International Cooking: Food from the Marshall Islands

This was a difficult country to find dishes for; there wasn’t a lot of information available online about food from the Marshall Islands and no one responded to my Reddit post. I did find a few dishes that I didn’t make since they weren’t so feasible for me, or because I just couldn’t find enough information about how to make them. I went looking at the menus of restaurants in the Marshall Islands and found a few ideas that way.

The Marshall Islands is an island country in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean, consisting of 29 coral atolls and five islands divided across two island chains. Almost 98% of its territory is water, making it the sovereign state with the largest proportion of water to land.

Austronesian settlers arrived on the islands around 2000 BC and introduced Southeast Asian crops and domesticated chickens, which made the islands permanently habitable.

During the 16th century, there were visits from a few Spanish expeditions, but they usually sailed farther north and avoided the islands. A British captain named John Marshall explored the area in 1788, and the islands were named after him.

The islands began to receive a wider array of visitors during the 1800s, until Germany annexed them as a protectorate in 1885. At the beginning of World War I, the Empire of Japan occupied the islands, and during World War II they were occupied by the United States, who conducted 67 nuclear tests at some of the atolls.

In 1965, the US government formed the Congress of Micronesia, which was intended to increase the self-governance of the Pacific Islands. The Marshall Islands were granted independence and full sovereignty in 1979, but still have a close relationship with the United States.

What Do People Eat in the Marshall Islands?

The Marshallese diet largely consists of traditional foods that have been eaten on the islands for centuries, such as breadfruit, taro, coconut, bananas, and papaya.

Fish and seafood such as clams and coconut crabs are common choices, especially since they are so accessible. Fishing is a very popular activity on the islands.

Meat is less common, but chicken, pork, and beef may appear as part of some meals.

Foods such as rice, flour, sugar, and tea are popular ingredients that are imported and used to supplement indigenous foods.

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Marshallese dishes I didn’t make!

Fish with Pumpkin and Rice Porridge

Fish with Pumpkin and Rice Porridge

Pumpkin and rice porridge, also called ‘rice banke,’ was one of the few dishes that I found when initially looking for food from the Marshall Islands. It’s typically served with fish, and I found a recipe that also included bok choy so that’s what I went with.

This was incredibly simple to prepare. I boiled some chopped pumpkin in salted water until tender, then added rice. Once the rice was just about cooked, I added coconut milk and cooked for a little longer. It sounds like the idea is to have very soft pumpkin and overcooked rice so that it has more of a porridge consistency. Mine probably needed a bit longer to reach that point. It’s common to add a little sugar, but I decided not to.

I pan-fried some mahi mahi which I seasoned with salt and pepper. Then I sautéed some bok choy for a few minutes in the same pan.

This was a simple meal but it tasted pretty good. I was apprehensive about the pumpkin rice but I actually liked it.

The recipe I used is from Edible Ozarkansas.

Chicken Katsu with Macaroni Salad and Rice

Chicken Katsu with Macaroni Salad and Rice

I noticed that certain Japanese dishes, such as chicken katsu, seem to be popular at restaurants in the Marshall Islands. It’s often served with macaroni salad and/or rice, so I decided to go with that.

For my chicken katsu, I seasoned thin pieces of chicken breast with salt and pepper, breaded them in flour, egg, and panko breadcrumbs, then pan-fried them until golden. I made the tonkatsu sauce by mixing ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar.

The macaroni salad consists of macaroni, mayonnaise, carrot, green onion, a little milk, apple cider vinegar, and sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. I only added a pinch of sugar since I didn’t need it to be sweet.

I wouldn’t have thought chicken katsu and macaroni salad would taste good together, but I really thought they did. This was a great meal!

I loosely followed a recipe from Just One Cookbook for the tonkatsu sauce, and the macaroni salad recipe is from Pandemonium Noshery.

Island Breakfast (Spam, Eggs, and Rice)

Island Breakfast (Spam, Eggs, and Rice)

This is a dish that showed up often on breakfast menus at Marshallese restaurants, sometimes referred to as an ‘island breakfast.’ The Spam can be replaced with bacon or Portuguese sausage, the eggs can be cooked in any way, and there may be toast instead of rice.

I pan-fried some Spam slices and served them with scrambled eggs, rice, and green onions (in all honesty, the latter was to make it look nice).

This was actually my first time trying Spam. I was apprehensive, but I found it pretty tasty—and very, very salty. I ended up only eating one slice and saving the other for another meal.

  • Chukuchuk – rice balls rolled in freshly grated coconut, often served with fish.
  • Macadamia nut pie – a shredded coconut base topped with a mixture of macadamia nuts, corn syrup, sugar, and vanilla extract, followed by coconut whipped cream.
  • Whole barramundi, seasoned and wrapped in banana leaves before baking.

Final Thoughts

I wish I’d been able to find more food from the Marshall Islands to make this week, but everything I did make was pretty good. I probably enjoyed the chicken katsu and macaroni salad the most.

There won’t be a post next week, but in two weeks I will be back to post about Mauritania.

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