Some like it hot, and if hot and spicy food is your bag, you’re really going to dig Fiji Indian food. Like its Indian roots, Fijian cuisine goes heavy on the curry. Although not all Fiji Indian dishes are guaranteed to give you mouth burn, you’re going to find that some of the island’s favorites are going to burn your lips right off—just kidding (sort of)!
Being located in the South Pacific on a tiny little island is one of the many reasons why Fiji Indian food is so eclectic; a blended diet. You’re talking influences from Asia, from Hawaii, from Africa, all the way to the Caribbean. Like many places in the world, the migration of peoples through voluntary as well as involuntary means has created a Diaspora that coincides with the evolving food traditions of all of these blended places.
For example, one tradition that almost everybody recognizes as Hawaiian is a main cooking technique for celebrations among Fijians. It’s called a luau in Hawaii but in Fiji, the lovo is when a pig or goat is buried in the dirt and cooked using heated rocks for several hours before the crowd enjoys a uniquely BBQ feast.
In their roots, Fijians are Indians that were dragged across the oceans as slaves and or indentured servants to tend the sugar cane plantations on the islands. With the people came many different traditions, from the religious to the dietary. As a result, the Fiji Indian diet is a mezcla of traditions of peoples from around the globe, resulting in some really spectacular dishes that we include in this, the ultimate guide to Fiji Indian food!
How are Fijian and Indian Food Different?
More than a third of the people of Fiji originally came from India. Fiji was ruled by Britain before the Brits were overthrown. Up until then, nearly all Fijians on the island were descended from indentured servants and slaves. British heritage is noticeable in the heavy reliance on puddings and pies as favorite Fiji Indian desserts.
Of course, the largest influence of all comes from the traditional homeland of India. Spices like cumin, turmeric, masala, chili, and yes, curry, influence the flavor of many of the most popular dishes in Fiji. Location plays a huge part too. Fiji is surrounded by ocean, creating a largely seafood based diet.
Mix in the island influence and it’s easy to see how coconut, citrus fruits, and vegetables all feature prominently in the Fijian diet. While India is the base from which much of Fijian cuisine springs, Fijians over the last century and a half have added their own unique flavors to it.
Closer to Papa New Guinea and Australia than Hawaii, the Fijian diet includes foods found in that region of the Pacific like mud fish, coconut, jackfruit, and cassava. At the same time, the Indian roots pop out when it comes to seasonings like ginger, curry, and masala; also staples of the Fijian diet.
Staples of Fiji Indian Food
Look at Fiji on the map and it is practically swallowed up by the ocean. Staples of the Fijian diet are somewhat unusual largely because of its extraordinary location. Since there is not a lot of land you won’t find big cattle ranches and thus no cows, on Fiji. What you will find a lot of is seafood – specifically seafood that lives in the South Pacific.
You’re looking at things like reef fish, tuna, mackerel, mud crab, mussels, clams, and river prawns as a core part of the Fijian diet. On special occasions, you might find a wild chicken to cook or slaughter one of the goats living on the island. But when it comes to land meat, that’s pretty much all you’re going to get and only every once and a while.
Of course, ducks do fly overhead sometimes and if one gets shot down, that becomes part of the feast too. Side dishes in Fiji have strong Indian roots, like pulao (known in the western world as rice pilaf). This famous rice dish is characterized by its spice blends, mixing a variety of vegetables and herbs with soft rice.
You also won’t find a bunch of russet potatoes on Fiji. Taro roots, cassava, rice, breadfruit, and taro leaves (rourou in Fiji) are typical side dishes. Along with seafood, vegetables make up a large part of the Fijian diet. It’s an eclectic mix of vegetables at that. You have the jackfruit that is indigenous to the area but you also will see a lot of beans, okra, eggplant, and tomatoes blended into many Fiji Indian meals served with bread called roti – a staple shared by both Fijians and Indians.
Favorite Fiji Indian Food Recipes
For anyone born and raised in Fiji, there’s a particularly Fijian food dish that most if not all remember as fondly as grandma’s fresh baked cookies. Kokoda epitomizes everything that Fiji Indian food is. At its base is, naturally, seafood – Walu (Spanish mackerel). After hours in the oven or in the ground simmering in a marinade, it is served with milk, tomatoes, and chili.
Sounds interesting right? So we went on a search for traditional Fiji Indian food recipes. The best site we found where you can find dozens of easy to follow recipes broken down by category is at That Fiji Taste blog. Here are five of our favorite Fijian curry recipes and our top five Fijian desserts – if you do try this, drop a line and let us know how it turns out!
5 Fijian Curries
#1. Fijian Lairo Crab Curry with Coconut Milk
Fijians’ knack for living off of the land and ocean around them is evident in this popular dish. The lairo is a type of crab found in Fiji that seasons dishes with its own distinctive briny, salty taste. Finding lairo crabs can be tricky so if there’s none available in the local market, many will substitute mud crab for it.
This recipe for Fijian Lairo Crab Curry with Coconut Milk from That Fiji Taste takes about an hour and forty-five minutes to fix and serves four people.
#2. Fiji Style Spicy Chicken Chopsuey
The Asian influence comes through in the Fiji Style Spicy Chicken Chopsuey. Chopsuey being a food dish from China, the idea that it is blended in with traditional Fiji Indian spices and grilling is ancestry revealed for Fijians! Early Chinese seafarers brought this traditional Chinese food to Fiji. Fijians grilled some chicken, threw some hot spices on it creating this island famous Fiji Indian dish.
#3. Fiji Style Lamb Curry
You’ll find goats on the island of Fiji and that’s where you’ll get the fresh lamb to make Fiji Style Lamb Curry (called Madrasi in Fiji). The recipe itself is pretty simple – in essence it’s tomato and lamb. But the technique and the blend of spices used to make this dish is what makes it so special to natives of Fiji. It’s a hearty comfort food that families pass down from generation to generation with their own little twists on it.
#4. Crab Curry with Coconut Milk and Tomatoes
Another Fiji delicacy is necessary to make Crab Curry with Coconut Milk and Tomatoes. You’ll need to find some mud crab to make this authentic. Your best bet is to check out your local Asian market if you have one. They may have mud crab on hand or could special order it for you—doesn’t hurt to ask. Salty and sweet with a creamy coconut milk finish, this unique Fijian dish is sure to please!
#5. Chicken Curry in Yogurt
The Indian influence in the Fijian diet is clear as day in this Chicken Curry in Yogurt recipe. Indian dishes often use yogurt as a thickener where Fijians use coconut milk. But this recipe retained its Indian roots, both in the yogurt and in the spice blend. This one has turmeric, chili, masala, and all the hot spices that make Fiji Indian food so damn good!
5 Fiji Indian Sweets
A typical afternoon dessert for Fijians can be a custard pie or a cassava pudding. Desserts are not eaten after dinner but rather in the morning or when you take your tea in the afternoon – evidence of former British rule of the island. However, the most popular treats on Fiji come directly from the island, made the Fiji way! Here are 5 of the most popular ones:
#1. Boondi Ladoo
There are several different types of ladoo that you can make. This sweet treat came directly to Fiji from India where ladoo is a traditional festival food. In Fiji it’s one of those recipes that get handed down from mother to daughter. It takes a while to cook and could take a couple of attempts before you get it right but this Boondi Ladoo recipe from That Fiji Taste is very easy to follow.
#2. Fijian Banana Cake
Of course, being an island, bananas abound on Fiji so it’s not surprising that there is a Fijian Banana Cake recipe. You can imagine how fresh and delicious bananas straight from the tree taste in this incredibly soft and moist banana cake. The secret to its buoyancy – yogurt! Bring this dessert to a party and you are going to be known for your famous banana cake.
#3. Suji Ladoo
Another version of ladoo is Suji Ladoo. This recipe is relatively new to native Fijians but is a traditional festival food in India. The new Fiji version doesn’t include dried fruit and nuts like traditional Rava Ladoo (where it is descended from). Suji Ladoo is more like golf sized powdered donut puffs that are super easy to make. We hope you like them. This recipe makes 50!
#4. Gulgula or Indian Doughnut Recipe
An actual Fiji Indian donut is called a Gulgula. This Gulgula recipe is also a festival food. Even though it is a dessert, you can eat it at anytime just like you would any donut. These deep fried little donut balls are really easy to make and do not take that long. Here is a step-by-step instructional video on how to make it.
#5. Milk Barfi
When you attempt to make Milk Barfi, there is a level of skill required. It’s really easy to mess up the syrup and getting the balance of powdered milk and milk milk right can be tough to pull off. This recipe for Milk Barfi is unique from That Fiji Taste since you usually only use powdered milk in Fijian Milk Barfi.
Favorite Fiji Indian Beverages
For most of your meals you are going to drink either water or tea. Largely due to their British colonial roots, Fijians have afternoon tea; lemongrass is one of the most popular types of tea. Like Brits, it is often served with milk but not always. There is a broad range of herbal teas and sweet teas that Fijians prefer but that’s not all.
It’s not a dry island after all. You can drink in Fiji where rum flows and beer taps pour. But there is an alcoholic beverage specific to Fiji called Kava. Made from Yagona, kava can numb your tongue! Kava is made on many islands in the Pacific and was used as part of religious ceremonies back in the day.
Be careful if you try this stuff though. You can get addicted to it. On the other hand, it is believed to heal all kinds of symptoms of diseases and disorders. It’s supposed to relieve stress, cure insomnia, reverse depression, stop migraines, heal a cold—everything! It’s not exactly scientific but it’s one of those ancient plants that were considered to be cure-alls once upon a time…but so was heroine so proceed with caution!