Papua New Guinea: Kaukau, Makau, na Banana

Sweet potatoes, tilapia with spinach and banana cake mmmm 🙂

I had fun building this menu, I read forums of locals arguing about kaukau, saw countless coconut recipes and enjoyed discovering the flavor profiles of PNG. I’ve mentioned before that Martin is allergic to all tree nuts and we have doctor’s orders to avoid coconuts (even though it is technically a seed). So if you love coconut I encourage you to try one of the many coconut recipes out there! For us I landed on fish, sweet potatoes, spinach, and banana cake for dessert.

Why you ask?

Papua New Guinea is an island country so naturally, on the coast fish is abundant. Next is kaukau or sweet potatoes, a most loved starch on the island. Finally greens are popular and bananas can be found growing wild.

Let’s get to it!

Let’s start with dessert first! I have made this cake before and it is delicious! The recipe is not from PNG but the cake celebrates the banana and that is what is important here 🙂

Aunt MaryKay’s Banana cake

You can find the original recipe here, I have tweaked a few things but for the most part this recipe is pretty perfect!

The Cake:

  • 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk OR 2/3 cup milk with 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups very ripe bananas mashed (about 3 large)

The Frosting:

  • 3 3/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3-4 Tablespoons milk or heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch of salt

To Make the Cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Prepare a 13×9 inch baking dish with cooking spray
  1. In a large bowl (not your stand mixer bowl- you’ll need that for the frosting) whisk together the dry ingredients: sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  2. In another large bowl add the oil, buttermilk, vanilla and eggs, beat to combine.
  3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and whisk or beat only for a minute until combined- DO NOT OVER MIX
  4. Once the dry ingredients are incorporated and the batter is smooth add the mashed bananas to the mixture. I fold mine into the batter with no more than 5 turns of my spoon.
  5. Bake 30-35 minute or until toothpick comes out clean, set cake aside to cool completely.

To Make The Frosting

  1. In a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, use the whisk attachment and beat the softened butter till it is a white color.
  2. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla, 3 tablespoons of milk, and a pinch of salt (for an added depth of flavor).
  3. Starting on low, mix to combine- as the powdered sugar blends with the butter you can increase the speed. If the frosting is thick add another tablespoon of milk. It should take about 5 minutes from start to finish to make this buttercream frosting.

To Finish the Cake

Leave the cake in the pan you baked it in, once it is completely cooled frost the cake using all of that yummy goodness. Slice, serve and enjoy! Optional: Add sliced bananas on top to decorate.


Honey Lime Tilapia

A lot of recipes I found from PNG call for starting a fire and digging a pit for your food to cook in…. it is very cold outside so I had to take some creative liberties.

I learned that tilapia, honey and limes are all enjoyed in Papua New Guinea so I landed on a recipe from It is so good and you can find it here. The recipe has you marinade the fish for 1-4 hours! I managed 20 minutes (if that) sooooo our flavor was more mild but still delicious. I can’t wait to try this one again but with the full marinade.

Roasted Kaukau


  • 2 medium sweet potatoes peeled and diced
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • S/P to taste

Toss the diced sweet potatoes with olive oil and salt and pepper in a bowl. Once they are all covered, place them on a tin foil lined baking sheet or directly on a baking stone. Cook in preheated 400 degree oven for 40-50 minutes or until browned and you can easily stick one with a fork. Serve hot 🙂

Sautéed spinach with garlic and lime

Finally we have our leafy greens!


  • 10 oz fresh spinach (or I like to use 1 large fist full per serving)
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs minced or 3 whole cloves crushed of garlic
  • 1 lime’s worth of lime juice
  • Salt to taste


  1. Wash and roughly chop the spinach.
  2. Place a pan with a lid over medium heat, add the oil and allow to heat up for about 1 minute.
  3. Add garlic and cook till fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add all the spinach at once and quickly cover (the water on the leaves can cause the oil to spit), cook covered for 1 minute
  5. Quickly, uncover and stir to mix in raw greens, recover and cook for another minute.
  6. Remove the lid and stir till all the greens are wilted but still vibrant green, about 30 seconds.
  7. Remove from the heat add salt, taste and add more if needed, add lime juice and stir
  8. Serve and enjoy 🙂

Note: Salt used correctly will not make a dish taste ‘salty’ it will instead make it taste more like itself. So always add a little salt, taste and add more if it needs it.

I hope you enjoyed this culinary trip to Papua New Guinea! I think it’s about time for a cup of tea and a slice of that banana cake mmmm….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s