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Fijian cuisine has traditionally been very healthy. Fijians prefer a more tuber and coconut based diet. High caloric foods are good for hard-working villagers who need extra calories while working on their farms but this causes a range of chronic illness such as obesity. Fiji is a multicultural country and is home to people of 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.
Lunch in the villages is usually rourou (dalo leaves) with boiled Tavioca (cassava) or some fresh fish soup with dalo (taro).
Dinner is usually stew, curry or soup made from meat/fish or chicken. Stews are made from meat, potatoes and vegetables, often very healthy. Soups are also very healthy because the best cuts of meat are used and lots of fresh vegetables are added.
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, caramelised 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 Yagona or Kava to drink before having dinner. Kava is a drink made from powdered roots of yagona 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.
- Jansen, A. A. J., Parkinson, S, Robertson, A. F. S. (1990) Food and Nutrition in Fiji: Food production, composition, and intake. ISBN 9820200601
- Schultz JT, Vatucawaqa P, Tuivaga J. (2005) 2004 Fiji National Nutrition Survey. Suva: Fiji Ministry of Health;
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- Saito S. (1995) 1993 National Nutrition Survey. Main Report. National Food and Nutrition Committee: Suva, Fiji
- Thaman, R.R. Rural Fiji. Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific 1988, p. 41.
- Food and Nutrition in Fiji: Food production, composition, and intake, p. 35, at Google Books edited by A. A. J. Jansen, Susan Parkinson, A. F. S. Robertson
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