My Conversion to Liking Breadfruit: “I’ve been ulu-cized!”

When I arrived at a garden near the town of Captain Cook, on the big island of Hawaii, to attend a Breadfruit Festival in late September, I was a skeptic.

Prize-winning breadfruit tart at the inaugural Breadfruit Festival: Photo by Julia Flynn Siler

Beforehand, I’d talked to one of the world’s leading experts, the Breadfruit Institute’s Director, Diane Ragone PhD., who had told me she hadn’t cared for it when she first tried it. I’d learned from the Breadfruit Institute’s own website about the difficulties faced by Captain Bligh in fulfilling his mission of introducing breadfruit plants to the Caribbean (during the infamous mutiny on the bounty, the mutineers tossed the trees overboard.) I’d even found a discussion on the gardening website GardenWeb under lists of the “five WORST tropical fruits,” with one writer pronouncing breadfruit “nauseous.”

Diane Ragone, PhD., Director of the Breadfruit Institute, photo by Julia Flynn Siler

But when I arrived at the festival that day, my conversion began. Fragrant smoke rose from a fire circle where breadfruit roasted on burning coconut shells. (Watch video here) Women mashed the fruit with a pestle to make breadfruit poi, a traditional porridge-like food. The marvelously vivacious Chef Olelo pa’a Faith Ogawa, a Hawaii-born private chef, demonstrated several recipes to a rapt audience, passing out samples which were appreciatively wolfed down. A long line of people waited patiently that day to sample a special breadfruit lunch.

Chef Olelo pa’a Faith Ogawa, a Hawaii-born private chef, doing a cooking demonstration at the Breadfruit Festival, photo by Julia Flynn Siler

I’d bought a ticket to try a half dozen of the dishes entered into the cooking contest. To my surprise, several of them were delicious.

The one that comes immediately to mind was a recipe for Ulu Tart, (ulu is the Hawaiian word for breadfruit,)  which was made with two cups of cooked breadfruit, one cup of fresh coconut milk, Lehua honey, and a macadamia nut crust. It was superb – though the breadfruit itself was pretty much disguised by the coconut milk and honey.

I also tried a breadfruit casserole made with three different kinds of cheese as well as a very unusual ulu salad with cucumbers and dill, which, along with the tart, was also a prize-winner. I had the pleasure of meeting the person who came up with the salad recipe after he accepted his award for it.

His name was Nader “Nanoa” Parsia, who grew up in Persia before it became Iran. In the many years that he has lived on the islands, he told me he’d come to embrace the cooking and foods of his adopted home Hawaii. Smiling widely, he said “Some people have been baptized. Today, I’ve been ulu-cized!”

Nader “Nanoa” Parsia holding up his awards for breadfruit dishes, photo by Julia Flynn Siler

I felt the same way: I became a breadfruit believer that day too and greatly admire the work that Diane Ragone and her colleagues at the Breadfruit Institute as well as the Hawaii Homegrown Food Network are doing to introduce people to this nutritious food, particularly at a time when so many people are hungry. Mahalo for introducing me to it. I only wish I could have brought one of these beautiful trees home with me to California ~

Breadfruit tree sales at the inaugural Breadfruit Festival in Kona, photo by Julia Flynn Siler

 

Comments

  1. Jim Wiseman says:

    Thanks for this, Julia. Couldn’t imagine you wrote the WSJ headline. Glad you didn’t. We will be pointing out your blog.

  2. Wanting to try something new I purchased an Ulu at the Hanalei Farmers Market. I was told that the fruit was younger and better off being cooked since it wouldn’t be sweet. I chopped it up and sautéed until golden in peanut oil with garlic powder, sea salt, chili powder and fresh lime juice for seasoning. I imagine it would be delicious served with a chipotle aioli dipping sauce.

    I was lucky enough to be served it at a friends house who had a more ripe fruit, she steamed it and it was sweet and flakey. I wish you best of luck getting the word out on this under appreciated food source.

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  1. [...] the same day, Julia Flynn Siler published a much more sympathetic account of the festival in her blog.  And besides being the author of the forthcoming Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last [...]

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