French Polynesia serves up a bevy of mouthwatering specialties, exotic dishes and delicious delicacies – and one of the best ways to delve into the local island culture is through food. Whether you’re exploring Bora Bora and Moorea or Nuku Hiva and Tahiti, the flavors of these islands are meant to be savored. Here’s our guide on what not to miss when it comes to trying local foods and South Pacific culinary experiences.
Try the region’s many iterations of poisson cru: French Polynesia’s version of ceviche, this dish features local raw fish marinated in coconut milk and lime juice, often with vegetables. You’ll have plenty of chances to try it on a variety of excursions, such as motu picnics, and you’ll see it on local menus everywhere.
Visit a vanilla plantation: You can do this when you visit Raiatea since more than 70% of the vanilla grown in French Polynesia is from the nearby island of Taha’a. Here you’ll learn about the intricate hand pollination process and have a chance to see fragrant vanilla pods curing in the sun. You’ll soon understand why Tahitian vanilla is so precious – It takes nearly two years for a vanilla vine to grow and produce flowers, which then produce a sole vanilla pod. You’ll have a whole new appreciation for the vanilla sauce that’s drizzled over your mahi mahi or po’e.
Be adventurous when it comes to seafood: On islands like Nuku Hiva, you’ll have the chance to taste mama, raw clam-like mollusks usually prepared in coconut and lime juice; toetoe river crabs and other seafood you might not normally. In Tahiti, you’ll see exotic lagoon and deep-sea fish such as sea urchin, parrotfish and barracuda on menus.
Have lunch at Bloody Mary’s in Bora Bora: a bit of an institution in Bora Bora, the thatched-roof restaurant has served everyone from Jimmy Buffet and Ron Wood of The Rolling Stones to Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. With your feet resting on the sand floors, try their mahi mahi burger and a mai tai – it’s an experience to remember.
Don’t pass on the breadfruit: Called uru in Tahitian, this strangely versatile starch will appear on the table prepared in more ways than you keep track of and is quintessentially French Polynesian. Fried, mashed, boiled, roasted, broiled…you’ll likely come across them all. A staple form on Nuku Hiva involves roasting it over hot coals and then mashing it with coconut milk to create a dish called kaka.
Stroll the daily market in Utoroa, Raiatea: Avocado, coconut, bananas, passion fruit overflow from the stalls. Pause to sample fresh rambutans, pomelos and pineapple. Venture upstairs too if you have time – you’ll find more stalls filled with jewelry, pareos, fragrant bottles of coconut oil, vanilla sugar and the like.
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