Food scene in Papeete, Tahiti

It is one of the world’s great ports of call, comparing with nostalgic and wonderful names like Rangoon, Singapore, Shanghai, Valparaiso and Acapulco.  Yet it is grander than any of these, for at Papeete the ships of many seas dock right along the main street.  From the stern of a Hong Kong junk to the post office is twenty yards.  From the bowlines of a San Pedro yacht to the bank is one city block.  Without qualification I can say that the waterfront of Papeete, with Moorea in the background, is unequaled.

Yet many visitors despite Papeete.  They have no words strong enough to descrive its shanties, its poor water, the crowded alleys, honky-tonks, bootleg opium, wildcat gambling and rapacious prices.  They say, “You hear about the glamorous beaches, but you can’t find one where the average yokel is allowed to swim.”  Such critics leave in a hurry and complain endlessly to friends back home that “everyone who ever wrote about Tahiti from Pierre Loti to Frederick O’Brien is a liar.”  As a much-disappointed frined of mine said, “Papeete?  What a bust!  Tia Juana without tequila.”
There is much to the comparison, for Papeete does resemble a Mexican border town, not so dirty along the main streets, dirtier in the alleys. To those who insist that all picturesque towns look like Siena or Stratford-on-Avon, Papeete will be disappointing, but to others who love the world in all its variety, the town is fascinating.  My own judgment: any town that wakes each morning to see Moorea is rich in beauty.
So says James Michener in:
More:
I like the cluttered streets and the neat parks, the narrow alleys and the wide verandahs, the jumbled stores each with some one unpredictable thing for sale “En Vente Ici.  Dernier Arrivage.  Campbell Soup.”  I like the noisy poolrooms, the perfume shops, the policemen on rickety bicycles, the Chinese dress shops with sewing machines whirring like mad, the dreadful hotels, the worse ice-cream stands and the happy faces.  It has been aptly said of Papeete, “It drives Englishmen, schoolteachers and efficiency experts crazy.”  There is something childishly delightful about every aspect of the place.  One movie house advertises the Hunchback of Notre Dame as “Supersensational, Archiformidable, Hyperprodigieux!!!!” Whereupon the competition states baldly of Rene Clair’s Le Million: “The best motion picture in the world.”
In Michener’s day it was pretty hard to get to Papeete.  He even discusses how hard it was to get a visa.  But in the early 1960s the French, needing an international airport to service their nuclear test site in the Gambiers, built one in Papeete.
Now Tahiti is a direct flight from LA.  The prevailing winds blow from LA towards Tahiti, making this a pretty attractive sail, easy enough that it’s called The Cocoanut Milk Run.

One thing I was surprised by in Papeete was how much I liked the food.  The market is full of fresh, wonderful stuff.

There you can get a baquette stuffed with meat (pork or chicken) and french fries.

At night the roulettes are the place to be.

Peugot food trucks.

The staple is poisson cru, a cocoanut milk ceviche.  Grilled mahi mahi seen here, too.

Further out of town you can buy a boiled breadfruit:

Nourishing but it needs a little something.  Salt’s a good start.

 

 



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