Happy New Year my fellow foodies 😀
I hope we are all enjoying our holidays whether you’re having a white Christmas with hot chocolate or whether you’re down south and cooling off from the sweltering heat with mango sorbet.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you do, whenever you can, I would recommend you spend some time in the Fiji Islands, as I have this holidays, for an experience of a lifetime. Great place, great people, great food, great time 😀
Now, I know it’s not my job to review holiday destinations and all that, but to set the scene well, I’m going to narrate the details of my stay which may well seem to you like a something off a travel brochure but hang in there!
So on New Year’s Eve, I arrived in Nadi (pronounced as NANDI because in Fiji, d is pronounced “ND“), on the largest of the Fiji Islands Viti Levu (there are 333 Fiji Islands!). Getting out of the air-conditioned airport, we braced ourselves and we were surprised – It’s not actually that hot in Fiji – Just humid.
On our first night, we went Denarau Island’s Nadina which offered authentic Fijian cuisine and being good tourists, we ordered everything on that menu including Fiji’s famous kokoda – a raw seafood dish where Spanish mackerel or mahi mahi has been “cooked” in lemon or lime juice. To make this more understandable, let me set an example: You know when you eat raw salmon and you squeeze the lemon juice over the top? Then after an hour, the lemon juice has settled down at the bottom of the dish and when you pick up those last pieces of salmon at the bottom, you notice that the underside of the meat has turned into a colour similar to if you had cooked it? Yeah, that’s what I mean when I say the raw fish has been “cooked” in lemon juice. As well as being cured in lemon juice, they add coconut milk, chilli, shallots, grated carrots and tomatoes. Too be truthful, fish is one my least favourite meats so when I heard about this precarious sounding dish, I was a little nervous to try it. But as with all things in Fiji – I was surprised yet again. The fish didn’t have a really strong “fishy” taste and was quite firm. One of the reasons why I don’t like fish is also because it has too many little bones but the kokoda had none. I had particularly feared that after being cured with lemon/lime, it would be extremely sour, but the coconut had balanced the acidity into a smooth pleasant refreshing feeling. In fact, I actually enjoyed the dish.
I also tried kovu vuaka. Vuaka is the Fijian word for pork and kovu is the way in which it is made. Kovu Vuaka is a dish where the pork in marinated in coconut milk, fresh turmeric, ginger and onions before being wrapped and steamed in freshly cut banana leaves. It is served with a side of dalo and cassava, an eggplant and coconut mixture and a dalo leaf puree. The pork was serve still wrapped in the banana leaf that made it feel a little more authentic. This dish disappointed me a little. I had rather high expectations after reading about it. The flavour was mild, smokey and pleasing but wasn’t the best Fijian food experience. You can see a photo, but I apologize that the lighting was is really bad because the table was lit with candles.
On New Year’s Day, we set out to go to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, apparently famous for its orchids. The place was amazing with huge ancient tree’s and beautifully arranged flowers. After, we were offered a cold mocktail made of different fruit juices. It was refreshing and delightful despite its alarming intense red colour.
I also made a trip to the Sri Siva Subramanuya Temple where I had to take off my shoes and was given appropriate clothing to show respect to the religion. The place was amazing. Every inch of the temple was ornately carved and painted in vibrant colours to depict stories of their gods. I was also some food of the prayer which was a sweet Indian food.
On the way back , we drove past stalls of farmers selling fresh produce. I live in one of the most expensive countries in the world when in comes to buying food and fresh produce so you would imagine my surprise buying fresh produce locally. We could buy multiple times the amount of food we could buy in Sydney. Also, bargaining was normal over here… Excitement over brains, we bought 2 car-boot-full’s of fresh produce!!!
During the next 7 days, it was a marathon to finish all that food. We had bought cassava, purple dalo, corn, pineapples, apples, snake beans, garlic, eggplant, yellow dalo, onions, mangoes, papaya, rice, fresh chicken (when I say fresh, I mean you actually got to meet the bird before it became chicken stir fry), pumpkin and a range of other root crops we had no idea how to cook. To sum it up, it was hectic.
Another restaurant experience I’d like to share is when we went to eat at Indigo’s Indian restaurant which has the best Indian food I’ve ever had in my whole entire life!!! There are many Indians in Fiji simply because they were taken over by the British for slave labor. Today, they blend into the Fijian demographic landscape and are accepted as Fijians. Anyway, at Indigo’s we ordered a mixed platter which had an assortment of meats. This dish quite pricey but was definitely worth it! Admit it, the photo makes you drool! It was also my first time trying lobster. I wouldn’t say I didn’t like lobster, I just like crab a lot more. Everything on the mixed platter was delicious and I cannot describe how much I loved eating Indian at Indigo’s. I definitely recommend anyone to go if they are staying on Denarau Island.
We did also eat at another highly acclaimed Indian restaurant, Sitar, but my heart had already been stolen by Indigo’s.
I had a fantastic time in Fiji. I would definitely recommend tropical island enthusiasts to go. Fijian food is quite interesting to try but be prepared to wait at least 45mins for anything you order. Also, people are ALWAYS late – excuse: they’re on “Fiji time” which means you’re going to have to be very patient 😀
PS. The word for “Happy Eating” in Fijian is Vakacegu