Trying new food is always a treat, especially new cuisine while on an exotic vacation! Below is an overview of my culinary experience in the South Pacific. We would go to the local markets, tried local restaurants and cafes and even cooked in the kitchen facilities in our bungalows. We then treated ourselves to a fancy meal on our very last night 🙂
Do yourself a favour and make sure you try all of these unique specialties! More descriptions and where to get them further down in the post.
The Fresh Tropical Fruit
Paw paw (papaya), Banana, Passion Fruit and the COCONUTS!
All the fruit here is tinier than the supermarket variety I see back home in Canada (which probably has a lot of hormones in it!) Can’t fully describe the exotic tanginess, but these smaller counterparts are packed with flavour. The best part? Two of the places we stayed at (read more on Accommodations in the Cook Islands) gave us complimentary fruit!
Love for coconut
We first had coconut when we were scooting around on the main island of Rarotonga (more on Activities) . We passed by a group of people who waved at us to try some coconut.
Feeling adventurous and open to new experiences, we hopped off and had some with them. The coconut naturally had a few wholes in it and we just held it up to our eager faces and happily downed some fresh coconut water. It almost tastes fizzy when it’s fresh! Very refreshing and satisfying! Not to mention, healthy and packed full of electrolytes (important when you’re in sunny sunny weather and sweating profusely!) We tried to offer them some money to say thanks for the treat, but they said no worries “it was free from the trees anyway!”.
You can buy whole coconuts in the stores we which did later on for 1 or 2 NZD (compared to Urban Fare or Whole Foods prices which is closer to 4 or 5 CAD dollars! #supplyanddemand).
Home-cooked Banana Fritters
We befriended a part-time local, Papa Jon who gave us many tips on what to see and do, how to live like a local and how to save money! He spends several months of the year in the Cook Islands and shared a lot of knowledge with us including preparing economical meals by making your own banana fritters.
We both stayed at the Inano Accommodations on the island of Aitutaki that offered complimentary bananas to its guests, so all we did was buy some self-raising flour from the neighborhood grocery market, mixed and mashed together, cook on the stove top element and BAM! Delicious fritters! We offered these to some people and made extra friends – art of sharing 🙂 Another piece of sage advice from Papa Jon.
We later melted some chocolate on them for extra decadence 🙂
Local Grilled Fish and Salads
Here’s what’s awesome about tours on the Aitutaki Lagoon – the food they serve!! Locally sourced and prepared fish, meat, salads and other island specialties. We went on 3 lagoon tours total (twice with Teking, once with Bishops – more on this) and the food was best on the first Teking trip!
This is a lot thicker and heavier than “pudding” consistency. But, that’s what they call it! Simply put, this was AMAZING!!! We first had it as part of Teking’s lunch spread on our first cruise excursion. Then we found it at the local market in a container with what looked like heavy cream (big fat yum!). We ended buying two containers of this – one we took with us on our private island excursion and we would eat it straight out of the container or heat it on the skillet for some flambé flavour.
Restaurant: Koru Café
Read a lot of positive reviews on Trip Advisor about this place. It wasn’t overly memorable (contrast that with the way I was blown away with the pure simplicity of fresh coconut!) but the salad was refreshing.
Ika Mata – signature dish of the Cook islands!
Okay, every region has a specialty, some more famous than others, like Poutine in Quebec, Canada and Bouillabaisse in Marseille, France (reviews on those another time 😉 and it’s no different here. Ika mata is a local dish:raw fish that is “cooked” in lime juice and served with coconut. It’s both tangy and creamy and we had it on more than one occasion! Think Ceviche. We ate it at The Boat Shed.
Restaurant: The Boat Shed
We even went back for another meal of baked seafood and fruit salad, although I preferred the Ika Mata!
Restaurant: Puffy’s Fish and Chips
Simple venue and cheap!
This is where we would go to get more Arrowroot Pudding, Passion Fruit and Coconut!
Rarotonga: Punanga Nui Market
Saturday mornings only – This is in full swing by mid morning. A lot of vendor stalls with sarongs, black pearl jewelry, local arts and crafts and of course, FOOD!
We tried some meat skewers and coconut but surprisingly, the highlight was chocolate cake!
The best chocolate cake
We were a group of 4 sharing some finger foods and overall satisfied with our meal when Eric asked if “anyone wanted chocolate cake?” He suggested sharing but our new friends advised that the two couples should get their own 😉
The lady served it to us with some heavy cream which was heavenly. Chocolate craving satisfied!
Restaurant: Upscale Tamarind House
Listed as one of the high-end restaurants on the Rarotonga island in several travel magazines, we decided to treat ourselves on our last night and invited our new friends with us.
The setting and backdrop for this restaurant is exquisite. It’s an old colonial house full of character and charm. It overlooks the ocean and has a nice grassy area out front with tables and chairs. They also have these large bay windows they open up so it’s like you’re eating outside anyway. I can easily picture a wedding reception taking place here!
The food was fantastic. I had a baked brie appetizer (really, how can one go wrong with this?) and then we ordered a large assortment of local specialties.
Everything was perfect, only thing is we may have over-eaten just a bit 😉
Read more about how to plan your own trip to the Cook Islands (and have a fresh coconut on the beach!)
Related Cook Islands Blog posts:
How I booked my last minute trip: Planning and preparation
4 different accommodations I stayed at including a Private Island
Must-try food in the South Pacific
Activities and Adventure in the Cook Islands