If the way to one’s heart is through their stomach, the Pacific Islands sure know how to capture hearts through food. From Hawaii to Fiji, the many islands that make up this part of the world boast distinctive flavors unlike anywhere else. Dishes aren’t just a list of ingredients but they also tell of survival, history and culture. You’ll certainly whet your appetite as we detail some of the Pacific Islands’ most traditional dishes and flavors.
On the group of islands that make up Samoa in the Pacific, food is largely a social event, designed to bring people together. While most foods on Samoa are cooked in a pit of hot stones called an umu, Samoa is also known for one of its raw dishes, oka. Using Samoan raw fish, the meat is chopped and then marinated in lemon or lime juice, coconut cream, onions, and salt. Sometimes chili is added for a kick. This version of ceviche largely stems from Samoa’s ocean-centric location. The preparation of oka also is in line with Samoa’s ancient tribal roots.
Fiji’s history has opened up its cuisine scene to a rich Indian influence. In the 1870s, Fiji saw a migration of Indians coming to work in the sugarcane industry. With them, they brought a cuisine that lends Fiji a style of cooking that not only goes back to its roots but also sprinkles in curries and spices that other Pacific Islands do not have. One way to sample this distinct Fijian-Indo cooking is by ordering a dish with duruka. Referred to as Fijian asparagus, this unopened flower of a cane shoot is often served in curries or coconut milk. Fiji is unique in that it is home to both green and red varieties of duruka.
The dishes of the group of islands that make up Vanuatu are largely linked to the area’s tropical climate and fertile lands. In Vanuatu, most dishes are prepared using heated stones, including the most notable and national dish, lap lap. Manioc, yams, or taro roots are grated into a doughy paste. The dish then calls for the mixture to be placed into wild spinach or taro leaves. It is then drenched in coconut cream with pieces of meat like chicken or pork added. Everything is then wrapped in leaves from the lap lap plant itself and placed in a ground oven where hot stones cook the concoction from above and below.
A product of the indigenous native Hawaiian culture, you can’t escape Hawaii without trying poke. Typically a raw fish salad with tuna or octopus, poke means chunk in Hawaiian. In the past it was any meat or seafood cut into small chunks and marinated, most likely originating as a way to survive on the island. Consumed for a long time by locals, the most traditional forms of poke comprise tuna with soy sauce, sesame oil, and onions. Originally, poke was made up of reef fish, seasoned with sea salt, seaweed, or roasted kukui. Currently, poke is enjoying popularity not just in Hawaii but also all over the US, with Hawaiian chefs bringing trendy poke salads to the table all over the country.
The South Pacific island of New Caledonia has seen waves of its cuisine disrupted by imported and processed foods. However, one traditional dish, bougna, has long remained. Stemming from the Kanak people, indigenous Melanesian settlers of the French territory, the traditional meal is made with meat like crab, chicken, or lobster that is then cooked with yams and sweet potatoes wrapped in banana leaves. Like many traditional dishes in the Pacific Islands, it is cooked under a hot fire. It remains a national food for many Kanak.
The signature dish of the islands of Tahiti is easily poisson cru, meaning “raw fish” in French. Linked to Tahiti’s French roots, the dish defines the flavors of French Polynesia. Similar to Samoa’s oka, passion cru consists of the freshest ingredients on the island, namely raw tuna that is marinated in lime juice, mixed with vegetables and coconut milk.
From cooking in holes in the ground to adding on splashes of curry and coconut milk, these Pacific Island dishes not only satisfy the hearts of stomachs but also reveal just a little bit more about the psyche of each island.
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