The author’s home-cooked meal from a Flavours of Fiji Cooking School class. // © 2016 Konrad Thorpe
Feature image (above): Sample Fijian liquor with a rum master during a private tasting at Fiji Rum Co. // © 2016 Natalie Chudnovsky
Plentiful organic produce, fresh seafood, bustling markets and a multiethnic population make Fiji a food lover’s paradise.
Fijian dietary staples include taro root, kumala (sweet potato) brought over from Papua New Guinea and cassava, a tuberous root akin to a potato. You’ll find these starchy staples boiled or fried and served as a side dish. Fijians are also experts at using every part of the coconut — juice, milk, pulp and even the shell, which is often used for serving food.
It’s not surprising, considering Fiji’s location, that the main course often consists of seafood such as prawns or fish. I recommend trying kokoda as a starter, a dish reminiscent of ceviche and consisting of white fish marinated with lime, onions, tomatoes, chilies and coconut cream. And don’t pass up the opportunity to eat food from a lovo, a type of pit where food is steamed underneath the earth. Marinated meats and vegetables are wrapped and covered with hot rocks and banana leaves, creating a special feast that’s usually reserved for celebrations such as birthdays or weddings.
Fiji is unique among the archipelagos of the South Pacific in that nearly 40 percent of its population is Indian. Indo-Fijian cuisine includes traditional Indian spices and dishes, such as roti bread and flavorful curries, as well as ingredients native to Fiji.
Last but not least, travelers should not leave Fiji without downing a cupful of kava, a drink with sedative properties, made from the root of a pepper plant and strained with water. Kava, not to be confused with Spain’s sparkling wine, called cava, is used in ceremonies to welcome new guests and is also an important part of Fijian business transactions, although many also drink it with friends. Be forewarned, kava can make your mouth and tongue feel numb and may induce sleepiness.
Fiji also offers many foodie activities that are ideal for rainy days when beaches are too gloomy.
Flavours of Fiji Cooking School
Head to Denarau Island to participate in cooking classes such as Fijian Feasts, Indian Thali, Tropical Sweets and Kids Kitchen. I did a two-part class where I learned to cook both Fijian and Indian food, under the the instruction of two patient teachers. The classes are limited to 12 people and are very informational. The best part of the day came after the food was done and I sat down to eat my ika vakalolo (fish in coconut cream) with rourou (taro leaves) as well as freshly made roti, okra, chicken curry and Indian coconut fudge. Learning to make this Fijian food myself was better than any restaurant experience — and when I got home, the recipes were waiting in my email’s inbox.
Fiji Rum Co.
Explore the best of Fiji-made rums at the Fiji Rum Co., where guests can sample a paddle of four rums from various options. Flavors include white chocolate, coffee, golden honey and more. Rum aficionados can reserve a private tasting with the rum master distiller. I recommend sampling the rum liqueur — or better yet, taking a bottle back home.
This small chocolate company is run by a Japanese family who uses Fijian-grown cacao beans and some antique machinery, such as a German-made roaster from 1945, to create the perfect souvenir from Fiji. Contact the owner for a private tour, and make sure to sample the chocolatier’s signature dark-milk chocolate.