Restaurant Te’ Ra Ai: Rapa Nui

5 hours east of Chile, in the middle of the Pacific ocean lies a tiny island of 4000 inhabitants. To the rest of the world, this is a place steeped in history, of one of the most recognized landmarks in the world and yet, there is still more to Rapa Nui, or Easter Island by way of ancient tribal culture that has been carefully preserved. After a day of seeing the magnificent Moai, the 200 ton stone carvings that protected the ancient tribes, one has the opportunity to experience some of the aboriginal music, food and dance that tourism had saved from extinction. Te’  Ra Ai is a fair walk from the main town, but the restaurant offers to pick you up from your hotel, which after a day of strenuous walking is much welcomed.

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Mud Pit
Layer 2
Steaming goodness

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Upon arrival and mango sour in hand, one takes a seat in the courtyard with a large mud pit in the middle and listening to someone playing the guitar, painted from head to toe in warrior paint, which is remarkably artistic and beautiful, as are the various tribal tattoos decorating the bodies of all the men. After a fairly embarrassing attempt at trying to learn the Haku, the Rapa Nui version of the Kiwi Hakka the leader talks us through the various customs and traditions, including the most important one, of food and cooking. At this time, the others start digging up the mud pit, which starts steaming at once ,making one wonder if running for cover might be a good idea. Past the mud, is a rug, then banana leaves, then hot stones, then more banana leaves and finally an array of fish, meat and vegetables that have been cooking for the last 3 hours deep in the ground.

More ground food
Gathering up the food

This is fantastic, an ancient tradition preserved, slow cooking, simplest of methods, using hot stones and a natural oven.

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The buffet
A grand ol’ plate of food
Banana cake

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The food itself was fresh out of the ocean, chickens that had in the morning roamed about the garden, vegetables from the fields nearby –  I challenge anyone to present a fresher, more local meal!  Once all the food was taken inside and we followed suit, there were salads and dressings to accompany the various fish and meats. The fare itself, was the most basic, simple one could ever come across, but everything was perfectly cooked, topped off with wine, fresh juice and the most divine banana cake I’ve ever had. The simplest pleasures are un-mistakenly had in the simplest ways. Not to mention the tribal dance and music show afterwards that pushes the evening into a night of unforgettable revelry.

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