International Cooking: Food from Kiribati

Kiribati is a country I had never heard of before starting this challenge. The population is also small, and I didn’t get much help from Reddit so I struggled to find enough food from Kiribati to make this week.


Kiribati is an island country in the central Pacific Ocean, with a population of just over 119,000. It is made up of 32 atolls and one remote raised coral island, spread out over a whopping 3,441,810 km2 (1,328,890 square miles) of ocean! There are three main island groups: the Gilbert, Phoenix, and Line Islands.

Some of the islands have been inhabited since between 3000 BC and 1300 AD, and they were often visited by travelers from Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji, who all imparted their own cultural influences.

By the 15th century, many of the islands had very different systems of government, and they often fought with each other, usually over land and resources. This was still happening during the 17th and 18th centuries when Europeans began visiting the islands. Some islands used guns and cannon-equipped ships given to them by the Europeans to destroy their enemies, who were still using spears, knives, and swords.

During the late 1800s, the Gilbert Islands became a British protectorate, and in 1916 all the islands making up Kiribati today were made into a British colony. This lasted until 1979, when Kiribati became independent.

Today, Kiribati faces major threats due to climate change, particularly due to the rise in sea level. Some islands may be completely uninhabitable as soon as 2050. Because of this, Kiribati’s international policy focuses heavily on addressing climate change.

What Do People Eat in Kiribati?

Traditionally, the staple diet in Kiribati consisted of lots of seafood and coconuts. Many of the islands weren’t viable for constant agriculture, and the national crop, bwabwai or swamp taro, was only eaten during special celebrations.

The I-Kiribati people processed the sap and fruit of coconut and pandanus trees to create different beverages and foods. This was an effort to introduce more carbohydrates into their diet.

Rice became a daily staple after World War II and is still popular today. Seafood is still widely consumed and often served raw with coconut sap, soy sauce, or vinegar-based dressings.

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Kiribati dishes I didn’t make!

Buatoro (Steamed Taro Cake)

Buatoro (Steamed Taro Cake)

Buatoro is a popular dessert in Kiribati, made primarily from swamp taro, coconut milk, and coconut sugar syrup. The mixture is wrapped in banana leaves and then baked.

I saw a few versions of this dish on various sites, and a common variation seemed to be a combination of tinned beef, cabbage, and pumpkin–not a dessert at all. However, one of these recipes had a comment from an I-Kiribati saying that it was wrong and that this was the correct dish. I’m surprised that the recipe was not adjusted to be correct, or at least a disclaimer added somewhere, after a response like that by someone from the country. The page where I found a more authentic recipe for this dish, the one I used to make mine, included basically the same comment after having come across that recipe too.

This was really simple to make. I grated some fresh taro and combined it with coconut milk, coconut sugar, and enough flour to hold the mixture together. The recipe said you could melt coconut sugar if you can’t find the syrup, but I knew that would make caramel so I didn’t try it. It was only later that I realized I could have just made coconut syrup by melting the sugar and adding water.

Anyway, I wrapped this mixture in foil for lack of banana leaves, and baked it in the oven for about an hour. It was hard to tell when it was done; the recipe said it was when a skewer comes out clean, but mine still looked pretty wet on top. I think it’s probably because the mixture steamed due to being wrapped in the foil, so it didn’t get the kind of crust you would usually see on baked goods.

I have to say that I didn’t really like this, and the texture was kind of odd. It’s also obviously not the most photogenic dish. I am glad I tried it though!

The recipe I used is from Barefoot in Jandals.

Lobster Tails with Curry Sauce

Lobster Tails with Curry Sauce

This sad photo was my first attempt at cooking lobster tails. First, they were meant to be roasted, and I was planning on taking out the meat and laying it on the shell so it would look pretty, as recipes online suggested. But I didn’t end up roasting them because I had not timed some bread I was baking too well and the oven was not available. So I decided to boil them instead. The boiling directions I was looking at on multiple sites didn’t say to take the meat out, that you didn’t even have to cut the shell if you didn’t want to, but I did do that part. I figured maybe I could get the tails looking pretty after cooking. However, I was wrong!

I just couldn’t get the meat to come out without the shell breaking apart. I don’t know if there’s a trick to it, or if you really need to do this when the tails are raw. As I said, I’d never cooked lobster tails before. However, the most important thing is that I managed to cook them perfectly. They were delicious!

In Kiribati, roasted lobster tails with curry sauce are quite common. I paired these lobster tails with a simple sauce made mostly from coconut milk and curry powder, with a little fish sauce, soy sauce, and lime juice. The sauce was great too; I’d like to make this again and try for a nicer photo!

The recipe I used for the sauce is from Travelling by Taste Buds.

Coconut Pumpkin Soup

Coconut Pumpkin Soup

This is a simple soup made almost entirely from pumpkin and coconut milk. It’s seasoned lightly with ginger and a garnish of chives.

I started by sautéing some onion, which was in some recipes I looked at but not the one I ended up using. I think onion makes a lot of things better so I wanted to include it here. Next, I added some diced butternut squash and minced ginger.

After a few minutes, I added water, and when the butternut squash was tender I blended it up using my immersion blender. Once it was smooth, I added some coconut milk, salt, and pepper. I garnished it with some chives and that was it!

This was okay, though I don’t think I’m really a fan of the pumpkin/coconut milk combination.

The recipe I used for this is from International Cuisine.

  • Te inai – parrotfish flavored with lemon juice, garlic, and other seasonings, deep-fried and usually served whole.
  • Mushroom chicken – chicken served with a mushroom sauce.
  • Poke bowls – originally from Hawaii but very popular in Kiribati, poke bowls are based on raw fish served with various seasonings and condiments.
  • Ika mata – cubed raw fish marinated in lemon juice and coconut milk, served with rice.

Final Thoughts

I’m probably going to come back at some point and try to get a nice photo of the lobster tails. They were by far the best dish out of the food from Kiribati I made this week. I’m just really not happy with the photo.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Kosovo.

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