• Aaron Fa'aoso hosts Strait to the Plate, a food series exploring Torres Strait Islander cuisine. (NITV)Source: NITV
Aaron Fa'aoso stars in this 6-part exploration of the cuisine, culture and communities of Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Kate L Munro

21 Apr 2021 - 9:59 AM  UPDATED 21 Apr 2021 - 11:34 AM

There’s no doubt there’s a divine connection between the people of the Torres Strait Islands and their traditional foods.

It's a cuisine that's been embedded over many centuries with the influences and flavours of neighbouring island cultures, particularly that of their ancient trading partners, Papua New Guinea.

A stunning setting of crystal-clear blue waters contrasting with tropical bushlands; the Torres Strait region will set the scene for NITV’s newest cooking show, Strait to the Plate, hosted by Torres Strait Islander actor and producer Aaron Fa’aoso.

Fa’aoso boats across several islands, visiting six differing communities, digging deep to reveal old and new methods of preparing traditional foods. The show often explores the adaptation of those traditional methods and practices to the contemporary way of life.

Fa’aoso begins in the tranquil, relaxed and spiritual island of Badu, approximately 60 kilometres north of Thursday Island in the western island group of the Torres Strait.

The Mura Badulgal, a term of ‘inclusiveness’ for the Badugal and Mualgal people, are the traditional custodians of Badu Island.

“For the people of Badu, food and culture are both linked to the sea…” Fa’aoso says.

This series is rich with understandings and ancient cultural stories of Torres Strait Islander people, often told through and by the traditional preparation of food – from yams and taro, to coconuts and sea almonds, to chillies and spices.

The influence on Torres Strait Islander culinary culture through contact with PNG trading partners is also explored, including stingray, turtle, dugong and fish meats cooked over long periods and marinated with palatable island herbs and spices.

Fa’aoso is a fitting host, with a light-hearted, relaxed and fresh approach. He clearly has both a warm and raw connection with the families and people of the islands he visits, projecting a laid-back interviewing style that allows the people of the island to demonstrate culture in both genuine and in-depth ways.

“Our culture touches every element of life,” Fa’aoso says.

“For many thousands of years, the people of Badu have been warriors, sea-farers and fishermen.”

On Badu Island culture is intertwined, interwoven and holistic in informing community over thousands of years as to the best ways to honour and utilise the island’s natural resources. New ways of re-creating traditional art forms are also a way of passing on vital cultural knowledge through generations.

“It really comes from us trying to find a medium to reflect closely (our) ancient practices of carving into wood …” Badu Island Cultural custodian and Artist Athe Laurie said when speaking of the art of modern lino cut print making.

This modern art form involves stunningly detailed and intricate designs that depict important cultural stories informing a way of life, ancient hunting practices and differing aspects of caring for country that thousands of years ago were carved into wood.

“…so, the detail is in language,” Laurie explains “when you have artists…you don’t just create an artwork, it actually comes from your detailed understanding of culture, practice and tradition,” he said.

Also featuring in this premiere episode is artist and traditional cook, Matilda, Laurie’s niece, who in her art often documents ‘the changing seasons and the traditional knowledge of the foods that are tied to each time of the year…’

Matilda also blesses our screens with three distinct fish recipes, including one that’s traditionally medicinal, and that use both traditional and contemporary practices that involve the old trade route relationships with coastal villages of PNG and Japanese influences from the men of the pearl shell industry. The result is combinations of flavours that are unique and simply delicious.

A show that comes full circle and also touches on the history of the missionary connection with the Island, Fa’aoso takes us to the ‘spiritual heart of the Badu community,’ in the form of St Mark’s Church, built by the community using crushed coral.

“Our people many years ago when the missionaries came to the island... realised we shared values with Christianity that were also (at the) heart of our culture,” Laurie said.

“It’s a true expression of who we are – we commune in unity and that’s community.”

Strait to the Plate premieres 7:30pm tomorrow, Thursday 22 April on NITV

Flavours of home bring back memories sweet and bitter for Aaron Fa’aoso
Home recipes showcase cultural pride and historical struggle, as Aaron Fa'aoso heads back home to the Torres Strait.