Karena and Kasey Te Awa Bird recently filmed in Fiji for the second season of their TV show Karena and Kasey's Kitchen Diplomacy where they were impressed by the fresh, creative and delicious Fijian cuisine.
It was their first visit to Fiji and they were unsure what to expect, especially when it came to food. “I feel like we’re the only New Zealanders who have never made it there. And while a lot of the Pacific islands get a bad rap for their food, we had great food in Fiji — obviously amazing seafood and local produce as well. And great people!” says Kasey.
To get off the tourist track, Kasey and Karena went full-local, road-tripping from Nadi to Suva before flying North to Vanua Levu, where they ended their eight-day trip by cooking a feast, without any power or gas, at a remote village for 60 happy and satisfied locals.
The sisters cooked with some of Fiji’s best chefs, including Ivi Restaurant’s Shailesh Naidu (at Outrigger on the Lagoon Fiji resort) and Nanuku Auberge Resort's Logan Miller. Miller is one of the chefs promoting the use of local produce in fine dining fare. Naidu, the former head of the Fiji Chefs' Association, explained the other cultural influences of Fijian cuisine while cooking Karena a Fijian goat curry. They also learned how to cook traditionally, when they put down a lovo at the Eco Cafe on the Coral Coast. The lovo (food cooked on hot rocks) was completely old-school with the food wrapped in leaves, covered in leaves and smothered with sand.
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“We’ve obviously eaten a lot of hangi, but where hangi is more steam cooking, in the lovo there was charred chicken skin. The flavours of all the different foods cooked together in the lovo really came through,” Karena explains, with Kasey elaborating: “You could taste the smokiness and the charred coconut, everything was so incredibly moist but then it was also seared at the same time. Such a perfect meal.”
Kasey also cooked reef fish and rourou (sauteed taro leaves) in the Fijian capital, Suva, with Eden Bistro’s Sangeeta Maharaj, who grows almost all of the produce used at her restaurant in her backyard garden.
Sangeeta promotes the use of fresh local ingredients and shared her nutritional knowledge of indigenous Fijian fruit and vegetables. Many tourists aren’t lucky enough to head north to the outer island of Vanua Levu and Kasey and Karena both picked Savusavu as the highlight of their trip, agreeing with the town’s “Hidden Paradise” catch-cry. In Savusavu the girls prepared a kokoda with local chef VJ Kumar (Surf'n'Turf Restaurant), which Karena rated the best raw fish dish she’d eaten in the world. High praise, considering the sisters have travelled to 20 different countries over the past two years during the filming of the series. “VJ revolutionised our way of making raw fish. I love that!" says Karena. “We love learning new things and his technique was totally new to us."
At the end of their time in Fiji the sisters cooked for an entire village on Vanua Levu, adding a Kiwi twist to a Fijian lovo and having what they described as a rare and special cultural experience. And in total Fijian style, the numbers swelled from 20 guests to around 60 as the “coconut wireless” did its job! The lovo went down a treat with every last morsel of their feast enjoyed by all.
Karena and Kasey in Fiji, March 29, on Karena and Kasey's Kitchen Diplomacy TVNZ 1.