A land of plenty

With volcanic soils, plentiful oceans, a tropical climate and an abundance of space, the Fiji Islands have an incredible ability to produce high quality seafood, meat, vegetables and fruit. Across Fiji, local markets showcase an array of products throughout the year that can be utilised in many contemporary ways. At its best, this produce is plentiful, high quality, economical, sustainable and bursting with flavour, with the potential to outshine many widely-used imported ingredients.

The people of Fiji are accustomed to growing the ingredients they use themselves in their food. Government organisations are working with farmers to assist them in developing their agricultural practices, so that there will be a consistent supply of traditional produce, and to help farmers learn about how to grow new varieties.

The role of agriculture

A food production and agricultural industry is fundamental for any developing nation, and for Fiji, where tourism forms a huge part of the national economy, the development of a distinctive cuisine using local products will not only boost the tourism offering but support the development of local communities and the economy as a whole. Effective supply chains need to be developed between farmers, fisherman, growers and the end users – hoteliers, chefs and in a wider sense, Fijian home cooks themselves.

To assist at the producer end, government departments and NGO’s have a vital role. Support and education for farmers, growers and fishermen is required so that sustainable, replicable and consistent practices are developed. Growers and farmers typically produce the things they are accustomed to using in their own food, but they need to be shown how to branch out into more commercially attractive varieties, then trained in the skills required to grow these new crops.

People working together

This whole-supply chain development can be jointly led by all parties involved: chefs and resorts can actively look to use more local products in their menus. Often this requires education of staff so they can identify and utilise the opportunities available in local produce. It may also require a change to purchasing habits or policies so that chefs can connect directly with suppliers to see what is available. Hotel operators need to develop local connections with suppliers who are willing and able to supply them regularly and consistently in the quantities required – or at least those who can learn to do so. These connections may take some time to foster.

Commitment required from hotels

Large hotel and resort operations currently use high proportions of imported ingredients, making at times bizarre choices in their choice of product – canned coconut milk sourced from outside the Pacific being a classic example.

With an abundance of fresh coconuts on their doorstep, it hotels chose to source coconuts from local suppliers, this alone would make a significant difference to the local community. While this small step is not in itself the development of a contemporary local cuisine, it is an example of the kind of step Fiji needs to take in order to create a long-lasting lift in the quality of life for its people and a more authentic offering within the resorts.

Know that it can be done

Assisting the development of a contemporary Fijian cuisine has been a long-term project for Colin Chung, who has been visiting and working within the islands for over forty years. Coming from Hawaii, where local chefs led the way and successfully developed a uniquely Hawaiian style of cuisine that is now embedded in Hawaiian culture, Colin knows this development is possible and has seen the fruits of its success.

Colin’s passion for this style of cuisine comes from two places – the produce and the people. Not only is there an abundant supply of incredible produce here in Fiji, there is a nation of good-hearted people who deserve a helping hand in improving the quality of their lives. The focus of Colin’s work for forty years has been teaching people to help themselves and in doing so, creating a better product and a more profitable business along the way. The beauty of this way of working is that it’s good for everyone, from the local people, to the hoteliers and the tourists who visit Fiji’s beautiful shores.

Making the effort to go local is not just a good idea, not just a tick on a corporate social responsibility plan or a response to the global food tourism trend. It’s the right thing to do.

Food tourism

The growth in food tourism and the locavore movement has been widely documented and talked about in foodie circles the world over. And in all sectors, globalisation is being balanced by a desire to go local – as much as people want to be global citizens, in food terms, they are more conscious than ever of supporting local producers and knowing where their food comes from.

It is possible to create high quality, contemporary menus in Fiji that are made from 75-80% local ingredients. In a hotel or resort setting, there will always be a need for a variety of styles of food, and a place for Western type offerings. However, with a little attention, care and creativity, it is possible to show visitors a Fijian cuisine that is far superior to boiled dalo and cassava, and a slice of papaya on a plate.

How it’s done

Hoteliers and chefs need to commit to going local – they need to see the inherent value in developing exciting, locally-inspired cuisine that will appeal to overseas guests and Fijians alike. Some of the things that may be required to do this include:

  • Training staff in how to creatively utilise local ingredients
  • Management giving staff the freedom to experiment and create new dishes
  • Allow chefs a say in purchasing supplies, which will often require changes to existing supplier relationships
  • Dedicate menu and/or restaurant space to contemporary local dishes
  • Redeveloping existing ‘local’ offerings to raise the standard and introduce more contemporary elements. This will simultaneously raise the appeal and the value of what’s on offer

In the kitchen itself, there are essentially three ways to create contemporary Fijian food:

The first, is to take a traditional Fijian ingredient or dish and modernise it so it is a contemporary expression of the traditional dish.  A Taste of the Lovo dish is a classic example. The traditional lovo ingredients and techniques are adapted to form individually wrapped parcels of chicken, fish, pork, root vegetables and rourou. These were served attractively on miti and paired with a fresh salsa that complemented the flavours contained within each parcel.

The second way to create a contemporary Fijian dish is to take high quality and in-season local ingredients and create contemporary dishes using Pan-Asian flavours, seasonings and cooking styles. Island fries using local root veges are a good example of this, as are Vasua and Kai fritters or Mahimahi fishcake.

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Lastly, the third way of creating uniquely Fijian dishes is to take a Western dish or style of cooking and use local produce to create an island-style, look, taste and feel. Dishes demonstrating this method include a River Prawn and Ota (Fern Shoot) Salad, or the Kuita (Octopus) salad. Salads and slaws are not features of Fijian cooking, so the technique has been borrowed from other cuisines and used to present the local ingredients.