Food and Drink, Kwaj-style

I haven’t fit in to a single-digit dress size since Johnny Carson was on the air, so that alone should tell you eating has never been a problem for me.  I prefer healthy meals and being active though; it balances out my addiction to sweets and my sedentary times writing blog posts.  But eating at my primary source of food, Kwajalein’s PDR*, has had its challenges.

Like other cafeteria-style facilities I’ve eaten in, there are lots of choices.  The salad bar, with crisp fresh spinach, red cabbage and an array of toppings to choose from has been a stable of every lunch and occasional dinner.  I was told that in the recent past the salad bar items used to be washed with bleach water.  And not just a drop of bleach to disinfect a big quantity of water, but enough to where you could smell and taste the bleach.  No, I’m not kidding.  But thankfully that has been corrected.

The hot food line of easy “Slop and Go” food is the tempting, mindless way to go but is not for the unwary diner.  It’s a momentous occasion when I don’t cut in to overcooked and leathery piece of chicken, or under-cooked pork.  With only one rejection by my GI tract, I consider myself lucky. My friend John now microwaves every cooked meal for 30 seconds after experiencing his 4th “GI rejection.” Steak night, where rare is preferred, is actually quite good.  Mongolian grill night is also another favorite.

At every meal, including breakfast, there is a large pan of white rice.  The local Marshallese eat lots of it.  Lunch and dinner will have overcooked vegetable choices, a soup, a sandwich bar.  You can ask for a burger to be grilled on most occasions.  No outside food is allowed in the PDR, but there are ways to take some out.  I hear the Marshallese who work on the island take dinner home in a very filled takeout container to share with their families on Ebeye.  The desserts are limited to sheet cake, pie which someone described as Kwajberry** and the self-serve ice cream.  I’ve become quite taken with the cream colored pudding on the salad bar though — some days banana, sometime vanilla, but always the same color.  And it’s all free, with plenty of it.

Some people might say, “But, Beth!  Quit whining and go get some of your own things at the grocery story.”  Thank you for the kind suggestion, Mr. Heckler, but I don’t have access to the grocery store.  I am NOT ALLOWED to shop in the one grocery store on the island.  Let me explain this phenomenon.

There are different categories of workers here — a resident (meaning you are residing on the island under a work contract or military assignment), a spouse or dependent of a resident, a TDY (temporary worker like me), or else a sponsored visitor.  There are Marshallese who ferry over from the nearby island of Ebeye, but they don’t reside here (unless they are married to a resident).

People live in either a BQ –Bachelor’s Quarters, a studio apartment with a microwave, minifridge and a sink — or a house.  If you live in a BQ, then you eat in the PDR as part of your contract, but can shop at the grocery store if you are a resident (but not TDY or visitors living in BQ’s).  The Marshallese workers will also eat in the PDR.

Anyone in a house relies on the grocery store for their food needs other than some ordering on line.  They can eat at the PDR on the weekends and holidays and pay a cash fee for their meal.  What food is ordered takes 2 weeks to reach the island with the final delivery by barge.  I can see how this can lead to some conflict within the small community but I hear running out of food is not really an issue.  Running out of the good stuff like yummy avocados or cheese may be.


Bakery open for business.

There used to be a nice restaurant on the island but it no longer exists.  The Food Court has Subway, Burger King and the American Grill, the last of which is currently located at the ferry terminal due to renovations.  And the Food Court has been closed as well lately.   The bakery is open every day except Mondays.  The Shoppette, similar to a convenience store can supply you with frozen foods, liquor, toiletries and snacks.  These are open to everyone.


Food Court before renovations began.

“So wait, you really can’t just walk in and buy something in the grocery store?”  No, Mr. Heckler.  I cannot.  Ok, maybe I might be able to sneak in on a day when there isn’t security standing out front checking badges, but I’m not sure if they’d “card” me at the checkout.  I suppose I could send a friend in who does have the appropriate level of broccoli clearance to buy me something but that’s the only way it will happen.

One other way to get a good meal is private parties or other gatherings.  I’ve had the pleasure on a number of occasions of enjoying some great meals.  But soon enough though I’ll be back in the land of choices and my own ability to cook again.


Private brunch with friends.


Local lobster at a house party.

*PDR:  for Pacific Dining Facility.  It is now the Capt. Louis Zamperini Dining Facility but no one seems to call it this.                                                                                                                        ** Kwajberry:  the unidentifiable berry-like substance in slices of pie in the PDR dessert cooler.


14 thoughts on “Food and Drink, Kwaj-style

  1. If it were within my power to do it I would have everyone (particularly Americans ) do just exactly what you are doing for a few months just to get a feeling of what is really going on in this world.
    Good on ya lady. God bless ya.

  2. You forgot to mention the one-hand style for eating at the PDR (PDR was for Pacific Dining Room). One hand for knife, spoon or fork, the other to constantly wave the flies off your food.

  3. Ah, Kwaj food. The BK at the food court was terrible, they weren’t allowed to grill the burgers so they were microwaved. And yes, they do check your badge at check out in the grocery store.

  4. I think so, but not sure. It depends on your housing too and how much space this requires (I don’t know anything about home brewing). The BQ’s (bachelor’s quarters, i.e. studio apt) can be small, but if you’re used to boat living, it’ll feel pretty roomy. You are offered either a BQ or a house depending on your job description/type. If you’re on Facebook, try to join Kwaj Connect and ask the group if it’s really important. I’m off the island now. Thanks for reading my blog!

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