Fiji, For The Food!

In Nadi (pronounced Nandi), Fiji, I decided to take a market tour and cooking class with the Flavours of Fiji Cooking School. Once again I was the only person to take the tour. I don’t know how I keep getting so lucky, although it’s bad luck for the tour operators to have just one guest. Anyway, I had a blast all by myself with Ajay, Lia, and Arti.

We started out in the vast kava section of the market. Lia and a kava vendor tut-tutted over the way I’d had it prepared in Vanuatu, so primitive. Here they dry the root and reduce it to a fine powder before mixing it with water.

Next we saw this pretty dried fish,

although the fresh fish were even prettier.

Freshwater clams were sold by the heap. Really, that’s the unit of measure, the heap.

There were bitter gourds and mangoes galore,

soursop,

rose apples,

beans that looked like scarlet runners,

and mountains of peppers. About 40% of Fijians are of Indian descent, and their culture of spicy food is very much a part of Fijian cuisine.

I was fascinated by the way these taro roots are sold, with stems attached. Lia told me that you can plant the stems in the ground, along with a bit of the root, and get new taro. Evidently it works just like pineapple, and is a very efficient form of reproduction.

I was also fascinated by the beauty of these vendors, an auntie and her niece.

After the market we went to the cooking school, which is really lovely, spotlessly clean, and well-decorated.

There’s a lot of coconut in Fijian cooking, and Lia gave me a lesson in how to grate fresh coconut, starting from the outer edge.

I didn’t do very well, but I blame it on the fact that she made me sit sidesaddle to grate, like a lady, instead of straddling the contraption like the men do.

We were to cook six dishes together, three native Fijian, and three Indo-Fijian, and all the mise en place was already prepped. We each cook our own portions, across the table from each other. I told them I was an accomplished cook, and that I once had a personal chef business. Still, hilariously to me, all of the instructions were of this order:”Turn on your burner to low, take a pan, put in the oil, set the lid of the pan on the right side of the burner, and take a spoon and set it on the dish to the left of the pan.” I mentioned a couple of times that they really didn’t need to go into so much detail for me, but sometimes they have up to 26 people in a class, and they say that many of them can’t cook at all, so they have developed the scripts accordingly. I finally managed to stop resisting, laugh, and comply.

The food was fabulous. With Lia I cooked rourou, a taro leaf dish that was meltingly delicious. You can make it with spinach, but the young taro leaves are special. We also made mackerel in coconut cream, and cassava in coconut cream for dessert. Lia added pieces of steamed taro and cassava to our plates, and we sat down to a scrumptious lunch. It was only toward the end of the meal that I realized that I was going to cook a whole ‘nother lunch with Arti. And eat it, presumably.

Arti and I made a pumpkin curry that is going to be a standard on my table, a chicken and potato curry, and roti. I’ve tried my hand at roti before, to no good effect, but these were perfect. And then we did our best to eat all this, although I admit that, even though it was all very good, I couldn’t really do it justice.

This appeared on the table, but a picture was all I could manage. Of course I vowed never to look at food again, after all that, but the next morning we arrived in Suva, Fiji, and because there was an off-again on-again deluge I ducked into a couple of stores.

These folks seemed unperturbed by the weather and sat outside, hoping to sell their mangoes. Honestly, I have never seen so many mangoes in my life as I did in Fiji.

I almost brought home some roti flour, but the weight of my suitcase made me think better of it.

The flavors of these snacks were also very enticing, but I staunchly resisted.

I resisted these stunning dresses too, although I desperately wanted one. But I’d have to move to Fiji to have the right place to wear one, and I just don’t see that happening.

If the weather had cooperated there are so many more places I could have visited, but all in all, it was a great time. And if you’re ever in Nadi, don’t hesitate to sign up for a cooking class. Just be sure to follow their pre-class instructions to “bring your appetite!”

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5 Comments on “Fiji, For The Food!”

  1. Barbara Jacquin Says:

    Oh Abra, I wish I had been there with you! Brings back so many memories of my 3 1/2 years “working” (yes) in Fiji. I love those jolly Fijian ladies but where are photos of the handsome guys with their sulus and mustaches? I remember the good Chinese restaurants too. Sigh…

  2. Abra Bennett Says:

    I actually didn’t see those guys. We’ll have to go back someday and find them!

  3. Barbara Jacquin Says:

    No kava ceremony in a village? A ritual.

    The military and the cops are the best looking dudes.

  4. Kay Standish Says:

    Abra, once home will you share the pumpkin curry recipe? Sounds good.

  5. Marcy Buchan Says:

    I thought I had commented that I loved reading your post, Abra, but do not see it!

    I have been to Fiji long ago, and for a short term consulting job.

    Keep on traveling and writing about your trips!!


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