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.
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 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
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.