Island Time: The real taste of Fiji

By Shandelle Battersby

Fiji. Photo / iStock
Fiji. Photo / iStock

With three keen foodies along for the ride it's not surprising that much of our girls' week exploring Fiji revolved around eating and drinking.

A cooking lesson at Flavours of Fiji gave us a first-hand appreciation of local cuisine, providing an insight into the Fijian culture, with plenty of stories about traditional cooking and everyday life at home in the villages.

Host Ethee told us she and co-cooks Arti and Lia were proud to showcase their cuisine and would help us prepare seven courses - three Fijian and four Fijian Indian - over three hours.

First came a demonstration of the art of opening and scraping the meat out of a coconut - a practice that hasn't changed too much over the years, though the scraping tool - held between the, ahem, thighs (side-saddle for ladies) these days is much more sophisticated.

The next few hours sped by as we visited the "market" (a table laden with ingredients, much of which are bought fresh each morning at a real Nadi market) before every course to get what we needed for each dish, then made our Fijian dishes with guidance from Lia: ika vakalolo (fish in coconut cream), rourou (coarse taro leaves boiled and flavoured to within an inch of their lives, known as "spinach") and tavioka vakalolo (a dessert of cassava balls with coconut cream).

As we cooked, local music playing softly in the background, Arti tidied away our used dishes and utensils, while Ethee roamed the room - stirring here, turning down the heat there.

With a maximum number of 12, the experience is a fun thing to do in a group. One of our "fellow cooks" (Ethee's name for us all) sneakily transferred his mess to the cooking station of his neighbour in an effort to make her look bad.

We feasted on our Fijian courses over stories about life at home - in Fijian culture the women's position is in the kitchen, you eat sitting on the floor, and you wait until Dad has finished his meal before you leave the mat.

Part two was led by Fijian Indian Arti, who told us she gets up at 4am every day to make food - including 50 roti - for her family. Then she comes to work and cooks more. Much of the rest of her day is spent in her garden, before hitting the sack at 11pm.

We visited the market again, this time with silver trays rather than baskets, for our next four courses: dahl soup, murghi (chicken) and aalu (potato) curry, roti and coconut barfi (Indian fudge), then sat to enjoy the rest of our lunch, pleased with our efforts despite bulging bellies.

The recipes we'd cooked from were emailed through the next day so we could try to replicate the flavours of Fiji back at home.

Checklist

DETAILS
The Flavours of Fiji cooking school is at No5 Denarau Industrial Park, Denarau Island, Fiji. Classes are suitable for any level, and children as young as 8 can take part. flavoursoffiji.com

ONLINE
fiji.travel

- NZ Herald

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