September 09, 2016

Me wantem gud kaikai. Food and Drink In Vanuatu

From the moment you set foot on the Air Vanuatu plane to Port Vila you start to taste the great kaikai (Bislama for food) that Vanuatu offers. Unless you are in Business Class that is (the upmarket menu is full of expensive Scallops, Barramundi and other delights, usually sourced from New Zealand).

The standard on board fare includes tasty in season fruits and beef from Santo island, accompanied by the hoppy gluggable export quality Tusker Beer.

Preparing the Economy Class food at the Air Vanuatu kitchens
Once you arrive in Port Vila head down to the central market to see all the in season fruit, veggies and fish (get there early for the fish, you don't want to be buying it at the end of a typical scorching hot day) all at bargain prices compared to supermarkets back home. All the main island towns have markets, and these are the places to go to load up with the freshest and tastiest produce.

Of course, if you head to the outer islands you will find fruit in such abundance that it is free, and you can pick it up from the road. In Ambae in October I had the tastiest, juiciest, Mangoes from the side of the road. Every 30 Metres was a Mango tree laden down with fruit. Indulgently I would peel one, suck out the juice, discard it and pick up another one. Breakfast was always easy!
Port Vila does also have western style supermarkets,  Au Bon Marche dominates the retail landscape with many stores around town. Head to Au Bon Marche Numbatu for the best selection of goods, most are horrendously expensive as are imported from France, New Zealand and Australia, but if you have a hankering for quality French Pate, or Cheeses, this is your place.

Juicy Mangoes on the road in Ambae
For wines the supermarkets both have good ranges, but Calvos store, opposite the Grand Hotel, has the best prices, particularly for French wines, undercutting the other shops by at least a 1/3. They do close for a rather long lunch break so go there early or late else it appears to be closed down. There are no Vanuatu wines, as yet, although on the fertile Volcanic slopes of Tanna grapes are now being produced, alongside the Coffee and Tobacco plantations.

Tusker Beer in a bottle is available in most shops and restaurants, but you have not really tried Tusker until you have had the draught version. This is unpasteurised, it only lasts a week so you can always be sure it is fresh from the brewery, and it has much deeper flavour and lovely aftertaste. I recommend trying it at Coconut Palms in Seaside. The other brewery in town is Numbawun, with its brewery tap also being close to the Grand Hotel. It offers a few beers including a lager, ale and porter, but none really stand out for me, being a bit watery and metallic in taste, but I may have been unlucky.

There are huge number of restaurants in Vila and Santo, but for local food you cannot go past the great 'hawker' like food stalls next to the food markets. You can pick up a fresh Beef, Chicken or Fish meal for 400 - 500 vatu there (US$4 - $5) packed with rice, salad and taro. The Beef from Santo is prized for its quality, and much ends up on the tables of high end restaurants in Tokyo and Osaka where its taste and organic, natural grass fed origins make it highly sought after. Here, of course, it only costs you a fraction of the cost to eat.

The always tasty Jenny's Rasta Van. Kick Ass Spicy Chicken mmmm
If spicy food is your preference head behind Westpac and ANZ banks to the car park where Jenny's Rasta Van is often parked at lunchtimes and early evening. I can totally recommend the 'Kick Ass Spicy Chicken and Rice meal' and the 'Spicy Rasta Burgers'. Ask for them extra hot if you can stand the heat the locally grown chilli's add to the meals!

If you are a Coffee drinker, the local Tanna beans are incredibly flavoursome and organically farmed. I am not a great Coffee fan, but even I enjoyed a long black from the factory in Mele. recommended for the strong Coffee smell as the beans are slowly roasted, and for the 500 vatu (US$5) bargain offer of a cup of Coffee with a large slice of local carrot cake.

Hard at work roasting coffee beans at the Tanna Coffee factory

For dessert you cannot go past the local Switi ice cream. Amazing flavours of ice cream and sorbets (often again dependant on what fruits are in season) but I recommend the Lemon, mango and Raspbery sorbets, and the Rum and Raisin, and Chocolate Ice Creams. All are extremely tasty and made with few additives. The containers they come in are also incredibly useful for storage and you will see them popping up in the most remote and obscure locations in the islands.

Stop me and buy one. Or a pallet or two. Vanuatu's only, and luckily the best, ice cream

Read more about Vanuatu in this brand new guide book by Far Flung Places. 324 pages packed full of places to see, places to stay and eat, and many handy hints to allow you to see the best of this fascinating country in the most up-to-date guide available to this country. 

Accompanied by a selection of stories about places, events and people in Vanuatu which will transport the armchair traveller to this incredible Pacific nation, while giving more background and details for the intrepid visitor. Available as an ebook or paperback from all good booksellers. Buy it from here and from here 


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