Whether called an "island night" in the Cook Islands, fiafia in the Samoas, or meke in Fiji, traditional feasts and dance shows are essential after-dark ingredients throughout the South Pacific.
Before the Europeans arrived, the typical South Pacific diet consisted of bananas, coconuts, and other fruits. Staples were starchy breadfruit and root crops, such as taro, arrowroot, yams, and sweet potatoes. The reefs and lagoons provided abundant fish, lobsters, and clams to augment the meats provided by domesticated pigs, dogs, and chickens. Taro leaves and coconut cream served as complements. Corned beef has replaced dog on today's menu; otherwise, these same ingredients still make up the menus.
Like their ancestors, who had no crockery, today's islanders prepare their major meals in an earth oven, known as himaa in Tahiti, lovo in Fiji, and imu or umu elsewhere. Individual food items are wrapped in leaves, placed in the pit on a bed of heated stones, covered with more leaves and earth, and left to steam for several hours. The results are quite tasty, with the steam spreading the aroma of one ingredient to the others.
When the meal has finished cooking, the islanders uncover the oven, unwrap the food, and, using their fingers, set about eating their feast of umukai (island food) in a leisurely and convivial manner. Then they dance the night away.
You won't be stuck eating island-style food cooked in an earth oven, however, nor will you be limited to the rather bland tastes of New Zealanders and Australians, which predominate at many restaurants. Wherever the French go, fine food and wine are sure to follow, and French Polynesia is no exception. The East Indians brought curries to Fiji, and chefs trained there have spread those spicy offerings to the other islands. Many chefs in Tonga are from Germany and Italy and specialize in their own "native" food. Chinese cuisine of varying quality can be found everywhere.
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