Bula! Before I started med school, I thought it would be good for my health and sanity to take a few days off, head to Fiji, and completely unwind. In the 10 days I was there, I went zip-lining, spent a day on an uninhabited tropical island, got a massage every other day, visited local villages, swam under a waterfall, and got sunburnt beyond belief, despite applying sunscreen with religious fervour.
But let’s get to the most important part – how was the food in Fiji? Well to be honest, for a foodie, not only is Fiji not particularly exciting, but actually a downright misery. For starters, most people seem to largely eat at home (which to be fair, is usually where you get the best food no matter where you go). There doesn’t seem to be much of a culture of going out for a nice meal, meaning that most places are dingy, take-away oriented places, almost always serving one of three things: fast food, Indian food, or faux-Chinese food. In fact, I can sum up the culinary scene in Fiji with one phrase – chop suey is well and alive.
(Though, after having had it a couple times, I can understand why it’s dead pretty much everywhere else)
As for traditional Fiji cuisine, it’s also thin on the ground. As modern Fiji was founded by settlers, the foods commonly eaten naturally gravitated toward that of the countries doing the settling. There were only a few notable dishes I could find after extensive research, and that was lovo and kokoda.
I managed to get my hands on an excellent bowl of Kokoda on my 4th day in Fiji. Essentially the Fijian variant of ceviche, freshly caught ocean fish is diced, marinated in lemon juice to ‘cook’, and then served in coconut milk with spices. Along the side I also got pieces of locally grown cassava and taro, as well as a refreshing salad of cabbage, sea grapes, and coconut. Although simple, this was just delectable, the fresh, tender fish in turns spicy, sour, and creamy, filling me up without weighing me down in the heat.
As for Lovo, I had a meal of it on a tour I took out to a local village. Wrapped in coconut leaves and cooked in an underground fire pit, the chicken was suffused with a deep, rich smokiness of an intensity I’ve never had before. The only downside is that there is no way for me to recreate it back home!
Along with lovo, our hosts also served up a buffet of home-styled dishes that made for, hands-down, the most delicious meal I had on this trip. Turns out, I am a huge fan of palusami – succulent taro leaves slow-cooked in coconut cream. There were also hearty stews and curries, locally-grown veggies, and fresh fish cooked with onions and herbs in coconut milk. I even tried some kava – a traditional, and hugely beloved beverage made from steeping the ground roots of the kava plant. Frankly, I thought it tasted like dirt mixed with water, but hey, at least I tried it!
Aside from those few times however, the meals I’ve had in Fiji were largely disappointing. So does this mean there’s nothing good at all to eat in Fiji? Not at all. Where Fiji truly shines is its produce. Being such a small island nation, almost all harvesting is done by hand, foods are largely organic, and there are practically zero food miles. What that translates to are markets chock-full of the most seasonal crops and the freshest of ocean catches. I ate pineapples so sweet they’ll rot your teeth, pillows of roti filled with soft curried potatoes, fresh ears of grilled corn, fried fish on nourishing loaves of cassava… the list goes on. I may not really be one for cooking, but the produce in Fiji really made me wish I had a kitchen in my hotel room.
All in all, Fiji isn’t a place you go for the food, though the produce is definitely something worth checking out. What Fiji did give me however (aside from some much needed relaxation) was a renewed appreciation for just how truly lucky we are in Australia. Although as expensive as all get-out, the quality and variety of the food available here is really is unparalleled by any country I’ve visited to date. Here’s to Australia!