McDonald’s Noumea

The McDonald’s in Noumea wasn’t anything special. Nothing special on the menu. The only thing of note was how they organized their value meals. You picked a sandwich, you picked a side (salad or fries) and a drink. Each meal was the same price.

They also had the Royal Cheese from Pulp Fiction fame. Not “Royal with Cheese” or “Royal du Fromage” but just “Royal Cheese”.

The McDonald’s in Noumea was very similar to the McDonald’s in Papeete, Tahiti. This really shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as they are both French Territories.

Menu wise, most of the McDonald’s in the Pacific was pretty much the same. Just like the small changes in Fiji were really indicative of something bigger, so too is the lack of anything special in the Pacific indicative of something. Talking to people back in the US, one question that always comes up is “what neat stuff have you eaten?” Believe it or not, despite my McDonald’s obsession, I am always on the looking for unique foods. In the Pacific, however, it has been hard to find.

Think how many ethnic restaurants you’ve eaten at or just have seen in your community. In the Twin Cities alone, I have seen restaurants featuring cuisine from: Italy, China (and provinces there in), India, France, Germany, Greece, Lebanon, Iraq, Mexico, Nepal, Vietnam, Thailand, Ethiopia, Morocco, Norway, Sweden, England, Ireland, Russia, Somalian, Mongolia, and, oh, Japan.

I can never recall having seen a Polynesian restaurant anywhere. Even the Polynesian resort at Disney World doesn’t really have any real Polynesian food. They serve drinks in cored out pineapples with little umbrellas, but the food really isn’t Polynesian. There is a good reason for this.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Polynesian diet was very limited. Meat consisted of pork, chicken, fish and shellfish. That sounds like a lot but the pork and chicken was probably only eaten on special occasions. The plants were even more limited: taro, coconut, various fruits (breadfruit, banana, papaya), and maybe some cassava.

Somewhere along the line, Polynesians also lost the ability to make pottery. Cooking was done in banana leaves or large stones, which limited the ability to bake and do other types of cooking. (actually, it is still often done in banana leaves). The absence of pottery also made it hard to boil water in large amounts.

With limited food options and limited cooking options, and few if any spices, it is no surprise that genuine pacific cuisine never developed. (I should say I haven’t been to Papua New Guinea yet. With more land and 40,000 years, they may well have developed more of a cuisine than the other islands did. I don’t know)

Most pacific nations are, by a wide margin, net food importers. Moreover, the foods you see in village markets tend to be things like instant noodles and corned beef. On the basis of the amount of advertising and product I’ve seen in stores, I would call canned corned beef the food of the South Pacific. During my trip to Rennell Island my breakfasts consisted of: white bread (no toast or spreads), saltine crackers, beef flavored instant noodles and homemade donuts that were very very hard to chew. I should note that what I listed was the entire meal, not just the entree.

The only unique dish I’ve seen was a raw fish dish with cucumber/coconut sauce. In Tahiti it was known as Poisson Cru and Rarotonga it was known as Motu Iki. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before in an earlier post, but I should again mention it was delicious. Also, lime juice with papaya is something I’ve seen everywhere. If you haven’t tried it, go buy a papaya and some small limes. Squeeze the juice of the lime onto the papaya before you eat it.

So, the lack of variety on the McDonald’s menus in the pacific is probably just a reflection of the lack of variety in diet in general in the region.

Even when its nothing, it still means something…