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Fijian cuisine has traditionally been very healthy and a mix of forage and farm based ingredients. Native Fijians prefer a tuber and coconut based diet, however due to colonization, staples such as rice, flour and tea have also become basic goods. Higher calorie ingredients such as cassava, taro and yams has been the staple ingredients grown by natives for thousands of years. Fiji is a multicultural country and is home to people from various races. In most Fijians' homes, food of other cultures is prepared on a regular basis such as Indian curries and Chinese dishes. Fiji is also famous for its seafood and varieties of leafy vegetables such as Bele, a spinach like weed and Otta, a forest fern.
Many native Fijians base their meals based on seasonal produce. The arrival of Indians and Chinese during the colonial period, expanded the cuisine for all cultural groups. These days, many Fijian people enjoy a variety of mixed dishes drawing from its recent history as part of the British empire. Breakfast in many households may include continental items such as bread, cereal, milk, tea, coffee, eggs as well as local favourites like roti and curry, boiled taro and fish soup and cabin crackers with butter. The diet is highly similar to their surrounding neighbours such as Samoa and Tonga where old trading routes over many centuries ensured food variety. Meat such as chicken and lamb are highly popular whilst beef and pork are bought young and raised for very special occassions such as weddings. Local sausages made from lamb and chicken as well as eggs are the cheapest protein options for many households. Seafood is the main protein for many and fishing on the day for a meal's worth is a popular past time for many children. Fresh water and sea prawns, mussels, clams, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, oyester, lobster, fish, crabs, octopus, squid etc. have been the primary source of protein for many years due to many natives living by the sea or river. For many years, turtle was also eaten however due to changing habits and dwindling populations, the Fijian government has heavily restricted or forbidden the consumption of many endangered species. Shark are never consumed as they are believed to represent the sea god Dakuwaqa and are therefore taboo. To kill or eat a shark would bring great misfortune on the village. Coconut milk, sea water, indian spices, onions, carrots, garlic, ginger, limes, lemons, curry leaves and chilli are also the primary flavourings with Chinese influences from soy and oyester sauce being popular additions.
Lunch in the villages is usually simple with a starchy item such as cassava or taro steamed, a soup and tea usually heavily sweetened with cane sugar. Indo-fijian families may stick to traditional rice, dhal and either a meat or vegetable curry accompanied by a salad or chutney. Masala tea is the main drink in many indo-fijian households. Many city people however are turning to easily available western fast foods which are now becoming a popular choice for the younger generation.
Dinner is usually something elaborate and meat based, such as stews, soups, curries, stirfries and even traditional earth oven food called lovo (similar to an umu or hangi) This is usually served with a simple salad and rice or root vegetable to bulk up the meals. Fijian diets are also based on foraged items such as forest ferns and wild herbs which are now readily sold in food markets. Herbs such as coriander and mint are highly used to flavour both sweet and savoury dishes. Tinned goods are pantry basics and include favourites such as tinned mackeral, sardines, tuna, baked beans, corned beef, corned mutton and condensed milk. Dessert dishes include a steamed coconut pudding, a dense cake similar to spotted dick but flavoured with cardamom, ginger, condensed milk, coconut milk and sugarcane syrup. This cake is a well loved classic with many families eating it either hot or cold, spread with butter. Another popular dessert is vakalolo made with grated cassava, ginger, sugar, cardamom and coconut milk. The mixture is shaped into small, flat pancakes, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. A dense, chewy and sweet dish, vakalolo has incorporated many indian spices to enhance the flavours.
A very common feast is the lovo, where food is wrapped and cooked for several hours on hot stones covered with earth and sacks. Similar to the NZ hangi, the fijian style of lovo uses soy sauce, garlic, chilli and ginger as flavourings for meat. Fish are usually steamed in taro leaves with onions, garlic, chilli and coconut milk called Fish-in-lolo. Another common lovo item is palusami, of which a vegetarian and non vegetarian type are both popular additions. Consisting of young, tender taro leaves, coconut milk, ginger, garlic, chilli, lime juice, salt and may include corned beef/mutton or fish, palusami is also a staple menu item along with rourou, a similar taro leaf dish. Yams, cassava and taro are the main starches in a lovo and it takes many people to prepare hence its special significance.
Desserts or snacks are common and are eaten in between meals-often for morning tea and afternoon teas. Some common ones include pies filled with custard or pumpkin or pineapple. Steamed puddings are also common but these are rich in sugars and fats. Most homes would use coconut cream, caramelized sugar to give the color, flour, baking powder as the main ingredients. The pudding mixture is poured into tins and steamed for 1–2 hours. To improve the flavour, sometimes cinnamon or raisins are added. Some nice desserts are also made with cassava. Cassava is first grated and sugar is added. It is then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. Burnt Sugar pudding (purini or pudini) is a favorite pudding in the Fijian cuisine. The historical existence is unknown, more than likely was introduced by the British, given their fondness for pastries and steamed puddings. Vakalolo is a traditional dessert made with cassava, coconut, ginger root, sugar, cloves, then steamed in a banana leaf.
Taro is a cool dry starchy root crop, which has a taste similar to artichokes, and is the most important staple for special occasions. It is available in 70 different varieties; some turn pink or yellow or remain white after cooking. It can be grown in any soil conditions. Taro is a rich source of fiber.
Cassava or tavioka has replaced yams and is now the most cultivated and consumed staple crop in Fiji. It is boiled in salt and water until soft and eaten with stews and curries.
Kumala or sweet potato was not traditionally the staple for native Fijian diet. It was brought from Papua New Guinea. It is easy to grow and provides good yield now is the cheapest of all root crops and is eaten by most people their soups, stews or curries.
Breadfruit, uto, is another staple but only available seasonally. It is grown in most households in the villages.
Taro leaf, rourou, is the most important cash crop for Fijian communities. It is used in everyday meals and also used for ceremonial meals to make palusami.
Bele (Abelmoschus manihot, also hibiscus bele/hibiscus spinach [Hibiscus manihot]) is one of the most nutritious traditional vegetables in Oceania. It is a highly nutritious green leafy vegetable grown in almost every household. The leaves are rich sources of vitamins and minerals such as iron and magnesium, pro Vit A and C, also have very high levels of folate, an important nutrient for pregnant and nursing women.
Amaranthus, tubua, is another vegetable commonly eaten in most homes. Other leaves which are eaten include pumpkin, cassava and sweet potato leaves
Coconut is especially liked by Fijians. It is grown in most coastal areas. Coconut is used not only for food, it plays an important role in Fiji's economy.
Most Fijian men would have Yaqona or Kava to drink before having dinner. Kava is a drink made from powdered roots of yaqona plants. The powder is placed in a muslin cloth and small amounts of water are added to extract the juice out of the powder. With meals people often drink water. This drink will make your tongue go numb, due to the ingredients. Kava is not unique to the Fijian culture, it is widely consumed in amongst other Pacific nations. It has religious and tribal significance and often used as peace offering "sevusevu" during Fijian functions. Kava consumption can be habit forming, however, there is no evidence of kava causing physical addiction nor of long term risks due to its regular use. Consumption in smaller quantities have been found to be of therapeutical value, especially amongst people who suffer from sleeping disorders. Kava is used to calm anxiety, stress, and restlessness, and treat sleep problems (insomnia). It is also used for attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), epilepsy, psychosis, depression, migraines and other headaches, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), common cold and other respiratory tract infections, tuberculosis, muscle pain, and cancer prevention.Some people use kava for urinary tract infections (UTIs), pain and swelling of the uterus, venereal disease, menstrual discomfort, and to arouse sexual desire. Kava is applied to the skin for skin diseases including leprosy, to promote wound healing, and as a painkiller. It is also used as a mouthwash for canker sores and toothaches.
On special occasions a "lovo" is made which involves cooking all the food underground. Chicken, fish and meat are first marinated in sauces and garlic and wrapped in foil. The Taro is peeled and wrapped in foils. The "palusami" is made using taro leaves, filled with thick coconut cream, onions, salt and canned meat. It is made into a parcel and then wrapped into a foil. All the meat, taro and "palusami" are placed in the hole, with hot rocks and covered with banana leaves and cooked for 2–3 hours. A "lovo" is commonly made during special events such as funerals, weddings, Christmas or birthdays. It is a very healthy meal because no oil is used in cooking and would taste like Maori Hangi and the Hawaiian Luau. The taste is very much like a smoked or BBQ style dinner
This is a very special dish made up of raw Spanish Mackerel (Walu) with 'Miti’. Fresh fish is marinated in freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice and left to "cook" for several hours. Coconut milk is added after it is "cooked" together with finely diced tomatoes, chillies and salt. It is left in the fridge for an hour or two then served as an entrée.
Changes in eating patterns over time
With changes in eating patterns, there has been a shift towards consumption of more energy dense foods and decreased intake of fruit and vegetables. The processed foods are more readily available in shops and canteens and are cheaper. They contain high amounts of sugar and sodium which contribute to increasing rates of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. However, traditional foods are still valued and used for special occasions. Nutrition research involving children show 90% of children consume sugar sweetened beverages on a daily basis and 74% consume less fruit and vegetables.
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