Search This Blog

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Newbie Honiara Guide Part One: Food

(for Volunteers and anyone who might need it)

This blog is dedicated to my loyal, crazy, lovely, maddening, awesome house mate Tessa, who has stood by me, eaten my “experimental” food, helped me through my sad Sara period(s), took me to too many parties, so many I couldn't count (in a month!), and generally just loved me. I owe Tessa more than I can list here, so I won't try. I love her and wish her all the best on what lies ahead. The Solomons and Casa Turchese will miss Tessa.

When I came to Honiara, I felt like a babe in the woods. I was staying in a set of apartments/hotel. There were no other volunteers at my work and the other expats all had kids. I felt socially and personally adrift for weeks. I would come home and not know where to go and what to do. I made a secret vow then that I would do everything in my power to help other volunteers get used to the ins and outs of living in this unique part of the Solomons. SO here are my words of advice, starting with the basics.

This is the first part in my (actually I don't have a number yet) series to help you, Honiara newbie, avoid the traps, pitfalls and other crap that I and others had to endure. Learn from my mistakes, newbie, and you will be just fine (if not, send me an email and I'll cook you dinner at Casa Turchese and we can workshop what went wrong. Maybe we can make a flow chart or a diagram...maybe even a SWOT analysis! Oh God, I am such a bureaucrat...)

Part One: FOOD (Where to buy it)

Please note: this guide is mainly for volunteers, however even if you aren't one, you may find it useful. Also, all currencies mentioned are in Solomon Dollars. One Solomon dollar equals about six and a half N.Z. Dollars or eight Aussie. Whenever possible, I will do my best to explain the physical location of each place. There are no street signs or addresses, so be patient with me. All right, lets get down to bidness...:)

Food. Every one needs and/or wants to eat. Mostly three times a day. Sometimes less, sometimes more. Here is my quick advice on my favorite places to shop to get the essentials in food.
    A) Oz Fresh. My favorite place to shop is Oz Fresh or Oz Pac. Its right near the Hot Bread Kitchen shop near Kukum market. Its in a set of five shops and is the middle. It has a neon sign that says OPEN on the doors. The doors are closed and it is air conditioned inside. Now, the thing I love about Ozfresh is the lady who runs the shop. She always give me a couple of onions, a packet of pasta, tins of tomatoes and other things. She looks after me and always tells me when her next shipment is in. I love her! The store also has a 13 dollar pack of Spagettini you can buy. It is the cheapest pasta in the Solomons. You can also buy a 75 dollar bottle of Sparkling wine from Aussie that isn't too bad. They usually have a good selection of apples, carrots and other veggies that you can't get at the local markets. The meat is reasonably priced (from Meat Lovers).
    B) Bulk Food Shop. There are TWO bulk food shops, one across the road from central market and one near Aus Mart near the King Sol. Hotel. If you want something a bit more...exotic, then Bulk Foods is for you. IF you can't live without olive oil (like my housemate Tessa, who is leaving tomorrow...sniff...sniff...), then buy the 85 dollar 750 litre bottle. Its pretty good oil and its from Italy. The Bulk Food also has a good variety of dried lentils and beans, along with tins of tomatoes and fruit. Occasionally the store has “mystery” cans, that you can buy for 20 or 30 bucks. My friend bought one of these and turned out to be a huge can of tinned tomatoes. So buy one and enjoy the mystery (and if you get botulism and/or dog food, please don't blame me). True story: I once bought three beautiful rounds of Baby Kikorangi blue cheese here for 15 dollars...when I returned to N.Z. I couldn't even buy it in N.Z. Dollars for that price. Now, a word of warning: most food will be expired or just about to be. I buy blue cheese anyway, it makes it tastier. It also helps toughen you up so don't be afraid of the expiry dates.
    C) Baraks- The big Baraks is located at the last round about before you head out to the airport. Its a great locally owned grocery store with all the basics at reasonable prices. There is a smaller Baraks in Kukum and you can give that one a go.
    D) Fang's-Located in China town, past the Honiara Hotel. Fangs is the penultimate chinese store. IF you want any exotic spices, sauces, mushrooms, noodles etc...from the Orient, then this is your place. Prices are pretty good too, buy your sesame oil (perfect for green papaya salad and soba noodle salads). Remember: a little sesame seed oil goes a long way.
    E) Pick your own local. There are many shops in Honiara. Mostly the prices are the same in the local shops. Find one close to your work and make friends with the owner.

A volunteer life saver: THE CHEAP BINS
    Wings: Located in MPF plaza. This is probably the only real (sort of) grocery store in the Solomons. I always go for the cheap bins there; typically there are some good finds like noodles for 10 dollars (proper egg noodles) and soy sauce.
    Y-Satos: I always get the 10 dollar fabric softener there. And a tube a wasabi.
    Pantina Market: I DON'T GO THERE PRETTY MUCH EVER! I used to but only two bags of groceries cost me 400 dollars! However, they do have some good stuff in the cheap bins; I bought two packs of tacos for 10 dollars each. Sure, they were stale but I put them in the oven and BAM! Instant crispy tacos your whole volunteer family/housemates will love and eat.
    Speciality Stores
    a. Hot Bread Kitchen- I love the hot bread kitchen. The bread is pretty good, given the access to ingredients this business has. With two locations in Honiara (One next to Woodford School, the other in town near the central roundabout), this place is an important part of everyone living in Honiara. If visiting people in the provinces, bring them a couple of loafs of bread, believe me, they will be grateful for it.
    b. Meat Lovers-Near Kukum Market/Bahai. I don't know, I am on the fence about meat lovers. You can buy an N.Z. Chicken for about 80 dollars, which is pretty good. The steaks are good but most are pre frozen and then thawed out. Its a nice place and well lit.
    c. Nambawan Meat- The name alone wins it for me. However, there isn't a lot of selection at this place in Point Cruz, right next to Sullivans. I've only bought mince and steak there (I don't eat a lot of meat) but it was good. ALWAYS BUY PREMIUM MINCE. There was a very long conversation about this at lunch today, it may cost more but you don't want mince as tough as shoes, and not the nice italian leather ones. Believe me.
    a. Sullivans-This is my favorite place to pick up a cheap (62 dollars) bottle of Banrock Cab Sav Merlot. Also, if you buy 24 of the glass bottles of Sol Brew, they give you a crate and then you get money back if you bring back your empties in the crate. I love recycling, so I encourage you to give that a go.
    b. Wings-You can get your wine here but it is slightly more expensive.
    c. Oz Fresh- My favorite place to pick up a bottle of bubbly for 75 bucks. They have some other stuff I haven't seen around town.
    d. The Black Market. See below.
    e. The small shops in town. There are plenty of little walkins that are nothing but Solbrew selling points.
    Best Markets
    1. SDA Market-I love this place, pretty much because it is close to work. Its also bright, out in the open and friendly. I have never been groped, sworn at or had my pocket picked here. Bonus: its open on Sunday. It is also probably the best place to go for fresh fish. For a quick meal, I often buy the fried fish heads (yes I eat fried fish heads) and the casava pudding that comes in a pack for about 20 dollars. Its a pretty good deal.
    2. Central Market: Go there early Saturday morning for flowers. The earlier, the better. The flowers here are AMAZING! Its also a great place to pick up cheap lava lavas (sarongs) and small gifts. The food selection is great too but be careful of fights (they happen often), pick pockets (yes it happened to me), and being groped (if you are chick). Its dark in the market and not terribly friendly at times. Some people love it and others don't. I still prefer SDA.
    3. Kukum Market: This market is pretty much all about beetle nut. I avoid going there for shopping but I do walk past it everyday. They sometimes have fresh veggies there but its so close to the SDA, that I don't bother.
    4. Neighbourhood markets. I have one near my house and I like going there. You don't get much variety but its convenient and its nice to meet up with the neighbours.
    5. White River- What can I say about White River market aka the Black Market...its a seedy place. You can get most everything there like Kwaso (the local brew) and Solbrews if its late at night. I wouldn't recommend going there alone or at night.
    A shout out to neighbourhood canteens 
    Probably one of the best places to pick up canned goods and other essentials is your local neighbourhood canteen. Typically they are very small, the size of a tiny shack and have chicken wire over the winder (to prevent robberies). I love going up the hill to my local canteen. I can top up my mobile prepay as well, which is always helpful. These little canteens bring in a bit of money to the local community and, bonus, you save petrol (I walk everywhere but you might have a car).
    Next time: Food: Dining out in Honiara (road chicken, the Chinese noodle shop, fish heads, the Japanese, and the leaf huts...)