When you’re planning a trip to the Cook Islands, food might not be at the top of your agenda. You're probably dreaming about all the heavenly beaches you'll be relaxing on and the turquoise lagoons you’ll be swimming in. Sure, Cook Islands cuisine might not be as famous as French or Italian, but it's definitely worthy of your attention. Who knows, you might even find it to be one of the highlights of your trip! From creamy curried octopus to the Cook Islands take on ceviche, we've put together a guide to some of the most popular foods to try on your trip.
What is Cook Islands cuisine like?
Cook Islands food is fresh and simple. Blessed with fertile soils and rich waters teeming with marine life, many dishes are made using local fish, fruit and root vegetables such as taro and cassava. Freshly grated coconut and coconut cream are also key ingredients in many Cook Islands dishes. The traditional way of cooking is in an umu – a shallow pit filled with hot volcanic rocks. Parcels of meat or fish, veggies and herbs are then wrapped in banana leaves and placed on top to steam for a few hours, resulting in a deliciously tender texture. You'll get to sample food cooked in an umu if you experience an umukai, meaning “food from the oven” in Cook Islands Maori, which is a traditional feast served on special occasions.
1. Ika mata
First up we have ika mata – the Cook Islands’ version of ceviche. This refreshing dish is made with raw fish – maroro (flying fish) is traditionally used but tuna and snapper are also common – marinated in lime or lemon juice and then mixed with coconut cream and finely diced veggies. Ika mata is usually served in a coconut shell and makes for a delicious light lunch in the tropical heat.
2. Curried eke
Curried eke, or octopus, is another must-try dish for seafood lovers. It's made with small cubes of octopus fried with onions, garlic, curry powder and coconut milk. This rich and creamy curry is usually served with fluffy white rice to mop up the sauce.
Rukau is made from young taro leaves cooked in coconut milk and caramelised onions. Not only are taro leaves packed with nutrients, but they're super delicious when looked like this. Rukau is a great side dish for corned beef or grilled fish, or simply dig into a bowl for a delicious vegetarian meal.
Rori, or sea cucumber, is a delicacy in the Cook Islands. They can be eaten raw, but they’re often fried with butter, garlic, onions and fragrant spices to enhance their naturally sweet and salty flavour.
We can’t talk about food in the Cook Islands and not mention fruit. From fresh fruit juices and cocktails to lush fruit bowls, juicy tropical fruit is abundant in the Cook Islands and you won't struggle to get your five a day here. Bananas and coconuts are the two most plentiful fruits, and you'll find loads of coconut and banana-inspired dishes and drinks.
5. Banana poke
If bananas are your favourite fruit, don't miss out on banana poke. This traditional Cook Islands dessert is made with overripe bananas that are boiled and mixed with coconut cream, arrowroot and sugar. Not only does it give overripe bananas a new life, but this creamy and comforting dish is so delicious it'll have you going back for seconds. Pawpaw and pumpkin are also common fruits used to make poke.
7. Fresh seafood
Surrounded by rich waters, it's no wonder fish is a staple in a traditional Cook Islands diet. Expect to see loads of freshly caught seafood on the menu from grilled tuna steaks and barbequed snapper to crispy fish sandwiches. Many restaurants work with local fishermen so you can rest assured you're eating the freshest catch of the day.