Vanuatu is an island country located in the South Pacific Ocean neighbored by Fiji, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and Australia. It is known for its spectacular landscapes, WWII shipwrecks, calm waters, friendly locals, active volcanoes, fresh seafood, high quality chocolate, and the world’s only underwater post office.
The population of Vanuatu is composed of three ethnicities including Ni-Vanuatu (94%), Europeans (4%), and other Pacific Islanders. Vanuatu is among several South Pacific countries whose traditions have not been as infringed by external influences due to their isolated location in the world.
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Most Popular Vanuatuan Dishes
Key staples of Vanuatan cuisine include yams, taro, bananas, coconut, tropical nuts, sugarcane, pork, fowl, greens and seafood. Most local families cultivate food in their gardens and food scarcity is a rare occurrence. Some of the most abundant foods include pineapples, papayas, plantains, sweet potatoes and mangoes.
Ingredients like cream and coconut milk are often added to dishes for flavor and consistency. Foods such as canned fish and rice are considered luxury foods since the locals don’t grow them themselves.
Here are some of the absolute must-try traditional dishes of Vanuatu along with recipes to try for yourself.
Citrus Baked Fish in Coconut Cream
Citrus Baked Fish in Coconut Cream is prepared using a lemon, whole fish, coconut cream, orange slices, salt and pepper. The lemon and orange slices are carefully placed on top of the fish. Finally, coconut cream and seasonings are drizzled on top.
The mixture is then securely wrapped in a number of banana leaves before being roasted until the fish is soft enough for the meat to come out of the bones. It is often accompanied by plantains, rice or salad on the side.
Poulet fish, a type of indigenous snapper from Vanuatu, is popular for its distinctive flavor, which is said to taste a lot like chicken meat. That is undoubtedly the reason why this species is known as ‘poulet fish’, which is French for chicken fish.
The deep-water fish is huge and meaty, with firm white flesh that is pinkish-red in appearance. Poulet fish is considered a delicacy and tends to be served shortly after it is caught, either whole or filleted. Its firm flesh makes it suitable for grilling, baking, pan frying and steaming.
Vanuatu Coconut Cake
Vanuatu coconut cake is a simple dessert that is prepared using a few ingredients including flour, eggs, sugar, grated coconut and butter. All the ingredients are mixed together and then baked.
Coconut crab is a type of hermit crab that resides in the country’s archipelago. Considered to be a delicacy, it is referred to as a ‘coconut crab’ due to coconuts being one of its main sources of food. The most relished parts are the eggs of the female coconut crab and the abdomen fat.
Photo Credit: Ronoleo
Laplap, considered to be Vanuatu’s national dish, is prepared by pounding the roots of several vegetables including yam, taro or breadfruit into a dough. The dough is then baked with ingredients like wild spinach leaves, coconut cream and chunks of chicken, pork or corned beef in an underground oven (also known as an uma).
Typically, the entire mixture is wrapped in leaves from the lap-lap plant and fastened with vine strands. It is ready to eat after about 3 hours and is best eaten right away.
Tuluk is a dish that consists of tapioca (also known as cassava or manioc) dough with shredded pork stuffing in the middle. It is steamed after being wrapped in banana leaves. Tuluk resembles Mexican tamales due to the similar way they are made.
Kava is a ceremonial beverage prepared by brewing piper methysticum. It is famous for its effects after drinking it, as the root of the crop used has anesthetic, calming and euphoric properties.
The plant is cultivated all over the country and is mostly consumed in the evening, before dinner, typically by men but increasingly more by women.
People have been consuming kava for more than 3,000 years. Originally drank for medicinal and cultural reasons, kava is widely popular among tourists who are hoping to experience the country’s traditional way of life. Kava is typically served in a local ceremony or in kava bars that are present all over the island.
Kava is known for its pain killing properties all across the Pacific Ocean cultures of Polynesia, including Melanesia, Micronesia, Hawaii and the Philippines.
Fillet of beef is regarded as the best beef cut since it comes from the animal’s least-worked area and is the most tender cut. Therefore, buying fillet is expensive, especially in portions.
The meat will be fit for consumption for at least a month if placed in the freezer and the extra portions can be used to prepare a delicious sauce.
It is always recommended to pick grass-fed beef over cattle that have only been fed grain as it has a better flavor and is raised in a more sustainable manner.
Simboro is a dish prepared using manioc, grated banana, yam, taro and flour. All the ingredients are wrapped in banana leaves and simmered in coconut milk. This steamed roll dish is usually consumed as a side dish.