Welcomed by endless bula (hellos) and big wholesome smiles the stresses of home in Melbourne melted at the airport as tiny seashells strung into a delicate necklace were draped around our necks. A late flight and a 3-hour drive to our accommodation in darkness meant that our first meal was a packet of Twisties in a taxi. The only other alternative would have been the sad leftovers in a curry shop that had been sweltering in the heat all day. Worth noting: tourist areas keep some restaurants open until late but Fijians themselves tend to eat at home, with most small businesses shut on Sunday as that is church and family lovo day (I’m sure they also squeeze in a few hours of rugby, obsession is an understatement.)
* Lots more pics below
Lovo is a traditional Fijian feasting ritual in which fresh fish, meat or vegetables are tenderly encased in soft palm or banana leaves and cooked over hot rocks underground. The result is soft succulent flesh. Not only is the taste amazing, so is the ritual of this cooking tradition.
The first morning we stayed on the Pacific Harbour I feasted on the sweetest pineapple, watermelon and papaya. Little produce stalls are dotted all over the Queens Hwy that takes you from Nadi through to the Coral Coast, Pacific Harbour and to the other end of Fiji. You often see bright yellow pineapples strung up at the produce stalls and the intoxicating waft of summer sweetness is hard to pass by.
Fijian food tends to centre around seafood, makes sense as everywhere you look there is water – or jungle. Mind you they don’t have snakes in Fiji! Massive tick. One popular dish is Kokoda, a stunning ceviche style dish made with the freshest fish like Mahi Mahi, which is then pickled in lemon juice and mixed through with coconut cream and served with a refreshing tomato salsa. So simple yet perfect. One of the dishes we enjoyed was served with cassava chips. Cassava is a root-like vegetable and its chips are quite dry but ideal for mopping up the coconut cream.
While staying on the Pacific Harbour my partner, a keen fisherman, went out on a boat for the day and returned to our room beaming with a prized tuna. Hopping into action while he prepped the fish, I chopped up some sweet tomatoes, shredded the flesh of fresh coconut and drizzled over the juiciest of limes. An unforgettable meal for both of us.
Fresh coconut, don’t get me started. I bought several and snacked on the soft white flesh as my in-between meal snack.
In Fijian cuisine you’ll also notice a lot of curries as a result of the large Indian population that migrated to Fiji during the 1870s to work on the sugar cane plantations. We sampled a few curries and they bursted with robust spices – Fijians definitely aren’t afraid to let their chilli’s pack a punch.
During our idyllic escape I really admired how Fijian cuisine can restrain flavour pairings to let fresh and simple ingredients shine but it can also combine strong spices and ingredients to create a whole multitude of dishes that offer layers of intense flavours. There really was an art to their simple but clever cooking.
If you love the water, sunshine, amazingly fresh food and beautiful smiles, I suggest you visit Fiji and eat your way through the islands like me.