Just a short flight from Australia’s east coast, Fiji is popular for sunny beaches, underwater adventures, and…food. You can’t visit this archipelago of more than 300 islands without indulging in the delicious cuisine. Fiji has two types of traditional foods – indigenous Fijian which focuses on fresh, deliciously spiced seafood, and Fiji Indian with spicey chilis and curries introduced by indentured servants who came here to work in the sugar cane industry in the 1870s. Here are the top 12 must-try dishes to experience in Fiji.
Cooking over an open fire or in an underground oven is a tradition here, and the word lovo literally means “feast cooked in the earth.” More of a cooking method than a dish, it’s the Fijian’s version of having a barbecue and is served at festivals and weddings. Fish, pork, and lamb along with select vegetables are wrapped in banana and taro leaves and slow-cooked in an underground pit lined with hot stones and coconut husks. The meat turns out amazingly tender with a smokey flavor from the leaves. It’s a special occasion food and not often prepared, but some resorts prepare it for guests.
This Fijian dish consists of a mixture of meat and coconut milk stuffed in taro leaves and cooked as a lovo. Corned beef is traditionally used because it was once hard to get fresh meat on the islands, but fish is a good substitute. For the most authentic flavor, it’s prepared as a lovo. You’ll also find palusami in other Pacific island nations like Samoa and Tuvalu.
Topoi is a sweet dumpling made with grated coconut and cassava, a tuberous root from a tropical tree. It’s sweetened with sugar and coconut milk or cream. The mixture is formed into balls and simmered in boiling water until thoroughly cooked to remove the cyanides in the cassava. Once cooked, cassava is rich in nutrients. The dumplings are removed when done, and the remaining water is cooked further with more coconut milk and grated cassava until it has a thick consistency.
Image courtesy of yuko_ppp2501, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Fiji cuisine is one of the healthiest in the world. For example, kokoda is a raw fish salad served as a starter or a lunch entree usually in a coconut shell or pineapple. The most common fish used is walu, a type of Spanish mackerel. It’s similar to Peru’s ceviche or Hawaii’s poke. The difference is the addition of coconut milk for more of a refreshing flavor. Fresh fish is marinated in lemon or lime juice. Red onions, spring onions, tomatoes, chilies, and capsicum (peppers) are added. The combination is then soaked in coconut milk for a delicious, refreshing flavor.
Known as “sea grapes,” nama is actually a type of seaweed grown and harvested in Fiji’s shallow waters. Nama has so much vitamin C and A, it’s thought to have healing properties by the Japanese. Often called “green caviar,” it’s a signature buffet item at resorts and hotels. You can also find it in the local markets. While other countries use nama in soups or stews, Fijians use it as a garnish, in salads, or simply eaten with lemons and chilis as a seasoning.
Vakalavalava is a version of a steamed Fijian pudding called vakalolo. Also known as cassava cake, this rich dessert is made with freshly grated cassava, shredded coconut, butter, and sugar. The mixture is baked in a pan and sometimes topped with creams, custards, syrup, or sweetened condensed milk. Some versions of the dessert are enriched with coconut milk or mashed bananas. It’s eaten for afternoon tea or used as a breakfast food.
Roti is a simple flatbread that originated in India and has been a favorite in Fiji for decades. Plain white flour is used for the softest roti, but wholemeal flour can be used for a healthier version. In this case, extra water has to be added to keep the roti from being tough and dry. Cooked over an iron tava (iron griddle), it’s served as a staple side, a side dish for curries, or as a wrap at Fiji’s curry houses and street food vendors.
Fish Lolo is a classic Fijian dish made by simmering meaty white fish such as cod, mahi-mahi, or catfish in lolo, the Fijian word for coconut milk. The flavor of the fish is enhanced with ginger, sliced onions, and sometimes chopped tomato. It’s often eaten alongside taro root, boiled sweet potatoes, rice, or lime wedges.
Known as the asparagus of Fiji, is the Duruka is an unopened flower of a cane shoot, a type of sugar cane found in other Pacific islands and Southeast Asia. There are both red and green varieties. The red variety has a hard texture while the green variety is softer. Duruka is often used as an ingredient in curries.
A Fijian diet staple for centuries, taro is a starchy root vegetable. Because they grow directly in the soil, root veggies are very nutritious. Taro is similar to potatoes and yams and can be mashed, boiled, or cut into for making chips or fries. In the 1990s, Fiji became a major exporter of taro after leaf blight destroyed crops in nearby Samoa. Taro is such a prominent food in Fiji, the root has its own holiday called Taro Day. It’s celebrated in May during the first full moon.
Like America, Fiji is a melting pot nation. “Baigan” is the Hindi language’s word for eggplant, and Baigan Valo is a fusion dish that is essentially stuffed eggplant. Fish or a spicy sauce is used for the stuffing, and the dish is topped with coconut cream just before serving it. It’s a popular item on the menu at restaurants and resorts.
As we have seen, coconut and coconut milk or cream is a staple in Fijian cuisine. This dish consists of fish that is lightly pan-fried along with sauteed peppers and other vegetables in coconut cream. The cream absorbs the flavor of the veggies for a delightful flavor.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.