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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Palau

Historic Diet

Many of Palau's islands are volcanic in origin, meaning they are quite fertile and plants grow well. Despite this, there are few plants or animals that are native to these islands, especially edible plants so the potential diet prior to the arrival of the first people was very limited.

The most important plant that could be used for food in Palau 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 this food is used for its milk and flesh. The coconut is one of the only plants that made its way to these islands prior to the first settlers, who brought many additional foods that create the base of today's diet.

When these first settlers arrived with their new plants and animals, they found plenty of sea life in the waters and these animals made up a large part of their diet both historically and today. Among these sea animals are crabs, clams, turtles, fish, and sea birds.

Culinary Influences

The first culinary influence to reach Palau likely came with the first wave of people to the islands about 4,000 years ago. Either this group of people or a later group brought with them pigs, rats, and dogs, all of which they used for food. One of these early waves of people also brought plants including taro, rice, yams, breadfruit, bananas, lemons, and sugarcane. Since there were numerous waves of people to the islands, it is unknown when or with whom these foods arrived, but they were definitely present by the 1200s.

By the time the last large migration took place the traditional diet on the islands was well established and has continued for centuries. This diet, both then and now, is primarily based on pork, fish, yams, taro root, coconuts, rice, and the many fruits found on the islands.

Although the Spanish arrived in the 1700s, there was little European influence on the islands until the 1800s when settlement began. The Spanish and later the Germans and Filipinos settled to a degree and they brought with them foods that they were familiar with, including both plants and animals. This included cattle, chickens, wheat, potatoes, and pineapples among others. Some of these introduced foods, primarily the fruits, have been incorporated into the local diet, including papayas, pineapples, and mangoes.

Today the diet remains somewhat divided between the local people and the foreigners. Throughout the islands most of the people maintain their historic diet along with select additions over time, but few people have abandoned their historic diet for a more European-styled one. However, tourism is quickly rising in Palau and today there are more tourists than locals on some islands during the peak tourist season. Because of this there is a growing number of restaurants in the country, particularly on Koror, including Korean, Chinese, Italian, and American restaurants. Many locals are also gaining interest in these foods as they are quickly growing in popularity.

When & Where to Eat

Many people in Palau start the day with coffee or tea as well as a small breakfast, including a bread of some sort, fruit, and sometimes fish or rice. Breakfast is usually eaten at home prior to school or the workday.

Lunch was traditionally the largest meal of the day in Palau and for some people this is still true. For these people, lunch is a large feast at home with family, which can last a couple hours. The foods served for lunch tend to be local foods and generally include vegetables, fruits, rice, and perhaps a protein, like fish. For the people who have a more rigid work schedule, most commonly in the larger towns, lunch tends to be smaller and is eaten at work, often times consisting of the previous day's leftovers.

For those who have large lunches, dinner is the secondary meal as it tends to be much smaller, often just consisting of leftovers from lunch. For those who eat lunch at work, dinner, which is typically eaten at home, tends to be the largest meal of the day and can go on for hours as many of the above mentioned foods are served.

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 and is one of the main staples throughout the South Pacific
Yams: yams, a member of the potato family, are found in most meals

Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes

Halo-halo: milk with coconut, plantains, jackfruit, and yams
Pichi-pichi: cassava and coconut dessert
Tinola: soup with chicken and papaya in a ginger broth
Ulkoy: deep fried shrimp and squash fritters

Dining Etiquette

Dining etiquette in Palau is quite varied and relaxed as there seems to be a large divide between the locals and the restaurants catered to tourists. Due to this, people tend to eat in numerous ways and nearly all are acceptable, although in extreme cases you may be looked at oddly.

If dining with locals be observant of customs and how others eat as this varies as well. Generally speaking, stand when an elder walks in or out of the room, let your local host show you a seat, and then be polite and try everything. Accepting food is a sign of appreciation and not trying the foods offered to you is an insult to your host. On the other extreme, eating as much as you can shows great appreciation. Of course eating all of their food is a bad idea as well; the people believe food is to be shared by all families and neighbors often share food and you should be sure to eat only as much as your present company. Whether or not you leave food on your plate when you're finished eating is up to you.

Most of the people eat with their hands, but some families may have and provide forks. Of course if you're dining at a restaurant you will be provided silverware (cutlery) and are expected to use it. In these settings eating in the continental style (knife in the right hand, fork in the left) is the most common, but generally the etiquette is relaxed so eating in nearly any style will be fine, again depending on your company. Many Asian restaurants also provide chopsticks, which can be used if you know how.

If you do eat in a restaurant, the host is expected to pay the bill for everyone present. If this is you, look on the bill for a service charge; most hotels and restaurants catered to tourists include a 10% or 15% service charge so no tip is needed. If there is not a service charge added you may tip at your discretion; few locals tip and those who do, tip in small amounts, but again, at hotels and restaurants catered to foreigners a tip is expected.


Although all popular beverages can be found in Palau today, including juices, soft drinks, tea, and coffee, for an authentic taste of the South Pacific try kava. This drink is made from the kava plant's roots, which are ground to release liquid, then water is added and the juice is drunk. This drink gives a very relaxing effect, yet is not considered a drug in the countries of the South Pacific.

Palau loves beer and the country regularly ranks near or at the top for beer consumption per capita. However most of these beers are imports or home-made beers and many of the local beers are not worth special mention. Wine and liquors are also available in Palau, but again these are generally imports and are primarily found in hotels and restaurants catered to foreigners.

The tap water is generally not safe to drink in Palau, although in very limited areas it might be. The most cautious course of action is to entirely avoid the tap water and items that could be made from or with the water, such as ice, fruits, and salads. If you do decide to drink the local tap water first check with your hotel or guesthouse to learn the cleanliness of the water in that area. If the water is safe, remember that many people may have trouble adjusting to the local tap water as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to if you are not from the region.

This page was last updated: April, 2013