Fijian food is a wonderfully unique type of cuisine that blends together fresh tropical fruit, rich seafood and Indian curries. Though it's possible to find authentic Fijian and Indo-Fijian cuisine in restaurants around the country, the absolute best way to experience Fijian food is to take a cooking class with Nadi's Flavours of Fiji cooking school.
I was already craving Fijian food as we drove past the resorts of Denarau Island and turned into the industrial area of Nadi's most affluent suburb. At the end of the road, we saw the Flavours of Fiji logo above a green door on a building that looked to be nothing more than a warehouse. We parked the car and a Fijian lady greeted us warmly at the door, ushering up a long, narrow staircase.
As we entered the main room, we realized this wasn't merely a warehouse. On one side of the room, a long table was beautifully set; on the other side was an even longer table, prepared with several cooking stations. Everything was neatly laid out, and I was pleased to see how clean everything was. I could also tell that even though we were the first guests there, the staff had already spent hours preparing for our arrival.
* We were provided with a discounted rate from the cooking school, however my opinions, as always, are honest ones.
I wanted to get started right away, but it would be a while until the aroma of Fijian cooking started to fill the room. In addition to its 3-hour cooking class, Flavours of Fiji offers an optional market visit that's an informative hour-long tour of Nadi Market. The cooking school provides transfers from hotels around the Nadi area, but since we had our own car, we met our tour guides at the school and boarded the shuttle bus with the rest of the group for the 20-minute drive to the market.
The Nadi Market is divided into three main sections: produce, fresh fish and kava (a popular Fijian drink that has a mild sedative effect). The tour guides slowly took us through each one, giving us information on the history and practical uses of the items we saw, as well as providing a bit of insight into the daily life of the Fijian people. There were plenty of opportunities for us to ask questions and the guides were patient as we stopped to take photos.
The staff at the cooking school get their ingredients from Nadi Market every morning before the tour. This allows them to give their full attention to the tour, while other staff at the school continue preparing everything for the class. Though the guides don't purchase anything themselves during the tour, they allowed a chance for us to buy items if we wished to do so.
This was my first time to the Nadi Market and I was amazed at how calm and organized it was. The local vendors watched us with interest as we marveled at the neatly stacked fruits and vegetables and smiled warmly when they caught our gaze. A couple of adorable children followed us around curiously, though at a shy distance; I smiled at one little girl and she quickly darted away.
The market tour was a fantastic introduction to the class, teaching us about the ingredients we were going to be working with. We were also told the Fijian names of locally-grown items such as coconut, cassava and breadfruit.
When we arrived back at the Flavours of Fiji cooking school, we were given some release forms to sign, a fresh coconut to drink, and an apron with a beautiful Fijian design to wear during the class. Once the formalities were out of the way, we were given a demonstration on an important aspect of Fijian cooking - how to cut open a coconut and scrape the meat out. For obvious reasons, we weren't given the chance to slice open a coconut ourselves, but we were able to try scraping one, which is harder than it looks!
The cooking class is divided into two parts. First, you're taught to make 3 traditional Fijian dishes. For our class, this included two small meals (one fish and one vegetarian) and a dessert. The second half of the class focuses on Indo-Fijian food, as nearly half of the country's population has Indian heritage. Our menu for this portion was a vegetarian dish, a chicken curry and a side of naan bread.
The school uses different recipes for different classes, which means that if you take the class again you may make something completely different. They also cater to those with dietary restrictions and food allergies, though it's good to let them know in advance so they can best prepare.
Both instructors were easy to follow and patient as they took us through the steps of cooking their traditional dishes. I was very impressed with the organization of the class, and the effort of the staff in making sure everything ran as smoothly as possible. Chilled ingredients were brought out as we needed them, still satisfactorily cold, and dishes were cleared almost as soon as we finished using them.
While I was surprised that there were no sinks near the cooking area, there was a sink with hand soap in the nearby bathroom, as well as hand sanitizer in a dispenser just steps away from the cooking area. There was also filtered water available to us anytime we needed it.
After each of the two sessions, we all had a chance to sit together and eat what we'd made. The food was delicious and each dish we prepared was enough for an individual serving. Don't be fooled though - it's a LOT of food! I recommend having a light breakfast before the class as it's a while before you're able to finally sit down and eat. No worries if you can't finish what you've made though. The school provides takeaway containers to anyone who needs them.
At the end of the class, we were each given a certificate of completion and asked to fill out a feedback form, which also allowed us to opt into receiving an email with a few Fijian recipes, including the dishes we had learned to make in the classroom. This is also when we could purchase any of the cookbooks or local products that the school had on display, like Fiji Fire hot sauce or Fijian chutney.
If you're looking for a place to get the best Fijian food, this is it. We had an amazing time at the Flavours of Fiji cooking class, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Fijian culture who's looking for a fun activity in Nadi. Not only do you learn a lot about the delicious food you make, you have tons of fun doing it and you also get to take the skills and recipes home with you so you can continue to enjoy Fijian cuisine long after your Fiji holiday is over!
The cooking school is located within a short drive from the Nadi International Airport, and provides transportation to and from hotels in Denarau ($10 FJD) and the rest of the Nadi area ($20 FJD) - a cheaper rate than a taxi. Classes operate Monday to Saturday from 11AM - 2PM, with the optional Nadi market tour at 9:30AM. Bookings can be made through the official cooking school website. You can also check them out on Instagram and Facebook.
Cooking class (without market tour): Adults: $165 FJD / Children: $115 FJD
Cooking class with market tour: Adults: $190 FJD / Children: $140 FJD
*current as of May 2019
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