One of the most unique adventures on our recent trip to Fiji was our Food Safari at the Nanuku Auberge Resort. Let me start by saying, I am not a foodie. I am actually not even an adventurous eater. I save that for my husband and apparently now also my son. What I do love is to get out of the confines of resort life to actually experience the places we visit. With less than cooperative weather during our stay at Nanuku, our options for outside exploration were somewhat limited. Dying to get out to explore, we opted to experience Nanuku’s Food Safari excursion.
All we knew in advance was that we were to be taken around to the local villages to procure all of the products we would need for a traditionally cooked Fijian meal. This is Fiji’s way of doing what many in the West are currently obsessed with, farm-to-table cooking and eating. Here in California, farm-to-table chefs prepare meals with an emphasis on seasonality, local availably and simple preparations. So in essence this was what we were being exposed to in Fiji, however, it isn’t a new trendy way of doing things, rather the traditional way of eating that is still quite prevalent as most villages rely on what they have immediately available in their direct vicinity. Home cooked food in Fiji is typically prepared with extremely fresh, barely modified ingredients, often prepared feet from where it was grown. Farm-to-table, Fijian style!
On our adventure, we would be taken to a local market to pick up some fresh ingredients before heading to another two villages to collect fresh crab and prawns. Our market visit was quick and uneventful. It left me wondering if I’m over traveled. Have I seen too many to be impressed? Did living in India spoil me to the abundance of local markets? For people who have had little exposure to local markets they might find it interesting (go on a Sat, the busiest day), otherwise it’s just a quick walk through with basic local fruits and root vegetables brought down from the mountains.
Following our market visit and walk around the village, we were taken to a local crab farm, called the Crab Company. This 11 pond farm provides fresh crab to many of the hotels on this side of the island. I’d never seen a crab farm before so wasn’t sure what to expect. It was very similar to any fish farm to be honest, but my 5 year old was entranced. He loved walking the tiny walkways pulling up the traps to see what was inside. Most of the crabs we found were still too small for market sale, but in the end we came out with 3 crabs for purchase. Our son was very interested in seeing them wrapped up in newspaper before bagged and handed over for him to take care of!
Our next stop was to another nearby local village that had a stream running behind. We were told that when a village has access to a natural resource such as this, it is free range for anyone in the village. I found myself wondering how that would really play out in the US where competition is so high.
During our visit, a local villager jumped in the creek and began pulling out fresh prawns for us. My son really wanted to get in there himself to help, but it was a bit cold for him (and we had no change of clothes with us!). While waiting for our bag of prawns, we spent some time hiking around in the jungle area exploring. We almost got chased by a cow who was not at all happy about our invasion of her land!
Our gathering phase finished, we returned to the hotel to begin the meal preparation. A fire was quickly started by the hotel staff to cook our prawns in a traditional Fijian style. Two small green bamboos stalks were cut which we learned would be used to cook our prawns. In the meantime, ginger, garlic, coriander and onion were chopped and stuffed inside the tubes as well. With only a squeeze of lime, the still alive and kicking prawns were stuffed inside the bamboo to steam to their death! Eek! Even though I do eat fish, I’m definitely not one to catch and kill my own food! My 5 year old seemed to have no qualms about this though!
The stuffed bamboo shoots were set in the roaring fire for about 15 minutes before being taken out and sliced open. The prawns were now bright red, telling us they were cooked!
I’ve never eaten a prawn with the shell on and neither has my son. As I learned during this adventure, it was just one more thing to try. He was not phased by it, and rather actually loved it! He loves fresh food and it showed again here.
Being able to share in such a special tradition with the staff of the hotel was a great experience. I know they do this as a service to guests, but it felt very personal since several of the employees came from each of the villages we had visited. This is something that permeated our time in Fiji, the feeling of everything being local. It really does feel like a close knit country in so many ways.
Next up was our crab dinner. My son would have enjoyed watching the chef shell and cook the crab but that was all done behind the scenes unfortunately. Instead we headed off to the beach to search for hermit crabs to race! Arriving to dinner that evening, we were all excited to try our crabs that were hand picked. The preparation was beautiful and tasted amazing, but had a bit of an Asian flare which my son wasn’t super keen on. But overall he loved the experience and asked when we could catch our next meal!
If you find yourself in Fiji, you must book some time at the beautiful and amazing Nanuku Resort. It was one of the nicest places we have ever stayed and provided such a wonderful insight into the local culture past and present.
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