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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Fiji

Historic Diet

Much of Fiji's population today lives on the large volcanic islands that form the heart of the country, although numerous outlaying islands are also inhabited. These volcanic islands are well suited to plant and animal life, but few plants or animals are native to the islands so the historic diet was severely limited. Today many of the traditional base foods of Fiji arrived with the first settlers of the islands thousands of years ago.

Prior to the arrival of the first people to Fiji, the most significant food source present was the coconut, which made its way to the islands by water. The coconut is the staple food for the people in the past and this continues today as coconuts are used for both their milk and flesh. The coconut is one of the only edible plants that made its way to Fiji prior to the islands' first settlers.

The historic diet was also heavily reliant on the animal life found in the surrounding waters. These animals still form an important base for the people's diet including crabs, octopus, turtles, fish of all kinds, and sea birds such as noddies and terns.

Culinary Influences

When the first people arrived to Fiji they brought with them foods in the form of plants and animals. Later waves of people also brought additional plants and animals, together with coconuts forming the base of the diet today. These plants and animals included pigs, rats, dogs, taro, rice, yams, breadfruit, bananas, lemons, and sugarcane among others. Although it's not known when or with whom many of these foods arrived, it is clear they arrived with the early waves of settlers and all were present by 1200 at the latest.

The next great outside influence on the diet likely arrived in the 900s when the Tongans took control over the islands. They strongly influenced the people in terms of language, religion, and culture, so it's likely they also influenced the food, but it is unknown in what way. The typical Polynesian diet today was probably influenced by the Tongans at this time, while also making the diet throughout Polynesia much more uniform as communication and transportation during this time linked all the Polynesian people.

Another link between all the Polynesian people today is a cooking method called lovo (as it's known in Fiji). This process begins with rocks that are heated then placed in the ground as they are topped with food wrapped in banana leaves and covered in dirt. This essentially acts as a pressure cooker and can be found throughout Polynesia. Although when it began is unknown, it is common in New Zealand among the Maori so this cooking method likely existed prior to about 1300, which is about when the Maori settled that country from Polynesia.

The Dutch landed on the islands in the 1600s, but the Europeans didn't make any settlement efforts until the 1800s. These settlers, primarily the British, brought their own foods to Fiji as they introduced cattle, chickens, wheat, potatoes, pineapples, papayas, and mangoes among many others. These foods added to the local diet and gave the British settlers a familiar diet, but most locals still relied heavily to their historic diet.

In about 1880 the British began inviting Indians to settle the islands as they sought laborers. Like the British, the Indians brought their own foods and spices to the islands of Fiji as cumin, cinnamon, black pepper, and other foods became common in the country and remain so today among the large Indian population.

Through the 1900s few large culinary influences changed the diet in Fiji, although better communication, transportation, and technology gave the people access to imported foods, non-perishable goods, and extended the shelf life of many foods. Today these foods make an impact on the diet as western foods and restaurants are popular, particularly those catering to the tourists. However, the local Indians and Fijians tend to maintain historic diets. Despite this, ethnic restaurants are everywhere and locals and foreigners alike enjoy these foods both in these restaurants as well as in their homes.

When & Where to Eat

When and where the Fijians eat is somewhat individual as different people and different jobs dictate when and where people eat more than the culture does. Generally most people eat a small breakfast at home, food that is usually leftovers from the prior day's meal.

Lunch was always the largest and longest meal of the day in Fiji as people would return home to eat a large meal and perhaps take a nap afterwards to avoid the hottest part of the day. This is still common in many villages, especially among farmers, fishers, and others who spend their time outside. In most places lunch has become a shorter meal as most people eat at work or school; this is especially true for the Indian population and other ethnic groups in Fiji.

For these workers that eat lunch at work, dinner is the largest meal of the day now and it tends to be a large feast with the family. Often times there is enough food made for this meal and the following day's breakfast and lunch. For those people who have a large lunch, dinner tends to be a bit smaller and usually consists of the leftovers from lunch. For the Indians dinner is the largest meal most days and it is usually served quite late.

Staple Foods

Breadfruit (ulu): this fruit is very common
Coconut: coconuts are used for their milk and flesh
Rice: a common base or side for many meals
Taro: taro root is prepared in numerous ways, including as poi; it is one of the main staples throughout Polynesia
Yams: yams, a member of the potato family, are found in many meals

Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes

Kokodo: raw mahi-mahi marinated in coconut cream, lime, onions, and tomatoes
Lovo: an underground oven heated with rocks, this process cooks numerous meats and is common at weddings and other large gatherings

Dining Etiquette

Dining in Fiji varies greatly depending on your company and the setting. The Indians eat one way, the Fijians another, and the tourists generally in another way. While it may seem difficult to remember how to eat with whom, the good news is that nearly everyone is fairly relaxed when it comes to dining rules and your ignorance is often times accepted. Despite this, there are a couple things to remember when dining and a couple are quite important.

If dining in a village with the Fijians be sure to bring a gift of kava (or yaqona), which can be purchased throughout the country; about half a kilogram is a good amount and once in the village it should be presented to the chief, or the Turaga ni Koro. You are then expected to drink some of this once it is prepared, which will take place prior to eating. Also try to dress in a more conservative manner (although not formally) and don't wear a hat as this is an insult to the chief. Once you reach the door of the house, remove your shoes and follow your host's lead, which may mean being seated on the floor and eating with your hands. Once served be sure to try everything offered to you as this is a sign of hospitality and not trying something is rude. Also be sure to thank the host for the meal.

When eating with the Indians try to follow traditional Indian eating habits, which begins with the belief that the left hand is unclean. Only eat with or from your right hand, this includes eating from a fork or spoon, which should be in your right hand when you eat from it. More commonly, the Indians eat with their hand, their right hand, so be sure to wash your hands prior to eating. For more information, read our India Food, Dining, & Drinks Page.

If eating in a restaurant, whether on your own or in a business setting, the best course of action is to follow international dining rules and default on the side of more formal if eating with locals; also try to arrive on time, although your local counterparts likely won't. Again, few people will be offended if you make mistakes, and even the dress will be more casual that it is in most restaurants, but error on the side of formality if in doubt. Ties, jackets, and semi-formal to formal dresses are uncommon in Fiji, so dress a bit more casual than that.

If eating in a restaurant, the host is expected to pay for everyone. If this is you, tipping is a questionable area so ask your local acquaintances what is appropriate or tip at your discretion. In generally tipping is discouraged in Fiji and it is not expected, but some hotels and restaurants catered to foreigners (especially Americans) now expect tips, although they are still not required or encouraged in most places.

Celebrations & Events

The single most important drink at celebrations in Fiji is yaqona (or kava). This traditional beverage is almost always served at any event that is culturally significant within a community and is often accompanied with a formal ceremony.

Another important part of the local culture during celebratory events is the lovo, which is an underground cooking process that involves coconut husks burned to heat rocks in the ground. These rocks are then topped with banana-leaf covered meats that are cooked in this underground over for a couple hours. As this generally involves huge pieces of meat or even whole animals it is generally reserved for large gatherings.


Today nearly every popular international beverage can be found in Fiji, such as juices, soft drinks, tea, and coffee. However for a more authentic taste of the South Pacific try kava or yaqona. This drink, which goes by both names in Fiji, is made from the kava plant's roots, which are ground to release liquid, then water is added and the juice is drank. This drink gives a very relaxing effect, yet is not considered a drug in the countries of the South Pacific. Another local drink in Fiji made from kava is called grog.

Most hotels and nice restaurants in Fiji offer numerous beers, wines, and hard liquors, but beer tends to be the most popular. As all alcohol is imported the selection is usually limited, although most popular international brands are available in hotels and restaurants catering to tourists.

Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in Fiji, but during heavy storms the water supply often gets contaminated and it is not safe. Check with your hotel or guesthouse to inquire about the safety of the water during your visit and if you do decide to drink the water, remember that many people may have troubles adjusting to the local tap water as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to.

This page was last updated: April, 2013