Tongan Food

An island rich with culture, Tonga is memorable for its Tongan cuisine, a fine combination of land and sea food, freshly harvested, cooked, and consumed with diverse ingredients. Tonga’s diverse weather makes it perfect for cultivating a sundry of food!

Some of the unique components of Tongan plates include taro, sweet potatoes, yucca, and yams. These often accompany larger dishes like lobster, steamed pork, and octopus. Tongans utilize farming and fishing for subsistence, so don’t be surprised at all the seafood you’ll feast on! These satisfy your itch for island culture, and we guarantee you won’t leave the table on an empty stomach.

1. Ota’ika

Ota’ika is a classic Tongan dish made up of chopped up raw fish, and our personal favorite. You can serve this with any choice of fish; many opt for larger fish such as coral trout or snapper. The fish is marinated in coconut milk and citrus juice for that signature Tongan taste. The peppers, tomatoes, and onions added to this dish bring more color and flavor! You can accompany this plate with cassava, kumara, or taro! This plate is a must-try, because it’s been proclaimed as the national dish of Tonga.

Restaurant Recommendation

Talahiva | Address: Taufa’ahau Road, Nuku`alofa, Tongatapu Island, Tonga

2. Umu-cooked Fish

Umu-cooked fish is another popular Tongan food worth trying. Umu itself is a traditional method of cooking that is essentially an underground oven; you’ll need to hand-dig a pit for enough servings to feed plenty and fill it with wood to fuel the fire. Just pick your favorite fish and get cooking. Because the cooking itself can take a few hours using the umu, many Tongans will serve umu-cooked meals for special occasions or on Sundays after church. Once you’re done, cover the umu with banana leaves or old mats for next time! This method truly makes you work for your food, but allows you to enjoy it even more! 

3. Lu Sipi

Lu Sipi is dish favored across the Pacific Islands. It’s lamb and onions usually served on taro leaves, but can be replaced with banana or spinach leaves depending on the season. The lamb and onions are cut into thin pieces and placed on the leaves where they are herbed and salted. Pour coconut cream over the prepared food and wrap the leaves into a ball. We love how rich in flavor this dish is, like many other Tongan recipes. You’ll find many variations of Lu in Tonga; Lu Sipi is only one of them. 

Restaurant Recommendation

Utu'ongo Cafe | Address: Taufa'ahau Road Nuku`alofa 2144 | Phone: +61 2 9643 8262

4. Lu Pulu

Lu Pulu is another popular Lu dish, but rather than using lamb, Tongans use cornbeef, which may be more accessible for most people. Similarly, the dish is made by baking corned beef, tomatoes, onions, and coconut milk in a ball of lu’au leaves.

Restaurant Recommendation

Vakaloa Beach Resort | Address: Kanokupolu | Ikalahi Rd, Tongatapu Island 676, Tonga | Phone: +676 41 233

5. Faikakai Topai

Faikakai Topai is a flavorsome dish for that unique sweet island taste. It’s made by tossing diced dumplings into a sweet coconut caramel syrup. What’s great about this dish is that it is versatile and customizable. Tongans often replace topai with other options such as taro (Faikakai Ngou’a), breadfruit (Faikakai Mei), and bananas (Faikakai Malimali). This island favorite will complement any main dish well.

6. Pele Sipi

Pele Sipi is a lamb dish made up of lamb chops marinated in butter. This tasty delicacy is served on a bunch pele leaves or medium bok choy!

Restaurant Recommendation

Sabrina’s Chicken Vilovilo | Address: Nuku'alofa, Tonga  | Phone: +676 873 7350

7. Kapisi Pulu

Kapisi Pulu is a popular meal consumed for special occasions. It is made up of corned beef, banana leaves, onions, cabbage, and tomato in coconut cream. The corned beef, onions, and tomatoes are placed in the cup-shaped cabbage peel, wrapped in foil, and baked in an oven, often an umu. Chow down on this with some kumala, or sweet potato, and you’ll be living the sweet life! 

8. Kale Moa

Kale Moa is chicken curry offering spicy, savory, and even sweet flavors. This dish is flavored with the taste of garlic, curry powder, and ginger, all having rather strong and distinct flavors. Kale Moa also utilizes chicken and coconut milk, of course, as well as onions and vegetables. Eat this with a side of white rice and you’ll be all set!

Restaurant Recommendation

Mum’s Cafe | Address: Laifone Road, Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu Island | Phone: +676 776 0065

9. Lo’i Feke

Lo’i Feke is a wonderful seafood dish with that signature creamy coconut taste; it’s boiled and diced octopus or squid dipped in thick coconut cream and onions. You can accompany this dish with ‘ufi, or yams, boiled in coconut cream. Your tastebuds will be watering!

10. Panikeke

Panikeke is mouthwatering deep-fried breakfast food. The word “panikeke” sounds like the English word “pancake” and the dish is even referred to as “round pancakes.” Essentially, this dish is a combination of flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, ultimately topped off with powdered sugar.

Restaurant Recommendation

Sabrina’s Chicken Vilovilo | Address: Nuku'alofa, Tonga  | Phone: +676 873 7350

11. ’Ufi Lolo’i

’Ufi Lolo’i are yams cooked with coconut milk. As you can probably tell, Tongans incorporate plenty of coconut in their dishes. Yams are also acknowledged as a native delicacy in Tonga, so you’ll find yams accompanying many dishes.

12. ’Otai

’Otai is Tonga’s beloved summertime watermelon beverage. This is a quick and easy drink for those looking for a refreshing pick-me-up under the island sun. The drink is a mixture of shredded watermelon, lime juice, canned pineapple, and, of course, coconut milk!

Restaurant Recommendation

Momma Tuna's Kitchen | Address: Salote Road | JeZami Hotel, Tongatapu Island, Tonga | Phone: +676 25-844

13. Pai Siamu

Pai Siamu is a buttery Tongan snack meaning “jam pie.” Shaped like a scone, this dessert is filled with jam, and topped off with whipped cream or butter. Many Tongans grew up eating this sweet snack, but it’s not too late to eat it now! 

14. Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin soup is a popular side dish that many restaurants in Tonga have on the menu. It is made with pumpkins, onions, ginger, and chicken broth. You can pour this over white rice and enjoy the mixture of flavors and textures!

Restaurant Recommendation

Chef Zero | Address: Tamakautonga Road, Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu Island, Tonga | Phone: +676 771 3380

15. Puteni

Puteni is a Tongan steamed spice cake dessert. This dish is made up of sugar, evaporated milk, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, all spice, and of course, a bottle of coconut extract. Top it off with custard and enjoy the taste of spice! Some Tongans also add a cup of their favorite dried fruit to add to the slew of flavors!

Whatever dishes you decide to indulge in, you’re sure to enjoy the diverse flavors that the kingdom of Tonga has to offer. And don’t be surprised if the portions are large; Tongan communities seek to prepare enough food for everyone to feast on!


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