Surprising Spam: I-Kiribati te bua toro ni baukin

Our six-month wedding anniversary was a couple of weeks ago, and we acknowledged this by having dinner at London’s Archipelago restaurant. Archipelago is renowned for its exotic dishes, describing itself as ‘London’s culinary portal to world cuisine,’ and we enjoyed such unusual delicacies as python, crocodile, kangaroo, alpaca and even mealworms. Everything was fantastic.

557 Anniversary

Afterwards, on learning what we’d eaten, a friend declared that we were ‘most intrepid’ for choosing such exotic dishes – and perhaps we were, as we did try to embrace the Archipelago experience as much as we could. However, only two days later, we felt much more intrepid for deciding to cook I-Kiribati te bua toro ni baukin for dinner. Never have we seen such a bizarre combination of ingredients in one dish – and this is coming from two people who regularly adopt a ‘Ready Steady Cook’ approach when trying to come up with something to eat for dinner.

[As a side note, we found this recipe on many websites, including fellow world food blog 196 Flavours (whose rather disparaging review did not assuage any of our trepidation about this one!). A comment on 196 Flavours suggests that this isn’t actually very reflective of a traditional I-Kiribati buatoro, which is made with taro, coconut toddy syrup and coconut cream. However, seeing as we’d only be able to get hold of one of those three ingredients, we had to settle for this apparent bastardisation… for better or worse.]

Te bua toro ni baukin

1 medium pumpkin (we used butternut squash in lieu of pumpkin), peeled and grated
1 medium cabbage, shredded
1 tin of meat (SPAM or corned beef), diced
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
6 tbsp powdered milk
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper

1. Put the grated pumpkin into a very large dish, and if there is any excess liquid, drain it.
2. Add the shredded cabbage, flour, tinned meat, powdered milk and baking powder, and mix well.
3. Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper, and mix again.
4. Put the mixture into a large, greased baking dish and bake at 180C until brown (about an hour – although we did cover it with foil about halfway through to avoid the cabbage getting too crispy).
Serves 3-4

558a Pre-cooking I-Kiribati compressed

559a Pre-cooking in dish compressed

560a Cooked compressed

As with the cassava pudding we made a few weeks ago, this recipe made us very grateful to have a food processor with which to grate the pumpkin. We are also grateful that we own enormous mixing bowls and baking dishes, both of which were essential for this dish. You could also say that it made us grateful for the fact that after the previous occupants of our house left a tin of SPAM behind, we finally had a chance to use it, but there has to be something dodgy about a tin of meat that can still be fine despite being four years out of date.

But after all that build-up… we actually liked this! We still cannot understand how those remarkably incompatible ingredients could work together to create an acceptable – even pleasant – flavour, but somehow they did. The best way to describe it is that it’s like a vegetable gratin. We commented that in smaller portions, it would also work as a side dish (without the SPAM – which really isn’t necessary in any dish). We’re undecided as to whether we would actually make it again, but we certainly wouldn’t shy away from it. So for something we were very apprehensive about, we were very pleasantly surprised! Let’s hope our next dish of coconut-crusted fish from Nauru has the same result…

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