I've always felt that food was one of the great reasons to travel. But you'd have to say that until relatively recently it wasn't top of the list of reasons for visiting the South Pacific.
I do recall in times gone by eating a good goat curry in Nadi, savouring peppered coconut crab at a waterfront restaurant in Port Vila, enjoying tasty fish and coconut wrapped in banana leaves at a village in Samoa and pigging out on fried uto pancakes at the big market on Niue. But on the whole the food was fairly... average.
Not so these days. Now you can enjoy excellent eating experiences on pretty much any of the islands. Some of my highlights in recent years include Tahitian raw fish royal at the Intercontinental Resort Moorea, fish stew cooked in a coconut at Sonaisali Island Resorts in Fiji and an amazing fresh fish panini at Washaway Cafe in Niue.
I've also enjoyed two of the best meals I've ever eaten in the islands. In Tonga we had gazpacho, a superb crayfish mornay and a desert of flambéed banana with a peanut brittle cookie at Sovereign Residence on Vava'u.
And I'll never forget the fabulous dinner of chilled tomato soup with a grilled mozzarella cheese, foie gras and kalua pig sandwich, followed by chopped ahi (a local fish) sashimi and salsa stack on crispy wontons with spicy aioli and wasabi soy at Alan Wong's eponymous restaurant in Honolulu. The combination of tastes and textures was exquisite.
All those eating experiences came flooding back when I flicked through the pages of a wonderful new book, Me'a Kai: the food and flavours of the South Pacific by Robert Oliver (Godwit, $75) which has just been named the Best Cookbook for 2010 at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
This is a lot more than a cookbook. It's a grand tour of the Pacific, its islands, the fabulous ingredients found on land and sea, the delightful people who transform these into great dishes and the unique lifestyle that goes with the food.
But naturally it does contain dozens of fantastic recipes for combining the likes of coconut and taro, chilli and lemongrass, pawpaw and onion, banana and ginger, pork and walu, chicken and octopus and chicken and tuna, into uniquely Pacific cuisine.
Just reading the recipes made my stomach rumble with desire for an island meal, the pictures made my mouth water ... and best of all thanks to our close links with the Pacific we can get all the ingredients right here.By Jim Eagles Email Jim