You’re guaranteed a good holiday if you follow the flavour trail.
Here is a list of classic Vanuatu dishes and drinks - and where to find them.
Ask a local Ni Van to name a typical Vanuatu dish and the answer is unanimous - Lap lap. So, what is it? It is a root vegetable cake. It starts with taro that is pounded into a paste. The paste is layered on to a big green banana leaf and then coconut milk is added. Add some cabbage and vegetables, and some more coconut milk. Next comes the meat which can be chicken, pork, prawns - you name it, whatever you like. The whole thing is then wrapped together in the banana leaf and buried in an underground rock oven for a few hours. It costs about $2 in the local Port Vila market and the portion size is so big that you will struggle to eat it all. The coconut milk gives it a sweet taste. The Port Vila Market has everything from exotic fruits and fresh produce to beautiful flowers.
How is the roussette?
Roussette sounds much better than flying fox or fruit bat and sometimes it helps if you don’t actually know what you are eating. The Ni Van love this dish and they tend to serve it in a red wine jus, usually on a bed of rice. Clement and the team at L’houstalet Restaurant on Captain Cook Avenue in Port Vila have been serving this dish since 1973 and are widely regarded as the best exponents of it in Vanuatu. Go on, give it a try.
Coconut ice cream
The Ni Van use coconuts five different ways in their food. There’s no wasting this precious fruit. Did you know that Portuguese sailors came up with the name “coco” because they thought the three small holes on the fruit reminded them of a human face. Coco in Portuguese means grinning face. The coconut ice cream served in Vanuatu is guaranteed to put a big smile on your face. The locally produced ice creams are the best to try, and like all tropical islands, it is easy to find someone selling ice cream on a hot day.
Kava is a serious business in Vanuatu, it’s part of many Vanuatu traditions, and is drunk at welcome ceremonies; births, deaths and marriages; and even when deals are sealed in business. Locally it is called the peace drug and many locals will drink a “couple of shells” of kava every day. It looks like dirty water, and when you drink it your limbs will go heavy, your lips will numb, and there’s a fair chance you will sit back and contemplate the good things in your life. It is culturally expected that you down the whole bowl of kava in one go. It is considered an honour if a local offers you a bowl of kava. So, when someone offers you a drink, close your eyes, open the hatch and think of Vanuatu.
As you would expect, you are visiting a tropical island so the seafood in Vanuatu is fresh, sustainably caught, and straight from the ocean. Try Chill Restaurant & Bar near the markets for lunch. The seafood is good value here and the view over the harbour is amazing. Wild Ginger at the Warwick Le Lagon Resort & Spa is known for its sashimi and sushi. The teppanyaki bar is always good fun if you have a group of guests. Reefers Bar and Grill is located on the edge of Port Vila and diners are treated to amazing views as they sit under the thatched roof and dine. If there’s two of you, try the amazing Seafood Platter. You will also love this place if you are a rum drinker as the bar has the best selection on the island.