Food & Cuisine in Vanuatu
Vanuatu Cuisine & Restaurants
The humble coconut is a South Pacific staple; either drunk, eaten fresh or used as a cooking ingredient on a daily basis. When the nut is green, everyone enjoys the clear, fresh tasting coconut water straight from the nut (slightly chilled is delicious). When the nut turns yellow to light brown, it indicates that the soft jelly like flesh has formed. You can drink the water and then cut open the nut to scoop out the exquisite delicately flavoured jelly. As the nut progressively turns browner in colour, this jelly thickens and hardens - a little juice will remain. After this stage, the flesh becomes quite hard and is either baked dry to produce copra or grated for cooking or to produce desiccated coconut.
Coconut milk is widely used in traditional Ni-Vanuatu dishes such as Fish Salad (of Polynesian origin) or the local 'lap lap'. The milk is extracted from grated coconut flesh by squeezing it through a sieve of some sort. The locals will use the discarded coconut husk for this; flatten it into a pad and then place the grated flesh on it, twisting the package to produce the “milk”. The spent flesh is then discarded or fed to animals. The dry husks and shells are then used for cooking fires. Nothing goes to waste!
If left alone, the coconut will continue its growth and sprout. The flesh turns into its next stage, adored by the locals as they believe it resembles coconut ice cream. It’s a really interesting texture, similar to soft juicy coconut flavoured styrofoam! These more mature coconuts can be purchased for a modest price throughout the islands at road stalls or markets . At the Port Vila Markets, the Mamas will whack the top off your green coconut with a machete if you want to drink it straight away. You can always buy the husked coconuts and then pierce the eyes to drain the milk back at your accommodation. Chilled coconut is a refreshing aperitif to enjoy as the sun sinks into a distant horizon.
At the markets, you will also find local women selling the traditional 'Lap lap', 'Tuluk' and 'Nalot' along with home made curries and rice everyday except Sunday. A serving of curry and rice with a drink will cost you only 300-400vatu (less than AUD$5). By the time you have finished your meal you may have made a new friend as the Mamas love to chat!
It's definitely worth trying the local food on your Vanuatu vacation, but some traditional Melanesian dishes are quite bland to the Western palate and are heavy on the carbs. If lap lap is not your style, there are many little café’s in the town where you can grab a take away to enjoy at the waterfront park. If the season is right, grab some gorgeous mangoes, fresh wild raspberries or passion fruit from the markets to accompany your meal (carrying a pocket knife comes in handy). Enjoy the cooling breezes off the water and you may be fortunate enough to have a local string band playing in the park's rotunda at the time.
Port Vila (see “Port Vila” images) is well known for its gastronomic delights and culinary diversity. Local cuisine has a variety of influences - originally Polynesian and then later the influence of the governing French and English colonials. More recently Asian influences are apparent with bok choy, chinese cabbage and choy sum becoming common vegetables on offer at the markets.
However, over the last twenty years, much influence has come from individuals and talented chefs originating from all over the world in the restaurant scene. Naturally, they all are keen to outdo each other much to the benefit and delight of patrons. Bon Appétit!
Let me introduce you to Leanne, a passionate "Foodie" that has dined her way around Europe, Asia, Africa, USA, Australia and the Pacific, forever in search of new culinary experiences. From feasting on BBQ Camel in the North African Sahara and roast warthog in Zimbabwe to the gastronimic extravaganzas found in the street stalls of Hanoi and Mexico City; she could be described as a food adventurer!
Not satisfied with just trying out the traditional foods, Leanne always attends a cooking school or class in the countries she travels to. These culinary learning centres are operated by local cooks showing off their traditional dishes or by hotel executive chefs at restaurants such as the Dalat Palace Heritage Luxury Hotel and KOTO (not for profit school educating street kids) in Vietnam.
One of Leanne's core reasons to travel is to experience the myriad of cooking styles found in the countries she visits; to better understand the people from their food culture, to immerse herself in their everyday life to see the 'real' country, learning how they grow, prepare, and cook for their families or visitors.
I had the good fortune of meeting Leanne years ago on one of her numerous trips to Port Vila where she resides part time, and invited her to utilise our web platform in order to share her knowledge and passion in assisting all of us to better understand and appreciate food in Vanuatu. To my delight, she accepted and also agreed to review our restaurants!
I welcome you to Aelan Kakae!
John Nicholls..Port Vila, Vanuatu.
- One woman’s experience with Island food!
Hi, I’m Leanne and through Aelan Kakae hope to share my Vanuatu food adventures with you, describing the gastronomic experiences that await travellers to these beautiful islands. If experiencing the local food culture is on your agenda for your trip to Vanuatu, then you are in the right place!
I hope that you enjoy my reviews of local eateries - ranging from village food culture as shown to me by friends, to the better known western style establishments you may like to try while visiting us here. In addition, I provide some interesting local recipes below, modified slightly so they can be used to recreate some of your favourite island dishes back home.
All reviews are my own, or on occasions, that of respected fellow travellers, invited to do a "Guest Review". No review has been paid for, or subject to other endorsements by any establishment being reviewed, or other interested party. I do not review as a jaded restaurant critic, but as an open minded traveler who, hopefully uses that travel experience with "geographic context" to provide you with balanced fair reviews and information.
When reviewing a venue I use the following criteria:
* Quality of produce offered (local fresh, imported, frozen foods)
* Atmosphere (clean, service culture, staff & management, music, etc.)
* Location (ease of access, views, setting, safety concerns)
* Dietary (kids menu, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free menu options)
* Price (value for money, typical prices for guidance)
I hope that this information assists you during your to visit to these beautiful islands that I have come to love.
I invite and welcome any comments you may wish to contribute.
Hungry Jack’s Fish Salad Recipe – Mele Village
HUNGRY JACK’s FISH SALAD RECIPE – Mele Village
500 g white fish fillet, sliced or cubed
Enough lime or citron juice to cover the fish in a bowl
3 finely sliced spring onions or herbs
1 finely chopped onion
2 finely sliced carrots (matchstick size)
1 whole red or green capsicum finely sliced (matchstick size)
2 cups finely sliced cabbage (red or white)
1 can coconut milk
Salt & Pepper
Soak the fish in the lime juice until it goes white and is ‘cooked’;
Pour off the excess lime juice just leaving a small amount;
Pour the coconut milk onto it;
Season with salt and pepper.
HUNGRY JACK’s TULUK RECIPE– Mele Village
1 kg grated Cassava
2 finely sliced spring onions (coriander or chives if desired)
500g mince meat (beef, pork) browned
Salt and pepper
Put 1/3 cup of oil in a large bowl and add salt & pepper, spring onion, chives or coriander and stir well.
Add mince meat and combine all ingredients thoroughly
Lay out a square sheet of baking paper
Spread the cassava about 1.5cm thick on the baking paper in a 10cm square
Spoon some of the mince mixture onto the centre of the cassava
Cover the mince mixture with another layer of cassava
Press the two layers together with another sheet of baking paper then remove the top sheet
Fold the baking paper over to make a parcel and turn it upside down on a baking tray to hold it in place or tie with damp string
Repeat the process until you use up all your ingredients.
Cook on 180C for 30-40mins checking until done or cook on a BBQ or fire pit
This is also delicious fried in a small amount of oil after cooking is complete and the Tuluk holds its own shape unwrapped.
Jack's garden at Mele Village, Efate Island
2 Medium size sweet potatoes (Kumara) peeled and roughly diced
Substitute other root vegetables such as Taro, Manioc or white potato if desired
1 large red or white onion (large dice)
1 cup coconut cream
Optional: Green herbs such as finely sliced spring onion, chives, parsley, coriander, green chili or a combination of these to your taste, bacon or ham pieces
Place the diced kumara in a large saucepan and bring to the boil.
Lower the heat to simmer for ~8 minutes (depending on the size of your dice) until tender but still quite firm.
Add the diced onion and the 2 eggs for the last 3 minutes of simmering.
Drain everything and allow it to cool in the colander.
Remove eggs and set aside.
Add your green herbs and fold through the onion and potato mix.
Add salt & pepper.
Peel the eggs and chop coarsely.
Add to potato mix.
Pour over coconut cream and fold in Garnish with more green herbs.
Ingredients (Makes 6)
Banana (or other) Leaves for wrapping (can often find them in supermarkets these days)
6 cups mashed taro or manioc or plantain (cooking bananas) or kumara
Put some crushed garlic in the water while you boil the vegetables
6 cups grated raw taro or manioc or plantain (cooking bananas) or kumara
4 cups chopped Island cabbage or English spinach or other green leafy vegetable
1 cup chopped spring onion
1 can coconut milk OR small can coconut cream
6 chicken wings or fish pieces seasoned as you like
Spread a large banana leaf out on your bench, trim to a rectangle or square shape.
In the centre put a layer of cabbage or spinach about 12cm x 12cm square.
Pour enough coconut cream or milk over the cabbage to moisten it, season to taste.
Spread a thick layer of your mashed or grated root vegetables (use one vegetable or try a combo of 2 types) over the cabbage. Use about a cup of vegetable per parcel.
Place a chicken wing or fish piece in the centre, sprinkle with chopped spring onion.
Pour over more coconut cream.
Wrap the banana leaves over your parcel using a second leaf if required (depending on your method of cooking). Tie with damp string.
Traditionally, Lap Lap is cooked in the coals of a fire or in an earth oven called "umu". The oven is made by digging a hole, building a fire in it and heating up rocks. When the fire dies down and the rocks are hot the lap lap parcels are placed in the centre and some ash moved around them and more banana leaves layered on top.
Then the whole lot can be covered over or left open to cook. This method of cooking takes several hours. For slower cooking to produce a drier flavour the lap lap is double wrapped in banana leaves and left over night. On special occasions, pork, beef or even flying fox may be added, or the mash may be sweetened with a few bananas.
At home you can cook your parcels for half an hour or so on your BBQ (if your vegies were pre cooked) turning regularly or you could bake them in the oven on 180C for 1.5hrs if raw vegies used.
Add a dash more coconut cream to the opened parcel before eating. Garnish with chives or other herbs if desired. Eat using the banana leaf as an envelope for the Lap Lap, exposing new sections as you eat.
Now close your eyes and pretend you are sitting on the waterfront in Port Vila just having grabbed the fresh hot Lap Lap from the mamas at the markets!
1 squid hood
12 green prawns
6 scallops roe on 300gms white or pink fish (eg salmon) or a combination of both
2/3 cloves of garlic
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped celery
2 medium sized potatoes, peeled and diced
Salt and white pepper
Oil and butter
1 cup of cream or coconut cream
Green herbs of your choice to garnish (dill, spring onion, parsley or chives)
4 bread rolls with firm crust
(Use one or all of the seafoods above to your taste / substitute prepackaged fish stock/add mussels, clams, crab or lobster if desired)
Make your stock:
-Put the prawns in a saucepan with enough water to cover (approx 600ml) and simmer until pink.
-Drain the prawns and keep the water.
-Put prawns aside to cool and return the water to the saucepan.
-When the prawns are cool remove the heads and shells and place in in the water.
-Remove the roe from the scallops and add it to the water.
-Chop the garlic and add it to the water
-Simmer for 15 minutes mashing with a potato masher occasionally
-Sieve through a fine colander
-Discard the shells
-Taste the stock and season to your taste
Prepare your seafood while the stock is simmering:
-Cut up the squid hood into bite size portions (strips or squares as you prefer)
-Cut the prawn meat into small pieces.
-Cut the scallops in quarters.
-Cube the fish into bite size pieces.
Make the chowder:
In a 2 litre saucepan sauté the onion and celery in a little olive oil with a tablespoon of butter until translucent.
Add stock to the saucepan.
Add cubed potato to the stock and simmer until soft and starting to break down.
Once the potato starts breaking down add fish.
Wait 1 minute and add chopped prawns, squid and scallops.
Remove from heat and add cream, stirring through.
Return to heat for 1 minute but do not boil.
Taste and season again if required.
To serve; cut the top off each bread roll and keep the lid. Hollow out the roll pulling the bread from the centre. Ladle the chowder into the roll and sprinkle with herbs. Replace the lid and serve. Voila!
1 kg Santo beef brisket
4 cloves crushed garlic
1 chopped brown onion
1 can of tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ cup BBQ sauce
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup maple syrup
1cup beef stock
Sea salt and cracked pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Preheat oven to 160C.
Rub the beef with olive oil and rub in sea salt and cracked pepper.
Heat a heavy based saucepan or casserole dish to medium.
Add the beef and cook on each side for 4 minutes until browned nicely.
Remove the beef and leave aside to rest.
Add a splash of olive oil to the saucepan then add the chopped onion and garlic then stir until softened.
Put the beef back in the saucepan with its juices, chopped tomatoes, BBQ sauce, Worcestershire sauce, maple syrup, beef stock & paprika.
Put in the oven for 3 or 4 hours or until the beef is tender.
Shred the beef with 2 forks and return it to the cooking liquid.
Serve this succulent dish with Aelan Sweet Potato Salad, green salad or roast vegetables.
This beef is also a great filling for baguettes or burger rolls with coleslaw. You can also use this recipe for pork and adjust cooking time if you have a pressure cooker.
2 crushed cloves of garlic
A small root of fresh ginger, grated
2 stalk of lemon grass chopped finely
2 lime or citron leaves very finely sliced
4 cups of fish stock
¼ cup of lime or citron juice
3 tablespoons fish sauce
10 large green prawns, shelled
500gms skinless white fish fillets
500gms clams, mussels or other shellfish in the shell
10 scallops in the shell or other, roe removed
2 spring onion thinly sliced
¼ cup mint leaves
½ cup coconut cream
Rice noodles (enough for 4 people as desired)
¼ cup olive oil
In a mortar and pestle or food processor, blend the garlic, ginger & lemon grass into a paste.
Heat a heavy based saucepan or casserole dish to medium heat.
Add the paste and stir until fragrant.
Add the fish stock and bring to the boil then add shredded lime leaves. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes.
Add lime juice, fish sauce, fish and shellfish.
Cook for 2 minutes until shellfish have opened and remove any unopened shells.
Add the prawns and scallops and cook for 2 more minutes.
Add noodles and coconut cream and simmer until noodles are cooked.
Ladle into 4 bowls and garnish with chopped spring onion and a few mint leaves.
1¼ cups milk
1 whole vanilla bean
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
3 egg whites
juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons sugar
Put the milk into a saucepan.
Split the vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds and put the pod and seeds into the milk.
Bring to the boil, then lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove the vanilla pod. Allow to cool slightly.
In a clean bowl, beat the egg yolks and 1/3 cup of sugar together.
Pour the vanilla milk mix into the egg yolks in a thin stream whipping with an egg whisk constantly.
Pour back into the saucepan and cook on a medium heat until thickened.
Pour through a sieve if required. Put aside to cool.
To make the Island, beat the 3 egg whites in a bowl until it forms stiff peaks.
Add the lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of sugar.
Bring a large saucepan half full of water to the boil.
Using a large spoon, put 3 large spoonfuls in the boiling water.
Leave for a few moments until you notice they expand slightly.
Turn them over in the water and cook for another 30 seconds and then remove from the water with a slotted spoon onto a plate.
Repeat with remaining mixture until it’s used up.
To serve; pour the vanilla bean cream into individual serving glasses and top with an island.
Garnish with lemon zest or grated chocolate if desired.
500g skinless chicken breast
1 medium size onion
2 red birds eye chilis (or more if you love chilli)
1 crushed clove of garlic
1 cm grated ginger
1 teaspoon Tumeric
1 Pandanus leaf torn into a couple of strips
4 lime leaves
1 stick of lemon grass thinly sliced
1 chopped tomato
2 limes or citron (zest them before squeezing the juice)
Juice of ½ a lemon
Small can coconut cream (about 200ml)
1 cup of water
2 spring onions sliced
Cut the chicken breast thinly across the grain to make into slices and put in a bowl with the juice of 2 limes and a sprinkle of sea salt. Mix up with your hands and leave to sit in the fridge for at least 15 mins.
In a mortar & pestle or small food processor, blend the onion, tumeric, red chilis, ginger and garlic with some vegetable oil to make a paste.
In a pan put the pandanus leaf strips, lime leaves and lemon grass and saute for a minute then add the chopped tomato. Stir until the tomato is soft.
Add the onion/chilli/ginger/garlic paste and stir for a few minutes until fragrant.
Add the sliced chicken and 1 cup of water and simmer until chicken is cooked.
Add the coconut cream and simmer for another few minutes.
Taste and add salt if desired.
Just before serving, squeeze half a lemon over the dish and sprinkle the spring onions over it.
Remove the pandanus leaf strips.
Garnish with a little sliced chilli if desired.
Serve with plain white rice.
Variation: Add diced potato or other root vegetable to the dish prior to adding chicken slices.
2 plantains with green skin
Oil for frying
Heat the oil to 375 degrees.
While the oil is heating up, peel the green plantains and then cut them into 1cm thick slices.
Fry the slices in the hot oil for 3 minutes. They should be a light golden color and semi-soft.
Remove the plantain slices with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
When the plantain slices are cool enough to handle (about 1 minute), smash them into flat rounds.
Fry the rounds in the hot oil for 3 minutes. They will turn crisp and golden brown.
Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Salt to taste.
Ideal as a side dish for your next BBQ.
100 ml coconut cream
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp brown sugar
600 g green prawns, peeled
2 tablespoons oil
¼ cup fish sauce
1 green mango, peeled and julienned
1 cup of segmented and peeled pamplemousse
1/2 cup mint leaves
1 cup coriander leaves
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 finely chopped red chilli
2 lime leaves, finely sliced
2 thinly sliced fresh spring onion
toasted shredded coconut (optional)
Combine salad dressing ingredients in a jar and shake. Put aside.
Pour oil & fish sauce over green prawns and leave to marinate for 10 mins.
Stir fry prawns or BBQ them for a couple of minutes on high heat until just cooked, allow to cool.
Combine salad ingredients, pour dressing over them and fold it through.
Garnish with cooked prawns
4 cups coconut, (fresh & grated if possible or 3 cups desiccated)
2 cups caster sugar
2 cups self raising flour
Preheat oven to 150°C.
Whisk butter and sugar together with electric mixer until creamy.
Add eggs to butter mix and blend thoroughly.
Add alternate cups of coconut and flour to the mixture, adding milk as required to a batter consistency.
Pour into a greased cake tin and cook for 1 1/2 hours.
175ml thickened cream
300ml can coconut cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 leaves gelatin
Put milk, cream, coconut cream, sugar and split vanilla bean in a
saucepan over low heat until warm.
Do not boil. Allow to infuse for 30 minutes then reheat.
Soak gelatin leaves in cold water.
Squeeze out excess water and stir into coconut mixture until dissolved.
Pour into 125ml cups and chill until set.
Serve with fresh mango pieces.
5 litres water
1 whole chicken, cut into 8-10 pieces
8 chicken stock cubes or fresh stock if available
2 cups chopped coriander
half cup chopped mint leaves
2 large onions, chopped small
1 green capsicum, chopped small
5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 oranges, peeled and chopped, seeds removed
4 cups cubed sweet potato
3 cups cubed manioc
2 cobs of corn cut through into 2 cm slices
2 plantains, peeled cut in slices
2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
Sliced spring onion for garnish
In a large soup pot put half the water and bring to the boil.
Add chicken, stock cubes, half of the garlic, half of the coriander,
half of the capsicum, all of the mint and onion.
Squeeze the juice from the oranges into the pot.
Cook for 1 hour, on low heat stirring occasionally.
Add the rest of the water, sweet potato, manioc, remaining coriander and garlic.
Bring back to boil and cook for 15 minutes.
Add the corn cob slices, plantains, remaining capsicum and simmer for 30 minutes until all vegetables are soft.
Serve garnished with spring onion with a crusty baguette.