squeezed.
7. Start the fire. Special rocks are needed for this that hold heat well. Rocks go on the ground inside the cooking house, then sticks are lit on top. When a fire is going, more stones go on top of the sticks. Rocks are moved with tongs made from a branchy part of a coconut tree. I was laughing because Magreth's family has a few metal pieces they put in with rocks - some parts from an old lawnmower. Jen, one of Magreth's sisters said that they get hotter than the rocks so are nice to use.
8. Strip laplap leaves of their stems or bones ("bun") as they call them.
9. Bring laplap leaves down to the cooking house and lay them out. 3 go up and down, 3 across, then 3 more up and down. Two are put on the hot stones so they get soft and these go on the top of all the others. The laplap is made on these.
10. Take all top stones off the fire and take out the wood.
11. Lay out island cabbage facedown, all layered with stems pointing out.12. Pour yam mess on top and spread over the surface.
13. Milk coconut meat another time, this time after it's soaked in water, and squeeze on top of pudding.
14. Layer all small, set-aside island cabbage leaves on top.>
15. We bought some whole chickens (they wanted chicken wings but the whole town was out - we tried nearly 10 different store) and put chicken pieces on top.
16. Spoon strong coconut milk on top.
17. Fold up laplap leaves. Using a tie from the stems of the laplap leaves (removed earlier), tie up the bundle.
18. Put the bundle on top of the bottom rock layer. Using the coconut branch tongs, place the top hot rocks on top of the bundle.
19. Layer laplap leaves on top.
20. Layer burlap sacks on top. (if you don't have burlap, just use more laplap leaves)
21. Wait a few hours.
22. Take off all the top layers and bring the bundle up to the table. Unwravel, cut and eat! It was really good with the chicken in there. I'm not sure I would have liked it as much without the chicken flavoring everything, but still, a full day of work for enough food for the whole family (remember that family means extended since they all live right together). They don't have refrigeration so if any is leftover, they put it in a cabinet with a metal door that sits out in the yard. Kids get in and out of this all day long. They keep meat, milk, and other ingredients back like this at the market too.