Imagine that one hot summer day, you find yourself next to the pristine blue waters of an island paradise in Polynesia. Your feet are submerged in the fine, sensually warm sand as you extend your gaze to the horizon, beyond the calm lagoon. But in case you find yourself shoved away from such a tranquil moment because of the strong odor of fermented fish, then there’s no doubt that you have been met with the smell of fafaru.
However, to write off this specialty just because of its notorious odor, which requires some time to get used to even for local dwellers, would be wrong. The moment you get over its odorous effect, fafaru provides a combination of distinctive flavors and a taste of local cuisine that is not offered at any of the luxurious resorts scattered all over the region.
In preparing fafaru, local island dwellers collect crabs and shrimp from the coastline, which are then crushed and stored inside a jar with seawater. They would then bask the jar under the sun for two days. Afterward, the locals strain the pickled seafood water, known as miti fafaru, and add fresh fish cuts – typically tuna – to the mix. The fresh fish gets marinated in the fermented blend for an hour or two (or several more hours, contingent to the strength of flavor that one is looking for) to create the fafaru.
It is typically consumed alongside mitihue, which appears similar to coconut cream, and is a condiment prepared from the white meat of the coconut fruit that underwent fermentation together with seafood and/or snails. Mostly, taro (a root vegetable) is prepared on the side, and there is no better way to indulge in a bowl of fafaru than with a bottle of cold Hinano beer. Fafaru is a principal part of the local cuisine. In fact, you will even find bottles of miti fafaru for sale at markets in Tahiti.
A bit sweet, somewhat piquant, with an intense salt element and silky sensation to the mouth, fafaru may require some getting used to, but its multifaceted flavors make the experience well worth it.