With a balmy tropical climate, endless coconut palms, juicy sweet pineapples and water teaming with fish, Fiji is truly the destination for discovering fine ingredients and great food.
Increasingly restaurants and resorts are actively seeking to source ingredients from within Fiji, boosting both the local economy simultaneously showing the world just how amazing their cuisine is.
Relaxing into a flight that is only long enough to watch a movie, Fiji is an obvious destination for either a languid holiday or a quick battery recharge weekend away. While Denarau is a popular choice due to proximity, you can also leave Auckland in the morning and be beachside at islands such as Vomo in time for lunch. The luxurious island of Vomo was severely hit by Cyclone Winston which meant a rebuild of not just bures and gardens, but also staff numbers due to the island being closed for many months. Their doors are now wide open again with promises of bigger and better. New chef Preeti Bomzon (most recently from Vietnam) will be working with her team of chefs and gardeners to bring her favourite recipes from Indian, Vietnamese and European cuisine to the table. Vomo prides itself on the freshest of ingredients and the Kokoda (pictured above) doesn’t disappoint.
Over on the mainland of Vitu Levu, many individuals and organisations are working closely together to ensure that Fiji earns its deserved place on the world food map.One to be commended is the organisation Friend Fiji. The team at Friend are committed to educating local farmers, assisting them to not only grow the spices, fruit and vegetables in demand by chefs but also to use organic and free range farming methods. Friend have a small store selling delicious artisanal chutneys (think mango and tamarind) jams (pineapple is a favourite), vanilla and coconut products. At time of writing, Friend are also due to open a Café at their garden in Lautoka which, judging from our taste test, is sure to be a fabulous blend of traditional ingredients and contemporary methods.
Around Lautoka and Nadi are a collection of innovative food/drink ventures, Fiji rum is excellent in mojitos and the coconut liqueur over ice is dangerously drinkable. The Adi range of chocolates are international in quality and the fragrance from the basil farm could be bottled and sold. These are but a few of the producers, a day out on a food trail is great for those wanting a break from the pool.
Nadi is only a quick taxi ride from Denarau and in the greater Nadi area you will find a number of superb eating places that offer full flavoured fresh fare with fair pricing. Taste Fiji is one of my favourites. The quirky retro furniture and eclectic collectibles make for an aesthetically pleasing relaxed environment with a kids corner of toys to ensure everyone is happy. Talented husband and wife team of chef Lee Acreman and front of house Louise, believe in taking the best of Fiji produce and cooking Fiji food with a contemporary twist as well as a range of South East Asian dishes that are well suited to the climate and ingredients. Taste Fiji Chocolate Brownie is a fabulous fudgie dessert style brownie and one I have already made many times. Using freshly grated coconut blended with local basil for pesto spooned over pan fried mahi mahi made a delicious change to the usual pine nut variety.
Elsa Corrigan has for many years pleased the snow bunny set at Squaw Valley (Lake Tahoe USA) with her modern Japanese food. A chance encounter and conversation saw Elsa taking her concept and recipes to MamaSake Wailoaloa Beach, Nadi, where she continues to provide dishes such as sesame crusted seared tuna, fabulous salads (lots of avocado) and an impressive range of sushi (soft shell crab, tuna and of course teriyaki chicken). Perfect for those wanting something different from resort food, the menu has such great choices that it is worth a repeat visit. There is often live music and even a pool for those really wanting to chill out.
Closer to the Denarau resorts is of course the burgeoning Denarau port area where there is much more to do than simply catch a boat – or plane as it may be; there are aa growing number of restaurants to choose from. Jono Oguana is well known in Auckland circles for Café O in Grey Lynn. Sister Cherie has replicated O in the port area (and also Nadi) and the food is fabulous! Their signature ricotta hotcakes for brunch are super light and fluffy and my breakfast salad so full of vitality that I felt quite healthily smug for the remainder of the day. The coffee is also as good as anywhere in my own local hood.
Essentially Fiji today is all about choices, and for those wanting to discover fresh food cooked well, you certainly can.
Kana vakalevu (eat a lot and eat well).
Helen was a guest of Tourism Fiji and Vomo Island.