To experience the real South Pacific, you need to get eating, writes chef Robert Oliver

The South Pacific conjures postcard-perfect images of white sandy beaches, cool pristine waters and friendly locals. And although Kiwis flock in droves to this mesmerising part of the world to indulge in all it has to offer, many don't venture to town to taste the true essence of the Pacific – its food.

But you should - here are my favourite eateries in the Pacific's urban centres, where you get truly authentic food.

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Chef Robert Oliver hosts Pacific Island Food Revolution. Photo / Supplied
Chef Robert Oliver hosts Pacific Island Food Revolution. Photo / Supplied

FIJI

Suva, Fiji's capital, is the commercial hub of the country and region. Suva does not attract as many tourists as it should, but the city's dynamic market is the heart and soul of the nation. Visiting the Suva Market on Saturday should be on your "to do" list. Here are my other favourite go-to places.

Tiko's Floating Restaurant
On this permanently moored boat, you can dine on the best seafood in Fiji with a smattering of cool local favourites, like waci poki, taro leaves stuffed with baby river shrimp. Don't forget to take advantage of an awesome (free) salad bar featuring ota (river fern). while enjoying the spectacular views of Suva's harbour.

Eden Restaurant and Bistro
Sangeeta Maharaj is the Queen of Suva Hospitality and Eden's fish curry rourou is heavenly.

Niu Grillz
One of the best in the country when it comes to barbecue and smoked meats, this local favourite is always trying something new. It also has a great pub-like atmosphere.

Cafe 30
They serve delicious kai. And if you're keen on the traditional lovo (a banquet cooked in an earth oven) check their Facebook page for availability - it's worth it.

Barbelle
My new Suva favourite. Open only for lunch, they serve seriously good authentic local food at the National Fitness Center. I absolutely love their fried fish with rourou (taro leaves) and vudi (plantain).

The Chef
Awesome traditional kai just a short cab ride from town in Nabua. A taste of the eggplant tavu is worth the trip alone.

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Weta Cafe and Contain Yourself
Kick-ass (Kiwi) coffee from the Mobil service station right in town. Heaven.

VANUATU
A former French colony, Vanuatu's cuisine has French influences paired with Melanesian classics such as the laplap and simboro. Here are my top places to eat in Port Vila.

The Mamas in the Market in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Photo / Supplied
The Mamas in the Market in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Photo / Supplied

Au Fare

A French restaurant that does awesome wood-fired pizza. The kitchen's raw fish dishes and fresh lobsters are also delicious, and it's all washed down with stunning views of Port Vila harbour.

Cafe du Village
This lovely spot delivers sublime French-Mediterranean dishes, but the fish and chips are extra yummy.

L'Houstalet
A 40-year Vanuatu institution, this restaurant is still alive and kicking. When you're nestled in the cosy dining room, you'll be transported to another world.

Mamas in the Market
Down the back of the Port Vila market, pop by for terrific traditional dishes and hilarious gossip with Vanuatu's legendary Mamas.

Rose Elton
Another market must, if you visit on a Saturday, is to ask for Rose. She makes a fabulous local specialty, tuluk, which is Ni-Vanuatu's version of a meat pie.

SAMOA
The Samoan capital of Apia is the culinary mecca of the region serving some of the best local food. Don't miss:

Paddles
If I had to recommend one thing - or maybe two - it would be papa's smoked fish lasagne and the seared tuna with watercress and peppercorn sauce, chowed down while gazing at Apia's spectacular harbour.

Giordanos
My favourite dish: the palusami pizza - a mixture of taro leaves, with coconut milk, on pizza. I love it with the gluten-free crust made with breadfruit flour.

Nourish Cafe
They've got great smoothies and my favourite is the appropriately named nourish knockout - and don't miss the oka (raw fish) with green banana if you're after something a little savoury.

Milani Cafe
Milani Cafe has mouth-watering cakes and pastries and it's among my picks for the best coffee in Apia.

Amanaki
Visit here for some delicious fish and chips, and to mix with a cool local crowd. My favourite dish is the super fresh poke, with amazing raw tuna in a zingy sesame ginger dressing.

Scalinis
Samoa's legendary chef, Joe Lam is at the helm at this Auckland-born Italian restaurant. With their own farm, producing much of the produce used in the kitchen, and The Pickled Lam Deli next door, it's well worth a visit.

Bella's Kitchen
A food truck with burgers, noodle boxes and fun casual fare. Owned by Mika Maeava, a beloved and hilarious local organic farmer, and his wife, who grow the veges right outside the restaurant.

Sinalei
Overlooking the lagoon, their menu is fully supplied by the village farmers next door. Everything is wonderful here, seriously.

* NOTE: Samoa's measles outbreak is ongoing. Make sure you seek adequate medical advice before travelling.

TONGA
Nuku'alofa has a surprising number of eating options and variable opening times so it would be best to check before visiting.

Frangipani
Owners Mr and Mrs Lee deliver incredibly good Korean food right in the heart of Nuku'alofa; their kim chi pancake is out of this world.

Ancient Tonga
While this does not open daily (check their Facebook page to see if you are in luck), their umu is amazing and authentic.

Oholei
A classic Tongan experience. Authentic cuisine - served in a cave on a beach. Plus, there's a traditional dance performance afterwards, making it a must while you're in the kingdom.

Chef Zero
The funkiest and tastiest food in Popua. Chef Sione is Tonga's culinary star and his food proves it. His fish dishes are beautiful and have an elegant Tongan feel.

Luna Rossa
I had gorgeous smoked tuna with capers and lemon on my last visit to this restaurant that excels at fabulous, light pasta dishes. An institution in Tonga and the owner is a serious personality.

Robert Oliver's new show, Pacific Island Food Revolution starts December 21 on TVNZ 1 and TVNZ OnDemand.