International Cooking: Food from Fiji

Fiji is an island country located in the South Pacific Ocean, roughly north of New Zealand. There are two major islands, where most of the population lives, but in total there are more than 330 islands and more than 500 islets. Most islands were formed by volcanic activity starting millions of years ago.

Humans have lived on the islands since the second millennium BCE. Europeans first arrived in the 17th century, but it wasn’t until 1874 that the British established a colony. Fiji regained independence in 1970.

The economy of Fiji is one of the most developed in the Pacific, due to its vast forest, mineral, and fish resources. Fiji is also a popular travel destination, particularly for tourists from Australia and New Zealand. The main tourist attractions are the beautiful white sandy beaches and the all-year tropical weather

What Do People Eat in Fiji?

Before colonization, the Fijian diet was based on tubers and coconuts, and these are still common staples today. Rice, wheat, and tea have since become popular too. Other common ingredients are taro leaves, used in everyday meals, and coconut.

Seafood plays a major role in Fijian cuisine. Sharks are not included though, because they are thought to represent a sea god, and to kill or eat one is believed to bring great misfortune to a village.

Turtles were eaten for many years, but their consumption has more recently been heavily restricted or, for some species, forbidden. This is because the population is now dwindling.

Meat like chicken and lamb are popular, with beef and pork being less common and usually reserved for special occasions.

Many dishes make use of a range of spices, similar to those used in Indian curries. There are also some Chinese and British influences.

A common feast is the lovo, which is also the name used for the underground oven used to prepare it. Various foods are wrapped up, usually in banana leaves, and placed in a pit on top of hot coals. The pit is then covered with banana leaves, soil, and potato sacks. A few hours later, the food is ready.

What I Made

Fish Suruwa (Curry Fish Lolo)

Fish Suruwa (Curry Fish Lolo)

This is a curry made with fish cooked in a spicy coconut sauce.

To begin, I heated up some oil, then added onion. I was meant to add a cinnamon stick too, but I decided to go with a little ground cinnamon added later since I was decreasing the recipe quite a bit. When the onion softened, I added garlic and chili, then a moment later I stirred in garam masala, cumin, turmeric, and a pinch of ground cinnamon.

I then added the tomatoes and let the mixture cook for a while until the tomatoes began to break down. I cut the fish—I used mahi mahi—into large chunks and added it to the sauce with some lemon juice. After cooking for a bit, I stirred in coconut milk and let the mixture simmer for a few more minutes.

I served this garnished with fresh cilantro, with rice on the side.

I’m not always a fan of fish curries, but this one was delicious and super easy to make. I followed the recipe from Tara’s Multicultural Kitchen.

Kokoda (Coconut Ceviche)

Kokoda (Coconut Ceviche)

You may be familiar with ceviche, which is usually made by ‘cooking’ fish in lime juice. The acidity from the lime causes the fish to change in texture so that it’s almost as if it’s been cooked with heat. The Fijian version, kokoda, is made by adding coconut milk after the fish has finished marinating. Lemon may also be used instead of lime. The marinated fish and coconut is then combined with a range of other ingredients, which may include cucumber, tomato, onion, bell pepper, chili, and fresh herbs. The recipe I followed used parsley, but I think cilantro would have been better.

In Fiji, kokoda is usually served in a coconut shell, but I made do with a bowl instead.

Overall, this was alright, but I don’t think it’s my favorite way to enjoy fish. I don’t always like coconut in things, and I feel this is one of those cases. I probably would have liked this better without it (though that’s kind of the key element here!)

If you’d like to try this, I followed the recipe from The Foreign Fork and I used mahi mahi (which came frozen).

Fijian Chicken Curry with Roti

Fijian Chicken Curry with Roti

This is a common curry that you may find in Fiji. It is intensely flavorful, but not very spicy. It starts by cooking cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, cinnamon, and star anise in oil just until the seeds start popping (which for me, was right away). Then, you add diced onion, followed by ginger garlic chili paste (I didn’t have this, so I used a combination of ginger, garlic, and chili). I then added diced tomato, which was meant to go in later, but I wanted to make sure the tomato had time to bread down into a sauce (which I think is what is meant to happen here).

The recipe instructed to rub the chicken pieces with turmeric before adding them to the pan, which seemed unusual to me but I did it anyway. I used chicken thighs (bone-in, skin-on). I added some water at this point, even though the recipe didn’t say to, because I felt the pan was too dry and that things would start burning otherwise.

After cooking for a bit, I added potato, which I cut into bit-sized chunks, as well as some garam masala and a bit more water.

To finish, I added some lemon juice. I served this with fresh cilantro, rice, and roti.

The roti were very easy – just make a dough out of flour and water, then knead in a little oil. Roll into balls, then roll out each ball into a thin circle, and cook over high heat for a minute or two.

This made for a great meal, and I think I’d make it again.

Both recipes were from That Fiji Taste: Here is the chicken curry, and here is the roti.

Roti Parcel

Roti Parcel

This is exactly what it sounds like—a parcel made from roti. The filling can be just about anything you like, but tinned mutton or fish are common. I thought I’d like to try the tinned mutton, but I can’t get it locally (at least not that I could see) and it was super expensive to buy online.

Instead, I decided to use my leftover chicken curry, since I saw that curry could be used as a filling too. I chopped up the chicken and stirred it into the remaining curry sauce. Then I wrapped it up with some cilantro in my nicest roti, which I had saved especially for this!

This was pretty good, though I knew it would be. It’s not really new to me, since roti and tortillas are very similar, and I often wrap leftovers up in a tortilla for lunch.

Final Thoughts

This was another great week. Everything was good, but the Fijian chicken curry was my favorite.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Finland.

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