I had dinner with a colleague last week at the Crowne Plaza Cafe in Port Moresby when we feasted on spaghetti bolognese. For me this was the Cafe’s top offer of the evening! But obviously am biased because I enjoyed the dish so much. The spaghetti was cooked to perfection and the bolognese sauce was beautifully seasoned. I’ve never enjoyed the dish as much as I did then.
I first tasted spaghetti bolognese, Italy’s great culinary gift to the world – actually cooked and ate it at Cameron High School many many many moons ago when the high school had it’s first ever open day. Parents, guardians and the whole new township of Alotau was invited to the event. I couldn’t remember anything else on that day except for loads of people and our cooking group trying to get the spaghetti cooked right and the sauce well-seasoned under the hawke-eyed supervision of our Aussie-Italian teacher who shall be called Mr A.
That was the first time any of us girls had ever heard of the beige coloured long brittle sticks like spikes on a stonefish only longer and slightly thicker and the meaty sauce that went with it plus on top of that a near impossibility trying to pronounce the name of the dish! Mostly we giggled when asked what it was which meant that the onus was on Mr A to pronounce the name of the dish. Am sure he must have been mighty ticked off by that but he never showed it only glad that we cooked it according to his liking and, sold out in no time.
We were amazed at how pliable these ‘spikes’ became when dipped into hot salted boiling water and after about 10 or so minutes in the pot they came out looking wobbly and spirally which meant they were cooked. On their own, the spaghetti tasted like nothing we’d ever tasted before. Come to think of it now, the spaghetti tasted like wet flour – almost tasteless. The meaty sauce made a world of difference to the taste of the the complete dish. At that time, to a Milne Bay lass, anything cooked without coconut cream must taste gross.
The sauce was made up of pounds of well-seasoned mince meat ala Mr A. As I remembered the dish was a hit with everyone and soon we ran out of it. This was a great reward. Running out of this foreign -sounding dish with a foreign sounding name was amazing.
Am sure we sold out because people must have gone for this funny looking funny sounding dish for the novelty of it or perhaps because they were simply hungry. In any case we sold out which was everyone’s goal for the open day especially for those students involved in cooking and selling cooked food. Maybe we sold out because all the teachers and some of the expat workers from Alotau town ordered our spaghetti bolognese. There was a big expat community in Alotau and our teachers were mostly Australian.
I think one of the weirdest things I remembered about the dish at high school was that we couldn’t eat the spaghetti bolognese with a spoon! None of us at that age (13 and 14 year olds) had mastered the delicate art of eating with a fork. So who got the last laugh – I bet it was Mr A – our cooking supervisor! And oh, he wasn’t the Home Economics teacher just an Italian with a passion for spaghetti bolognese that underpinned his passion for teaching and hence we benefited from his spaghetti bolognese-making expertise. I am eternally grateful for this bit of non-curricula lesson.
That high school open day cooking experience had awakened the unstoppable inner culinary adventurer inside of me and now I look forward to tasting new dishes and cuisine wherever I found myself in a new country or a new place even here in PNG.
Thank you Mr A for adding to my list of the weird, wonderful and strange sounding strange tasting dishes, the awesome spaghetti bolognese.