Restaurant aficionados will find that eateries in general have taken a giant leap forward in the last ten years. The quantity and general quality of restaurants has improved, especially in the Nadi and Suva areas. This goes for both hotels and restaurants. Many locals with a flare for cooking have benefited from the visits of top European Chefs.
There are four basic types of cuisine in Fiji that you’ll find served in homes or restaurants: `local’ or Fijian, European, Chinese, and Indian. Fijian fare is more or less the same as in the rest of the South Pacific—fish, shellfish, breadfruit, dalo (taro), tavioka (cassava), pork, beef, chicken, yams, rice, lolo (coconut milk), tropical fruits such as bananas, and various greens such as taro leaves or ferns. Seasoning is mostly limited to salt, lemon juice, or hot chilies, typically applied by you after the dish is served. The best place to sample local food is in someone’s home but you can also find local-stye eateries near the public markets areas in Nadi, Suva and Lautoka.
Continental fare, undoubtedly influenced by the English cuisine (or lack thereof), used to be limited to that bland variety of food so many of us grew up with and don’t find particularly exciting in Fiji or anywhere else – overcooked steak, potatoes and vegetables. Fortunately this has changed, at least on the restaurant scene. For example in the Nadi area the fare at the better hotels (such as the Sheraton and Regent) is certainly up to international standards. Likewise, Chefs, a restaurant, in downtown Nadi also has excellent cuisine.
If you prefer to eat what the locals eat, try any of the ubiquitous Indian restaurants. Food is inexpensive (F$3-8 per serving depending where you go) and includes curried chicken, beef, fish, crab or vegetarian fare. Meals are generally served with dahl (soup) roti (a sort of tortilla) or rice. Note that local Indian food is different than what you will find on the sub-continent. Perhaps because the local Indo-Fijian community has been separated from the motherland for so long, the food has evolved into a sort of hybrid or variant. However, it’s still excellent.
Chinese food is also becoming more popular, and improving. One can find both Cantonese and Sezchuan style eateries in Fiji. When made with fresh, local fish and produce, the quality can be quite good. However, don’t expect to find the level of sophistication you’ve sampled in Hong Kong or San Francisco.
There's Always "Lunch in Suva"
The capital city of Suva, with the largest and most ethnically diverse population, has the most choices of restaurants, eateries and dives. For an insider's look at dining in this gastronomical polyglot, check out Lunch in Suva-- Humans exchanging money for food in Suva between 1200 and1430, and writing about it. A formidable, irreverent blog, written by a mysterious local couple aka " Picky Easter" and "Kania Tiko" they take you to places that only a Suva native or a lost tourist would ever find. For example the average visitor or (even local) would have no business walking around Walu Bay during the lunch hour but if you did, thanks to Picky Eater and Kania Tiko, you'd know all about the Hop Hing Cafe. Located conveniently across the street from the beer factory and not surprisingly, a favorite of brewery, warehouse, oil, and wharf workers. Here, according to Picky and Kania, you would be served "your typical pseudo-Chinese food, plus the usual morning tea items (cake, buns, tinned meat etc.)"
If you're interested in finding out more about Suva's most famous underground food critics see this interview posted in Paradise Fiji Blog, abort, retry, fail. (photo of Hop Hing Cafe courtesy of Lunch in Suva).
Modern supermarkets and local outdoor markets feature a variety of locally grown and imported high-quality fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and every other conceivable household item. Those used to `European vegetables’ such as tomatoes, green onions, potatoes and the like need not fear they will be lost in a sea of exotic local food – there is always plenty of familiar fare to be had. Mutton, pork, chicken and beef are abundant as well. Imported, canned goods are available but tend to be expensive. There is also fine locally produced cheese, milk, eggs and other dairy products. Locally grown fruit you might enjoy include pineapples, guavas, mangos, oranges, limes, papaya avocados and bananas. If you purchase fresh fruit at the market, be sure to wash it thoroughly before eating. There are a plethora of nasty, tropical micro-organisms that may not agree with your system, so don’t give them a chance to develop. Peeling the skins from vegetables and fruit is always a good idea.
I’m always asked for favorite local recipe’s and thought that it was about time to post them up for my readers. If you have any you’d like to contribute please send them along.
Coconut Fish Soup
2 lb fish heads & carcasses (cod, snapper or similar)
7 cups water; 2tsp salt
1 large onion, dash pepper
1 small whole chilli
1Tbsp lemon juice
2 cups thick coconut cream (not sweetened)
lemon slices & chopped green onions for garnish
Bring first 6 ingredients to simmering point and maintain until fish is soft. Skim periodically. Strain off stock and adjust seasoning if necessary. Stir in lemon juice & coconut cream and heat thoroughly—do not boil. Garnish with lemon slice & chopped green onions. Yields six portions.
2-3 pounds of snapper, grouper or cod—or any firm white fish
2 T vegetable oil
1/4 cup Soy Sauce
1/4 cup corn oil
3/4 cups white wine
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp grated fresh ginger root
2 tsp sugar
parsley, coriander or slivered ginger root for garnish
Rinse & dry fish well. Cut lemon in half and squeeze, rubbing juice into fish, inside & out. Refrigerate for about an hour then rub with vegetable oil and place in a shallow baking dish. In a blender, mix thoroughly soy sauce, corn oil, white wine, garlic, sugar and ginger. Pour over fish. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes until the fish flakes easily and juices are opaque. Baste frequently with sauce. Garnish & serve. Yields 6 portions.
Cut the fish (any firm white fish will do but Walu is best) into cubes and marinate in lemon juice for about 2 hours. Then rinse in fresh water. After rinsing, put in a bowl and add chopped onion, chopped tomatoes & finely diced hot chilies, 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice and fresh coconut cream (you can also use canned coconut cream) to cover. Season with salt & pepper—mix thoroughly. It's ready to eat but better if it sits (refrigerated) for a couple more hours—the next day it's even better.
Bhabish's Chicken Curry
(In his own words)
1 whole chicken – chopped
6 cloves garlic – pounded
5-6 chillies (optional) – pounded
1/2 onion – chopped
Tumeric powder – 1/2 tsp
Masala – 2 Tbsp, Salt – 1-1/2 Tbsp.
Soya bean oil – 6 Tbsp.
Put the pot on the stove. Put oil inside – let it heat up then fry the onions, garlic & chillies. When it is brown, put inside the tumeric and masala, chicken and salt, misc., all together nicely. Let it cook until the water from chicken dry. When it dry put 1 more cup of water. Let it boil for 15 minutes then off your stove.
Editors Note: Fijians generally curry the chicken—bone and all. Westerner’s often debone the chicken first. Bhabish is the chef at Lomlagi Resort near Savusavu.
Many thanks to Collin McKenny of Lomalagi Resort for contributing to the recipe section.