Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fafaru by Any Other Name Would Smell as Foul

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Fafaru by Any Other Name Would Smell as Foul

Article excerpt

I arrived home from work and found my friend who was visiting from the United States in the yard, inhaling deeply on the sweet aroma of a Tahitian gardenia.

"What's that in your refrigerator?" she asked with such distaste that I knew she had found the fafaru. I had meant to warn her about it, but it had slipped my mind.

"I thought that was an awfully strange looking drink," she continued, "so I opened the bottle to check it out, and whew! The whole house smells like it now. I had to come out here and put my nose into a flower."

The Tahitian feasts offered at hotels and restaurants in French Polynesia include many of the foods modern Tahitians eat, such as breadfruit, plaintains (cooked bananas), po'e ( a sweet dessert), taro (a root), fafa (from taro leaves), manioc (yucca), and poisson cru (raw fish marinated in lemon juice). But most visitors to Tahiti come and go unaware of the existence of fafaru. I had lived there several months before encountering it myself.

The first time I smelled fafaru was at a wedding, though I didn't know what it was at the time. The flower-canopied room had been filled with wedding guests packed onto long picnic-style tables. Most of the food there I had tasted before. My not-yet husband told me about the ones I hadn't. But he neglected to tell me about fafaru.

Midway through the feast there was a stench. I looked for the baby responsible, but there were none at the table. Not even any young children.

I was incredulous when my future spouse later professed to not having smelled that particular odor and thought perhaps he was protecting someone from potential snickers and sneers. And so I still had no inkling of the existence of fafaru.

A few months later my husband-to-be and a friend were discussing some foul smelling food called fafaru. The light came on.

"Was there fafaru at the wedding?" I asked.

"Yes."

Bingo!

I have since learned that my husband adores the stuff. In fact, he is quite proud of the dish and never tires of telling me that it is a real Tahitian dish that you only find at real Tahitian feasts. This explains how he could claim not to have smelled anything despicable back at that wedding. …

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