Words By Abby Wilson
As a food lover, I was quite nervous about my volunteering trip to Fiji. Living with a Fijian family and eating traditional delicacies for six whole weeks. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to pop to the supermarket to grab a Dairy Milk bar, or a bag of Sensations, or even better, indulgence in a juicy burger and chips. As a girl that enjoys going out for meals at least once a week, I knew that I would miss this taken-for-granted luxury.
Before arriving, I wasn’t actually aware of what foods were typically consumed in Fiji, so I didn’t really know what to expect. Therefore, the first few days in the village were a bit of a shock to the stomach…it was very different from my traditional diet.
A typical breakfast normally consisted of heavy pancakes, breakfast crackers, bread, or rice (they love carbs), always served with cups of sweet tea. As if breakfast wasn’t carby enough, lunch was typically rice, noodles, or cassava (Fiji’s staple crop). When first arriving home after a day out, afternoon tea was normally homemade cakes, bread, biscuits, and more sweet tea. Then the main meal of the day, dinner, typically consisted of curry, stew, fish, rice, noodles, and cassava.
My first meal in the village was kokoda, fish (freshly caught) cooked with lemon juice and coconut cream, rourou, which is taro leaves, aka spinach, and tuna, served with cassava, a Fijian favourite. The kokoda was delicious, but I wasn’t as keen on the rourou or the cassava. Cassava is often boiled until soft and then eaten with stews and curry, or in my family’s case, eaten with everything! Sometimes it is served fried, which tastes slightly like a potato. I wasn’t too fond of the cassava as it is quite dry and starchy. Similar to cassava is taro, another Fijian staple. Slightly purple in colour, taro tastes like a mixture between cassava and potato. It is often boiled, but can also be fried.
Food is really important to many Fijians, so meals are often communal, with everyone sitting down together. Fijians love to eat big, which I soon learnt as I was told that after eating four whole fish, this was not enough! Food is put in big bowls on a cloth on the floor, with everyone helping themselves.
The majority of the food eaten in Fiji is caught or grown by the Fijians themselves. Lots of fresh fish and vegetables are often consumed, accompanied by noodles or rice. Stews are also very popular, with kolokasi, a chicken and taro stew containing tomatoes, celery and onions, often made. Indian food also has a big influence in Fiji, with curry and roti eaten in many families.
Kava, also known as grog, is extremely popular in Fijian culture. Kava looks, and tastes slightly like dirty water (not that appealing!). It is made from the root of the Yagona plant, mixed with water in a large, four-legged bowl (known as a kava bowl). The liquid is then spooned into a half coconut shell (called a bilo) and passed around. If you drink enough, you will find that it will make your lips and tongue slightly numb. It can also make you feel quite relaxed, and slightly tired, which leads to many Fijians classing it as an alcohol! Kava ceremonies often involve dancing and talking, so are a nice way to embrace Fijian culture. If you are visiting Fiji, it is definitely worth trying.
Fijians often seem to have quite a sweet-tooth, with many piling multiple tablespoons of sugar into their tea. Sugar cane is extremely popular in Fiji, as it is one of Fiji’s main exports and a huge source of wealth to the country. Additionally, baking is very important to many Fijian women, with lolo buns and custard pie being made regularly. Lolo buns are bread buns, soaked in coconut milk, and are often consumed for breakfast, or as a snack. Fijian custard pie is a mixture between a tart and a cake, with freshly made custard covering the top. Both are absolutely delicious.
Lots of fresh fruit is often consumed in Fiji, with bananas, pawpaw (also known as papaya), and coconuts available year-round. The availability of other fruits is dependent on the season, with mangoes and pineapples readily grown between September to December, and guava, lemons and oranges often grown from February to May. Popular with Fijians is Soursop, often grown in August and September. It is an extremely sweet, but also slightly sour citrus flavoured fruit. Coconuts are also extremely popular, with brown ‘mature’ coconuts containing firm meat, whereas ‘young’ green coconuts tend to have a more tender meat. The water from the coconuts is another favourite, as it is very delicious.
Fijian village food is extremely different to the food typically served on the Fijian islands where tourists typically visit. When staying in resorts, you will typically find slightly more Westernised foods, with salads and meats more commonly found. Curries are still consumed often, but less cassava, or rourou is served. Imported goods on the islands are really expensive, with a small bar of Dairy Milk working out at around £3, and a small can of Fanta pricing at £2.50.
Overall, traditional Fijian food is delicious, and if you’ve got a big appetite, then Fiji is the perfect place for you! Indeed, even if you haven’t got a large appetite, you probably will do after visiting Fiji! Although the Fijian islands are absolutely beautiful and definitely worth a visit, it is also good to visit a village, stay with a Fijian family, and enjoy their traditional delicacies, as this will give you a unique, authentic taste of Fijian life.