Fijian cuisine is as diverse as it is delicious. With cultural influences from India, Britain, China and other South Asian countries, there’s a lot to enjoy within Fiji’s 330 islands. Like most countries you might vacation to, Fiji boasts restaurants that serve familiar cuisine like Mexican, Japanese, Thai, Italian and even American! However, enjoying Fijian food is truly one of the most fascinating and sensual experiences you’ll have here. Get into the “Bula” spirit with these five dining secrets that will help you make the most out of your time in the islands.
Fresh fish abound.
Fiji’s local markets are the place to be—especially on a Saturday morning. It’s here that you’ll find many varieties of finned fish from common catches tuna and mahi-mahi to more exotic species like unicorn and parrotfish. You’ll also find a plethora of shellfish such as cray, crab, mussels and rock lobsters. If you’re looking for an authentic Fijian fish experience, though, be sure to order kokoda at least once while you’re there! Kokoda is a ceviche-like dish of raw, fresh mahi-mahi 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. It’s a favorite local delicacy and can be found in many restaurants like Tovolea at Six Senses in Malolo Island or Nadina Fijian Restaurant in Denarau Island.
One great thing about Fiji: you won’t find harmful commercial farming methods here. Fijian agriculture produces grass-fed livestock such as beef, pork, goat and poultry which make up the island’s famous and tasty local meat-based dishes like pulusami—well-cooked taro leaves with coconut cream, onions and beef—and kolokasi—a chicken and taro stew with tomatoes, celery, onions, and lemon. Goat, pork and poultry cuts are often marinated in spices and coconut cream (a well-loved ingredient of Fijian cuisine) and wrapped in banana or taro leaves and baked in an underground oven. Meals are usually flavored with garlic, ginger, turmeric, galangal, and fresh herbs—making them incredibly flavorful! Do not miss out on these beloved delicacies.
Loco for local.
Fiji’s local markets are full of delicious and inexpensive fruits and vegetables. The price-per-heap way of selling produce is because Fijian society is centered around sharing. Because of the already fair prices, there’s no need to bargain. Many fruits are seasonal but there’s always something ripe to buy. Indulge your tastebuds with sweet and tart fruits like passionfruit and soursop or classics like melons, pineapples, bananas, and guava. Additionally, village markets are the perfect place to try something unfamiliar like breadfruit—while bland and potato-like is excellent fried and as a side dish—and lesser-known veggies grown in Fijian home gardens like bele, rourou, karamua, saijan, boda and dhania. Just make sure not to leave without sampling durum (aka ‘Fijian asparagus’), taro (which has its own holiday during the first full moon of May), and cassava (the most cultivated and consumed state crop in Fiji).
Live, love, lovo.
While you’re in Fiji, there is absolutely one thing you must do: enjoy at least one meal prepared in a lovo. Fijian for ‘a feast cooked in the earth’, a lovo is a hole dug in the ground with a fire lit in it to heat a pile of smooth stones. As soon as they’re hot, the wood and ash are moved away and the stones are arranged flat. Cassava, sweet potato, yam, and taro are peeled and wrapped in foil, large cuts of pork are seasoned and wrapped in foil or woven leaves and chicken, fish, beef and lamb pieces are marinated in lime, ginger and, of course, coconut cream before being wrapped and placed inside. The lovo is then covered with large leaves and coconut stalks and layers of damp fabric. Once everything is inside, the soil is piled on top and, after a few hours, the feast is unearthed and ready to eat! Lovo tastes like barbecue, only a little more smoked, and is an extremely efficient way of cooking for large quantities of food. What’s even better—it doesn’t use oil, so it’s very healthy!
The coveted kava.
Ask any local what the one thing you need to try is and they’ll say kava. Actually, you may not even have a choice. If you’re invited to a family home or gathering and offered kava, good manners demand that you have a taste. Kava is made from the root of a pepper plant that’s ground into a very fine powder and mixed with water to create a murky drink that looks like muddy dishwater. Be prepared to experience a mild tingly sensation in your mouth—but that’s not all. Kava has a sedative, anesthetic, and euphoric effect. After your third or fourth bowl, you’ll definitely be on ‘island time’. When you’re visiting, you might even have the opportunity to take part in a traditional kava ceremony. When receiving kava, you clap once with a cupped hand, drink the entire thing at once and then clap three times. If you’re worried about the effects and only want a smaller portion, make sure to ask the leader of the ceremony for a “low tide”.
Ready to get started on your Fijian food adventure? Alright, then. Kana (“let’s eat”)!