We really missed Cholula while we were on our honeymoon.
And yes, I am referring to both the crooked-eared beast that hogs the bed AND the tasty hot sauce. Turns out French Polynesian food has very little heat, and after two weeks, we were craving a spicy KICK. But we’ll get to that.
Attempting to recap two weeks of Tahitian bliss is a bit daunting. Especially with, um, 1,667 photos. But since we’re still awaiting wedding photos (eeeee!), why not dive right into the honeymoon? It seemed only natural for me to begin with one of my favorite topics: THE FOOD. (And let’s not forget the drink!)
It started with 8 hours in first class seating on Air France. I was prepared for the free-flowing champagne; I was not expecting to order from a menu or delicious multi-course meals. A cheese plate! Fois gras! Roasted lamb! Herbed omelets! A true wine list! I felt like a queen before ever setting foot on the private island where we would spend the next two weeks being pampered.
Upon our arrival at Le Taha’a Island Resort and Spa, we were greeted with a hot towel and glass of lemon water. Not lemonade. Some kind of magic sweetened lemon water with a hint of honey. Our bodies were a tad shocked by the very un-Utah humidity, and this offering was completely refreshing. As we explored our surroundings, we came to realize that this type of service and attention to the guest’s comfort and satisfaction is standard at the resort. The food is no exception.
Let’s back up for a moment and get an idea of where we landed. Taha’a is one of the islands near Tahiti. Before traveling there, I didn’t realize there are 118 islands in five island groups that make up French Polynesia. Tahiti is the main island of the Society Islands group, which also includes popular Bora Bora. In my mind, it’s kind of like visiting Hawaii- there is a main island and a bunch of other, smaller islands, all with their own “personality.” Tahiti would be similar to the Big Island of Hawaii. Bora Bora might be compared to Oahu or Maui. Taha’a, where we went, would be more like Kauai. And the resort was on its own island off of Taha’a. To reach it, our travels took us from Utah to Los Angeles to Tahiti. Then we boarded a small plane to Raiatea, where we boarded a water taxi that took us to Le Taha’a.
(image via Tahiti Tourisme)
Being in the middle of the ocean and one of many small islands, local seafood is a big part of the diet in French Polynesia. There’s a ton of incredible fresh fruit and fish, and the French influence in the food is strong. And let’s not forget Tahitian vanilla. Taha’a is known as the Vanilla Island and produces 75% of the vanilla in French Polynesia! It’s used in many ways and brings a warm sweetness to the food. (I dream of the epic vanilla crème brulee.)
A bottle of champagne awaited us in our beach villa upon our arrival. Over the next two weeks, we ate and drank like kings.
There are three restaurants at the resort: the one where the breakfast buffet is served is also the main dinner location, one with an extensive lunch menu, and a fancy, reservation-only dinner spot. We learned that a buffet can be gourmet. Breakfasts included eggs prepared at our request, a rainbow of fresh fruit, a staggering arrangement of pastries, various fresh-squeezed juices, traditional options like pancakes or bacon. Lunchtime meant bare feet in the sand under the table, smiling over mahi-mahi sandwiches, Asian stir-fries, beef carpaccio salads, a super tasty burger. Sometimes we’d make a ham and brie baguette at breakfast and bring it back to the villa for lunch “at home.” The dinner menu had various sections: French cuisine, Polynesian, “International.” We ate things like squid ink risotto and sweet glazed pork and tuna ceviche and crab ravioli. We left “the compound” twice to dine at Chez Louise, where a woman whose son is a well-known fisherman on Taha’a serves incredible seafood on her patio. There were a few special occasion evenings with unique buffets, filled with local options and a ton of seafood. Every plate was a wonder- a taste bud adventure. And the crème brulee was the best I’ve ever tasted!
And the cocktails! In addition to French wine, Tahitian beer, and champagne, we tasted all kinds of exotic cocktails before settling on a couple of favorites. I vacillated between a rum-strawberry-mint revelation and a gingery-bubbly thing. John tried the vanilla martini on one of our first nights, and stayed there the whole time.
I’ve written before about making memories through the food I enjoy on trips. I take a lot of pictures of yummy meals. Lucky for you! My descriptions need illustrating. Take a look!
Whew. Hungry yet?
As incredible as the food was in French Polynesia, two weeks of the same flavors did prompt some serious cravings. When we got home, John made a few culinary requests- pork chile verde, lasagna with spicy meat sauce, and my famous “Enchiritos.” I obliged my new husband and made the latter last night.
The Enchiritos recipe- part enchilada, part burrito– is something that has evolved over the years. I worked in a restaurant called Skinny’s in Durango for a long time, and there was a delicious burrito on the menu. The ingredients were all sautéed and melted together on the stove before being wrapped into a giant tortilla. That’s how I like my burritos- everything jumbled together inside so that each bite has a little bit of everything! Then I bake them, smothered in sauces and topped with cheese, just like enchiladas. There’s nothing revolutionary here. A simple list of ingredients and a simple process is sometimes all you need to turn out the best food.
I missed my kitchen. And my kitchen assistant was ready to beg assist.
You don’t really need an exact recipe for this dish. Just wing it with the amounts you prefer, and taste the filling often to adjust. I begin this recipe where a lot of my yummy meals begin: with BACON. I’m convinced that this not-so-secret ingredient is what makes the Enchiritos so darn good. Once you crisp up some bacon, toss chopped onion and peppers into the pan for a bit. The bacon grease makes everything delectable (sorry, vegetarian friends!). Look at the vibrant colors!
After the veggies have softened a bit, I add some fresh chopped garlic. Next comes a spoonful of diced green chiles (I like the fire-roasted version), the chopped bacon, and some chopped cooked chicken (rotisserie bird works just fine). I am generous with the seasonings- garlic salt, cumin, crushed red pepper. A can of organic black beans joins the party, and everything gets a big stir and simmers away for a bit while the bacon grease soaks in the flavors develop.
It was about this time that I noticed my kitchen assistant had crept much closer to the stove. Her bacon radar is impeccable. I’m so lucky to have her help!
Before assembling the Enchiritos, I like to turn off the heat and stir a little bit of shredded cheese and a dollop of light sour cream into the filling mixture. It makes the final product fabulously creamy!
In the casserole dish, I mix a little red AND green enchilada sauce as the base. The combo of the two is awesome! Then, it’s time to stuff the ‘ritos. I use flour tortillas because I like them better and they hold up well. Don’t be shy with the filling. We want CHUBBY little Enchiritos! I scoop, roll, and make sure the seam is on the bottom in the casserole dish. (Don’t worry if a little bit of the filling squeezes out. It’s all going to the same place.)
Once the ‘ritos are tucked snugly into place, I top them with more of both sauces and a generous amount of cheese. I prefer to leave the ends of the Enchiritos dry because I like when they get brown and a tad crunchy in the oven. Yum.
Thirty minutes uncovered in a 350 degree oven is all you need to make sure the insides are hot and the cheese on top is perfectly browned. On the side, I usually have some Cholula (yay!) and maybe a bit more sour cream for John. This time, we also had some awesomely spicy homemade salsa from my mom! (Thanks, Mom!)
I’m not going to lie- your plate won’t be pretty. The Enchiritos aren’t ideal for food presentation. They’re stuffed full of goodness and it’s hard to contain neatly on a plate. But who cares how it looks when it tastes this good?
I’ve got my eye out for a good fresh pineapple at the grocery store, and will admit to salivating at the photos of our honeymoon feasts. The food was so, so good. But it’s completely wonderful to be back home in my own kitchen, making one of my favorite comfort food recipes.
I’ll remember to pack a bottle of Cholula on my next trip to French Polynesia. Now I just need to figure out how to smuggle the four-legged version into my luggage.
Welcome home, Mama. Welcome home.
Stay tuned for more honeymoon recaps, as well as wedding week fun!