Raw fish, curries, cooking with hot stones under the ground — these are just some of the exciting things on offer as we deep dive into the food traditions of the Pacific Islands.
Food is a vibrant social and cultural event for people in the Samoan islands. Most Samoan foods are cooked inside an umu – a pit of hot stones. But the island’s signature flavor is a raw dish called oka – chopped raw fish marinated in coconut cream, salt, lime juice, onions, chili, and salt. It’s a dish packed with the goodness of the sea and remains true to Samoan tribal heritage.
One of the most popular dishes in Tahiti is Poisson Cru or ‘raw fish’ in French. The dish best exemplifies Tahiti’s French Polynesian roots in both name and flavor. Poisson Cru is similar to Samoan oka – namely, fresh raw tuna mixed with coconut milk and vegetables marinated in lime juice.
The group of islands that make up Vanuatu is relatively undiscovered gems still. The food here is a reflection of the lush islands and tropical climate. When in Vanuatu, make sure to sample the signature dish, lap-lap. It comprises root vegetables or yams grated into a paste, and magic. The paste is placed into taro or spinach leaves, sometimes topped with meat (pork or chicken), and always drenched in the freshest coconut cream. Then in it goes into a ground oven where hot stones cook the mixture to perfection.
If it’s Hawaiian cuisine you seek, poke is what you need. Pronounced ‘po-kay,’ like ‘okay’, the dish is essentially a raw fish salad containing tuna or octopus. The word in Hawaiian means ‘chunk’ – probably referring to traditional food preservation techniques to survive on the island. In the past, seafood or meat would be cut into chunks and then marinated. Originally, the islanders used a mix of reef fish, seaweed, sea salt, or roasted kukui. Traditional poke today is a delicious mix of tuna with onions, sesame oil, and soy sauce.
What sets Fiji cooking apart from other Pacific Islands is its abundance of curries and spices. The country has a strong Indian influence, courtesy of immigrants who moved here in the 1870s. The Fijian style of cooking today blends the best of both worlds and cultures. A prime example of this is duruka – a tall plant often called the ‘asparagus of Fiji.’ Its unopened flower is a distinct Fijian delicacy, usually served in curries or cooked in coconut milk.