French Polynesia benefits from fantastic weather all year round. It’s a virtual South Pacific Garden of Eden, where exuberance and abundance go hand in hand. In this sunny country, farmers grow a wide variety of fruits, spices and vegetables which are transformed into aromatic and exotic dishes to delight the senses.
The legendary breadfruit plant or ‘uru, the coconut, the dozens of varieties of bananas including the incomparable orange plantain banana or fe’i, the various root vegetables such as the taro, the tarua, the ufi, and the ‘umara make up the basis of island cuisine. Sweet potatoes and taro leaves are often used in soups and stews or served as a side dish.
Fish from the lagoon or from the ocean, ranging from perch, mahi mahi and parrot fish are also on the menu for typical Polynesian dishes. Raw fish, sometimes marinated in lime juice and coconut milk as in the famous recipe for ‘poisson cru à la Tahitienne’.
Papayas, mangos, pineapples, watermelon, grapefruit, coconut water, limes, and the iconic Tahitian vanilla pod are used to prepare tasty desserts that showcase the influence of French cuisine when dining in The Islands of Tahiti.
All these Tahitian foods are typically cooked in traditional Polynesian underground ovens, ahima’a. Fruits, vegetables, suckling pigs, Tahitian chicken fāfā (local spinach) and other delicacies such as po’e or local fruit pastilles cook underneath red hot coals. A drizzle of fresh coconut oil on these traditional Tahitian dishes helps them turn out deliciously creamy.
There are even specialized tours that let you discover the flavors of The Islands of Tahiti on picnics organized on beaches or on a motu (islet). These tours are an opportunity to taste freshly caught fish, such as the tasty ume, the Long Nose Emperor fish of the lagoons and the little jacks.
Cut the fish into small pieces and soak it in seawater or salt water for 5 minutes. In a salad bowl, put diced tomatoes and cucumbers, thinly sliced onion, cut green onion and chopped parsley. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper and let soak for a few minutes. Drain the fish, add to the bowl and mix well with other ingredients. Add the coconut milk at the last minute. Serves six.
Cook the fāfā leaves for one hour in boiling salted water. Drain well. Cut the chicken breasts into small pieces. Peel and thinly slice the onion and ginger. Add the chicken and cook in oil for 10 minutes. Add the fāfā and lime juice. Mix well and let simmer for one hour. Add the coconut milk before serving. Serves six.
Peel the bananas and cook them in a little water. When they are done, drain and puree them. Mix 2 bowls of bananas with a bowl of starch and 50g of sugar. Place this mixture in a lightly oiled banana leaf. Cook in a medium hot oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Add the coconut milk just before serving.
Tahitian cooking is a blend of French and Asian flavors combined with fresh island ingredients to create something truly exotic. Serves six.
Master Chefs subtly combine fish, local produce and other local products with spices and ingredients from elsewhere. Why not try your hand in the kitchen and learn the culinary arts of The Islands of Tahiti? In some of the large hotels, the chef even organizes culinary workshops.
GREPFOC: This training institute for adults offers classes to private individuals just to delight the taste buds and to registered students to further their careers. Catering for fun (“traiteur plaisir”) class. For more information, visit www.grepfoc.pf
Indulge in traditional Polynesian cuisine as you explore the islands’ incredible range of exquisite restaurants.