A Quick Peek How Indian Flavours Impact Fijian Cuisine
Image Credit: Mithori curry | Image Credit: Freepik.com

We Indians are everywhere- literally any part of the world! But this road to world domination has a very sad and gruesome history attached to it. Take the Indians in Fiji, for example, who were initially brought to Fiji as indentured labourers to work on sugar cane plantations. 

Between 1879 and 1916, a total of 60,000 Indians arrived in Fiji. Approximately 25,000 of them returned to India due to discrimination and brain drain, that is, the emigration of highly trained or qualified people from a particular country. A lot of skilled Fiji-Indians were migrating to other countries for a better future, which caused Fiji to lose a lot of their skilled workers. Later, many Fiji Indians who were striving for a better education moved to places like Canada, Australia, and the United States. This caused a bigger gap between them and the indigenous Fijians. All in all, Fiji Indians had done time as indentured labourers for thirty-seven years and faced a lot of privation. However, even in light of such a complex cultural history, the Indian flavour has made an impact and left its mark on Fiji. 

Let’s look at one of the more positive aspects of their history, the food! In most Fijian homes, dishes from other cultures are often eaten, most frequently those brought to Fiji by Indian and Chinese migrants. No surprise then, that many familiar spices were readily available to the indentured labourers who were coming over from British-occupied India and bringing their native foods and ingredients along with them on their ship journeys that could take several months. 

Breakfast or morning meals consist of the classic roti and sabzi, milk, tea or eggs. Supper for Indo-Fijian families included traditional rice, dal and either a meat or vegetable curry accompanied by a salad or chutney. Being in the Pacific, seafood like prawns, mussels, clams, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, oyster, lobster, fish, crabs, octopus, squid and many more are the main sources of protein as they are easily obtainable. Among meats, chicken and lamb are the most popular and the cheapest sources. These animals are usually bought young and raised for special occasions such as weddings.

Mithori curry, a Bihari delicacy, is a common dish consumed by most Indo-Fijians. This is an amalgamation of a wide range of dals, like black gram (urad), pigeon pea (arhar), mung dal and eggplant. Another staple food for the Indians in Fiji is a dish that is also popular in northern India: satwa or sattu, which is a staple in regions across the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Sattu is a high protein cereal made from seven different grains- cow pea, maize, pigeon peas, black gram, green gram, sorghum and rice. It is mixed with homemade honey and milk to make soft dough.The dough is then moulded to make round laddoos. Chokha, a staple and easily accessible item in Northern India, also made the journey across the oceans with the Indians who landed in Fiji.  It is easily prepared by just roasting vegetables like bitter gourd and eggplant on an open charcoal fire to give it a smoky flavour. It is then peeled, mashed together and mixed with green chillies, onions, salt and mustard oil for that famous taste. 

Even in far-fling Fiji, Indians cannot live without our one true obsession-Chai! Masala tea is the beverage of choice in many Fijian households. Most Indo-Fijians are accustomed to raising cattle to meet their dairy requirements. This gives them access to fresh milk and traditional milk products like ghee and butter. 

Geographically speaking, being closer to Papa New Guinea and Australia, the Fijian diet includes foods found in that region of the Pacific:

Mud fish, coconut, jackfruit, cassava etc. At the same time, the Indian roots make their presence felt when it comes to seasonings like ginger, curry, and masala. As a result, the Fiji-Indian diet isa “mezcla”,a  mixture or a blend of traditions derived from different cultures across the globe in order to create a new tradition.

The story of Indo-Fijians is an uplifting one. It is perhaps best expressed by Dolly Parton’s famous words “If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain”.With the indentured labourers came many different traditions, from the religious to the dietary, that gave us this beautiful union of food and culture that will promise to live on for generations.