Beyond the golden sun, the soft white sands, and the everlasting sounds of the Pacific tides, Fiji is a land filled with bounty. Far from the riches sought by the explorers of centuries past, today’s savvy but curious traveller is looking for something far more in tune with island culture.
Visitors looking for the real taste of Fiji will find that Fijian traditional food not only satisfies their appetite for culture, but for the most basic of human needs - tasty, heart-warming nourishment. There’s no better way to learn about and participate in Fiji’s rich culture than by sampling its food, or by joining in the traditional methods of food preparation like the lovo. After all, in Fiji, the preparation is every bit as fun and exotic as the food itself.
With its Melanesian and Polynesian ancestry, and its later eighteenth century Indian influences, Fiji food has evolved over the past century to include rich, bold flavours from its diverse heritage. Fiji’s location in the middle of the bountiful South Pacific has also greatly influenced the food found on Fijians’ tables.
Think of island life, and what immediately comes to mind is coconut, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, yams and fish. Rice is also a staple of Fijian food, and when served with fish and chicken and cooked with coconut, curry, cumin, chillies or turmeric, it becomes a hearty gift to the senses.
The lovo - a taste of Fiji
One of the best places to enjoy a Fijian meal is at a lovo feast. Typically held on special occasions, the lovo has come to symbolize family and community celebrations. It’s the perfect place for visitors to witness and embrace a traditional Fijian feast.
The lovo itself is an underground oven that uses hot rocks to slow cook everything from chicken and fish to sauces and vegetables. Parcels of food are wrapped in taro or banana leaves and are often filled with tasty coconut or other sauces made of chilies or cumin. Food like taro, yams, sweet potatoes, fish and chicken will take on delicious smoky flavours when cooked in this manner. And like the Hawaiian ‘luau’, the Fijian lovo is filled with song and dance and plenty of laughter.
Finding your lovo
From the tiny Fijian villages and secluded villa resorts, to organised beach side events, the lovo feast is one of the most popular attractions in Fiji, and depending on your mood, you can find an intimate, community based celebration, or a large public event.
Traditionally, lovos are held on public holidays or for family celebrations such as weddings and birthdays. Most resorts will also provide a lovo night.
Whet your appetite with a bit of kava
When visiting a Fijian village, it’s customary to make an offering of kava root to the village elder. Village hosts will then hold a kava ceremony where they grind the root, straining it through a cloth and into a wooden bowl. The juice is then shared among the guests.
Slightly bitter in taste and cloudy in character, kava is an acquired taste, but the root, and the ceremony itself are an important part of Fijian culture. Beware though, as kava will make your tongue go numb, and can be mildly intoxicating, so a very small amount goes a long way. With dinner, most Fijians drink water.
Kick off any meal with kokoda
In Fiji, the popular starter to any meal is a fresh dish of Kokoda (pronounced ko-kon-da). Known in many Pacific island nations, Kokoda has taken on a uniquely Fijian flavour due to the addition of chilli. A starter that is served cold, Kokoda starts with raw, thinly sliced mahi-mahi (a popular game fish found in Fijian waters).
Dressed with coconut cream, onions, salt and chilli, the fish is “cooked” with lemon and lime juice that binds the ingredients together. The perfect palate cleanser, Kokoda is typically served in a coconut shell or clamshell.
Taro, taro and more taro
Taro is the mainstay of Fijian food – in fact it’s so important in Fijian life that it has its own national holiday! A root crop that resembles a sweet potato in shape, a turnip in colour, and an artichoke in taste, taro is featured as a side dish to almost every Fijian meal.
Mashed, boiled, cut into tasty fries, made into fritters or enjoyed the healthier steamed way, taro is very much like a potato. One popular dish is kolokasi, a delicious stew made of chicken and taro. Taro leaves are equally useful as they can be used to wrap meat and vegetables for cooking in an underground lovo, or over an open flame.
Satisfy your sweet tooth
Take the fresh bananas and coconuts found in Fiji, and you’ll have the main ingredients necessary for many of the desserts found in there. Banana Cake is one of the most popular desserts around, and when topped with a light icing, the flavourful cake becomes a treat loved by all.
Rich, moist and above all, enticingly light and tropical, the banana cake is found at many family events. Other popular desserts include Fijian honey cake, coconut tart and the deliciously tangy mango pudding. Each of these desserts are made with the freshest Fiji ingredients, much of which is grown locally or on nearby islands.