Five Secrets For Enjoying the Best Food in Fiji
Fiji is a feast for all the senses with its turquoise waters, white sand beaches, lush emerald peaks and farmlands, and its warm, salt-scented sea breezes.
But Fijian food is one of the most sensual experiences you’ll have.
After all your fun snorkeling, diving, hiking, sailing, exploring and shopping, you’ll be hungry, and ready for a taste of authentic Fijian food.
You can buy hamburgers, pizzas or even a hot dog here, but please don’t.
Fiji is a food lover’s paradise. Explore. Experiment.
Every country has its government-produced food guide. You know the one. Eat five servings of vegetables and fruit, this much protein – that much grain.
Fiji is no exception, but its food guide is in the shape of a pineapple and, along with useful information about nutrition, advises responsible consumption of kava.
What is kava? We’ll tell you soon. Hint: it’s not a food group.
The perky pineapple-shaped Fiji food guide is your first hint that fresh tropical fruit is popular here.
But the best foods (and food experiences) in Fiji go well beyond fruit.
What exactly is Fijian food though?
With cultural influences from India, Britain, China and other South Asian countries among the 300 or so islands here, how can there be only one Fijian cuisine?
There isn’t just one. And bonus, the food here is a gourmet’s dream – a delightful fusion! Get ready for your taste buds to dance, and for your wallet to take a break – especially if you cook the local foods yourself.
In Fiji, dining out experiences abound for every taste and budget. Euro-Fijian, French, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and American fast-food restaurants serve a multi-ethnic clientele of local people, resident expatriates, and tourists.
But whether you cook it yourself, eat at a small family restaurant or dine out in a luxury resort or hotel, there are secrets to enjoying the best food in Fiji.
Secret #1: Eat fresh seafood.
Endless choices. A foodie heaven!
Choose some of these fabulous offerings from the Pacific Ocean and Fijian lagoons:
• Fresh unicorn fish, parrot fish, mahi-mahi, rock lobsters, tuna, cray, crab, mussels, turtle, sea urchins, sea cucumber, octopus and prawn. There are many varieties of finned fish to eat. Search the local markets and places where the fishermen sell their catch for the best prices and selection.
• Seaweed, hand-harvested fresh “sea grape” nama, or umi-budo as a side dish or in a salad.
• You must try Kokoda, a ceviche-like dish of raw fresh mahi-mahi fish marinated in lime, coconut cream, peppers, onion, and tomatoes and served in a half coconut shell or clamshell, or scooped into fresh green lettuce leaf cups.
Seafood is usually served fried, in chowders and soups, steamed, gingered, curried, or marinated (as in Kokoda). Accompanied by rice, roti, fresh salad, sea vegetables, or taro fries, have seafood many ways, and have it often.
Secret #2: Fiji’s local farming.
Fijian agriculture produces grass-fed livestock predominantly free from commercial farming methods and includes beef, pork, goat, and poultry.
Some simple, tasty local meat-based dishes include:
- Pulusami: Well-cooked taro leaves, with coconut cream, onions and sometimes beef.
- Kolokasi – a chicken and taro stew with tomatoes, celery, onions and lemon.
- Pork cooked many ways: Try spiced coconut pork or a curried pork dish with Fiji pineapple.
- Goat meat in a coconut curry sauce and wrapped inside a warm roti.
- Deliciously seasoned meat or poultry soups loaded with fresh home grown vegetables are inexpensive and very healthy dishes common in most households and easy to cook yourself, from market ingredients.
Goat, pork and poultry cuts are often marinated in spices and coconut cream then wrapped in banana or taro leaves and baked in an underground oven or lovo.
More about the lovo coming up…
Everyday meat and poultry dishes are prepared as fragrant curries, served in roti, or in bowls as a tasty stew. Meals are flavoured with garlic, ginger, turmeric, galangal and fresh herbs along with freshly grated or creamed coconut, a well-loved ingredient of Fijian cuisine.
Secret #3: Eat fresh, locally grown produce.
Locally grown fruits and vegetables are delicious and inexpensive. Win-win!
Eating five daily servings in Fiji is easy. They are so tasty that stopping at five might be a challenge. A couple of those fruit servings could be part of an adult beverage cocktail though. Up to you.
Many fruits are seasonal, but there’s always something ripe.
The following are grown in Fiji:
- Citrus fruits like lemon, lime, mandarin and orange
- Melons, guava, avocado, bananas, coconut, pineapples and papaya are familiar favourites.
- Passion-fruit (fragrant, sweet, tart and very juicy), and sour sop (tastes like a combination of pineapple and banana or papaya) are a taste sensation.
- Breadfruit is bland and potato-like but excellent fried and as a side dish. Try it at least once.
The island village markets are a riot of rainbow-coloured produce with heaps of freshly harvested leafy green vegetables at every stall.
Local farmers grow the familiar cucumber, greens, pumpkin, carrots, French beans, English and Chinese cabbage, tomatoes, okra, eggplant, cauliflower, and zucchini.
These next ones are vegetables grown in Fijian home gardens and sold at the markets. They are less well known by visitors, but give them a try! Ask the market vendors how to prepare them.
- Bele, rourou, karamua, saijan, boda, and dhania
Staples and everyday favourites:
- Duruka – Often called the ‘Fijian Asparagus,’ the unique Fijian vegetable duruka is actually the unopened flower of a cane shoot (closely related to sugar cane). There are green and red varieties of the plant. Fijians often add duruka to coconut milk or put it in a curry. The red shoot contains a more crumbly, nutty flavour; the green shoot is softer. Both types are delicious.
- Taro is a centuries-old staple and so revered it has its own holiday, Taro Day, celebrated during the first moon in May. Slightly purple in colour, taro is a bit like a potato and can be boiled, mashed or fried. Fijians prefer to steam taro and use the leaves too, cooked in coconut milk where they taste like collards or spinach.
- Cassava is the most cultivated and consumed staple crop in Fiji. It is boiled in salt and water until soft, and eaten with stews and curries. Also known as sago or tapioca, cassava root can be grated, soaked, and mixed into a cake or other dessert. It’s versatile, nutritious, filling, and inexpensive. And tasty!
Secret #4: The Lovo!
Enjoy at least one meal prepared in a lovo, the Fijian name for a feast cooked in the earth. The taste is like a barbecue, only a little more smoked, and it’s a very efficient way to cook large quantities of food in one go. A lovo is commonly prepared during special events such as funerals, weddings, Christmas or birthdays. Or as a special treat for visitors. It is a very healthy meal because no oil is used in cooking.
How it’s done:
A hole is dug in the ground and a fire lit in it to heat a pile of smooth stones. When the stones are red hot, the wood and ash are moved away and the stones arranged flat.
Cassava, sweet potato, yam, and taro are peeled and wrapped in foil. Large cuts of pork (like a leg or shoulder or even a whole piglet) are seasoned and wrapped in foil or woven leaves. Chicken, fish, beef, and lamb pieces are marinated in lime, ginger and coconut cream (and other spices) then wrapped and placed into the lovo.
The traditional dish, “Pulusami” can be included, and is made by filling taro leaves with thick coconut cream, onions, salt and sometimes canned corned beef. It is made into a parcel and then wrapped in foil.
The meat and fish go in first then the vegetables and the Pulusami. The lovo is covered with large leaves and coconut stalks and layers of damp fabric. Once it’s all tucked in, soil is piled on top, and after a few hours the feast is unearthed and devoured!
Are you hungry yet?
So, as they say in Fiji, Kana! (Let’s eat!)
Secret #5: Remember the kava we mentioned?
Kava is a must-try experience for every visitor but if you decide to stay in Fiji be wary of developing an addiction to it!
If you’re invited to a family home or gathering and offered kava, good manners demand that you have a taste.
Fijians are fond of their kava and usually drink it before a meal. You’ll soon come to recognize the words, “Nataune ni gunuyaqona?” (Is it kava time?)
What’s in it?
Kava is made from the ground or grated root of the Yagona plant. The pulp is mixed with water in a large four-legged bowl, stirred well with a muslin cloth and then spooned into a communal half coconut shell. There is a series of ritual clapping and spoken words that accompany the kava ceremony.
Kava has a sedative, anesthetic, and euphoric effect and, although mild, will make your lips and tongue noticeably numb. Drink enough of it, and you may find yourself lying flat, unable to move, and feeling very relaxed!
There’s a reason the Fijian food guide recommends moderation!
You’ve been warned, but do try it once.
How about a nice bowl of kava to get you started on your Fiji food adventure?
Sota tale! (See you soon!)