While Fiji has always been known and loved for its tropical islands and palm-lined beaches, some visitors feel that the food is nothing to write home about.
Fashion designer Karen Walker, who first visited Fiji on a family holiday when she was four years old and has returned at least 20 times as an adult, puts it in a nutshell.
“I think there’s a misconception that the food is awful,” she told Stuff Travel.
“And once upon a time, maybe it was acquired, this idea of eat everything heat-and-pizza and lasagna and chips with everything. I think it depends on Fiji.
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But on a recent trip with her husband, Mikhail German, and daughter, Valentina — her first visit in six years — Walker said she was blown away by what was on offer.
“It was a different place in terms of food and service overall.”
Several high-end resorts are rebranding Fiji’s cuisine, helping to transform it into a fully-fledged food destination.
Replacing fried foods and all-day buffets are farm-to-plate and sea-to-plate dining experiences, showcasing the best of the fresh produce and seafood the island nation has to offer.
Before landing at Nadi International Airport, you can get a taste of this change. In December 2021, Fiji Airways appointed Kiwi chef Richard Cross as its new executive, tasked with completely revamping the flagship carrier’s menus and building them around local flavors – the cava and cinnamon ice cream served in business class being just one example.
On Walker’s most recent visit, she stayed at three resorts. She visited one of her favorites – Dolphin Island, a private retreat that accommodates only eight guests at a time, a 20-minute boat ride north of Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island.
She first discovered the famously popular Wakaya Club and Spa – another private island resort, an hour-long propeller plane ride from Nadi – as well as Six Senses Fiji on Malolo Island in the Mamanuka Islands, which opened in 2018, a symbol of luxury security and hospitality. indicating the arrival of the South Pacific.
Locally grown, seasonal food was at the heart of what was offered at all three properties, Walker found.
At both Dolphin Island and Wakaya, she likes that there is no fixed menu — instead, the staff adapts to guests’ dietary needs and designs meals based on the freshest produce available that day.
At Dolphin Island, where Walker has stayed three times, manager Dawn Simpson said, “He’s with the most loving mother or grandmother you’ve ever met.”
Food is served family-style – “10 different dishes on the table and you just help yourself”.
“I love not being able to go, ‘What do I want?’ You don’t want to think about it when you’re on vacation.
“It’s as if someone put their hand on you and said, ‘You look tired, sit down, Nana, and I’ll make you dinner.’
Wakaya is impressed by its on-site farms and extensive tropical gardens, where nutrients are harvested directly from the rich soil.
Walker, a vegetarian, describes snacking on raw cauliflower with cumin dip, and enjoying one of the best salads she’s ever eaten — “because the greens were picked 10 minutes ago.”
Dishes were considered not too complicated, she added.
“When I’m in the tropics, I don’t want good food – I want something simple.”
Feel-good food is the focus at Six Senses, which has three dining venues and a gourmet deli. The resort has an organic farm on its site, as well as a kitchen with guests to make their own crumbs and face masks using ingredients from the garden, but also a herb garden which they use in the spa.
“I don’t think you’ll find anything on the menu that makes you feel heavy or a little bad,” Walker said of the food.
But you don’t feel like you’re missing anything because it’s so well done.
For the chefs at these resorts, the focus on local ingredients is out of step with following food trends.
Creating world-class cuisine in a country that relies heavily on imports is an obvious challenge – with added complexity when you’re on a private island.
Wakaya CEO Mariel Haj arrived in the remote resort from Mexico City seven years ago to run her own catering company.
“Coming from a big city where you made a wish list and received it, it was a completely different experience here – trying to figure out the types of leaves that we can find in the area, the types of fish that we can find in each season,” she said.
“When I say, ‘Can you bring me tuna or Spanish mackerel,’ they look at me and say, ‘hmm, we’ll see what we can do.’
Hajj, who grew up in Mexico but has Lebanese ancestry and has worked in kitchens in New York and Paris, said some resorts may feel the need to serve international menus, catering to guests from all parts of the world. But focusing on the product has opened up a whole new dining experience, she said.
“The most important thing is to get it hours or minutes before you cook it or serve it on the plate,” she said.
“It’s really fresh. I think it will make a difference.”
Six Senses properties around the world are known for their sustainable approach, something that inspired Winston Fong, who started his career as executive chef at the Fiji resort in August.
Determined to make sure nothing goes to waste, he’s trying to use seafood the way you might treat meat — aging it or making sausages from leftover scraps. He said that the response from the guests was encouraging.
“I served [fish] Go to the guests a while back and they say it’s the best thing they’ve ever tried.
“You won’t find a single piece of Wag here. But you get a nice piece of aged tuna and some fresh crab.
For guests like Walker, eat hot-and-from-the-buffet pizza any day.
Dolphin Island: dolphinislandfiji.com
Wakaya Clubs and Spas: wakayaresort.com
Six Senses Fiji: sixsenses.com
Getting there: Fiji Airways offers direct flights to Nadi from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Check out fijiairways.com
Additional information: Fiji. Travel
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