How craftsmanship, tradition and connection are at the heart and soul of this family business.
It's all about the bananas. And sago too of course. But the types of bananas used ALWAYS makes the difference. It's the STAR, the HEART and center of the dish. - Sisters & Co Catering
To start, it was simply a little side venture of asking friends and family if they required catering for local gatherings. Delicious dishes and lunch packs were whipped up and word quickly began to spread about these flavour filled, fresh, home-cooked meals.
Mid last year and over numerous cups of tea and chats about their love of food and cooking, mother Guiato Tau Asi and two daughters Clare and Ascenate Asi, originally from Rigo, Central Province, decided it was time to share their passion with the people of Port Moresby, but what actually transpired was an inspiring cultural journey that goes way beyond the food itself.
Head Chef Clare Asi tells me, "We source our knowledge from our traditional heritage that has been passed down from mother to daughter. It is about identity, it represents who we are and that's the story of our Bariva dish." A beautiful and popular dish made with locally sourced bananas, sago, and coconut cream. "What makes our Bariva significant is not just the sweetness and savouriness. It's about the atmosphere we create and the utensils we have to use, the connection that we have to each other in order to make it. Every step of the process is sacred. We labour heart and soul into it to give honour to our customers."
The making of Bariva involves the mashing of overripe bananas that are then mixed with sago. Sago is a starch extracted from the spongy centre, or pith, of various tropical palm stems and for this recipe the older the sago the better. Clare mentions that you can tell the age of the sago by its colour, young sago is white, sago that turns brown to red has been out in the sun for sometime. It's these particular details that really affect the texture and taste of the Bariva. Once the sago has been strained it is then gently folded into the ripe bananas and large spoonfuls of the mixture are then placed into green banana-like leaves, Sisters & Co Catering use leaves from the bird of paradise plant as a preference. Once the leaf has been filled and folded with the mixture it is then boiled in water until cooked. To prepare the cream, the coconut meat is removed with a little of the coconut water, which is then boiled to the preferred consistency to pour over the Bariva.
The history and tradition of each dish plays great importance to this family, their paternal grandfather Asi Gini was a cook during the colonial times in Port Moresby. He was an illiterate man from a tiny village unknown to many still. He became the gateway of opportunities for all of their relatives in the village to try making something of themselves in Port Moresby.
Clare, who professionally studied Culinary Arts in Israel tells me, "My grandfather was gifted, he knew tastes and flavours. My father was the same as well. I remember growing up, all of us siblings, cooking with our father, our mother, it was about food, cultural protocols, honour and value in serving the community as a Papuan Woman. Standing there for hours on end cooking for 40 - 100 people, even 500 at times!. That was our life growing up."
A story that I am sure resonates with many Papua New Guineans, as it relates to being part of a strong community spirit where food is as the social forefront.
In the early days Sisters & Co Catering relied on marketing through word of mouth and WhatsApp groups, but this wasn't really supporting the unique, special and cultural storytelling aspect of the food. Therefore the ladies went on to create a Facebook page in December last year, the perfect platform where tradition can meet modern business needs and is now currently hosting over 570 followers. The content being created is captivating, you feel a real sense of inclusion and authenticity to everything that is being produced. Customers can place their orders through the page and with repeat business increasing, it's a formula that's working.
So what's next for this wonderful trio?
"We want to specialise our refinement of traditional delicacies and treats, as we introduce each dish we will tell the story of its heritage and humble beginnings so we can keep connecting with our audience." Says Clare.
Such a clever and pure way to manage a business, let's hope that one day they release a family cookbook so these recipes will stay alive forever and traditions can be shared to the next generations for many, many more years to come.