If you’ve never been to French Polynesia, you may be wondering: what is popular Tahiti food? Common Tahitian dishes? Do they eat the same in all the surrounding Polynesian islands?
Consider its location and you won’t have to think hard about what most Tahitians eat. FISH….and lots of it, particularly raw tuna which seems to be on every restaurant menu. How could we not get excited about eating sashimi and every day during our stay?
Also highly popular on the Tahiti food list is something they call Poisson cru (ia ota), which consists of raw fish marinated with lime juice and soaked in coconut milk. There’s also chevreffes, which are freshwater shrimp. And, of course fresh fruit is everywhere.
It’s no secret that we love food tours, passionate chefs, farm-to-table experiences, sommelier events, fresh fruit and vegetable markets — in general, anywhere there’s an abundance of diverse tastes from around the world.
Let’s explore some of the places you can taste a bit of Tahiti and a bit of French influenced dishes. On this list, we cover some eateries, food trucks and markets in Tahiti and restaurants and cafes in Mo’orea.
Le Mayflower on Mo’orea
This gem of a modern French restaurant find is centrally located and if your hotel is close enough, they’ll even pick you up. Run by a husband and wife team, the entire menu is mostly classic French food with all of your favorite classic dishes, including foie gras.
That said, like most of Tahiti and Mo’orea, there is island influence throughout, which is most notable in the number of fish plates they offered and how the fish was prepared.
Below, the Boullon Thai soup, which they prepare with local shrimp and red tuna is one of those to die for “must order” menu items.
Another great suggestion is their Mahi-Mahi with curcuma and coconut milk. On the side comes “pota” or local spinch and vegetables. Below, a rare fish was offered the night we were there: Parrot fish…rare in the United States anyway.
In addition to the beautifully plated Ravioli below, there were four other items on the vegetarian only menu, all of which are also considered vegan. One great salad call out goes to the Quinoa with citrus oils and coconut milk.
The Hilton’s Arii Vahine
The best food we sampled all week was at the Mo’orea’s Hilton, which surprised me. As travelers know, not all Hilton properties are the same and many of their U.S. properties have deteriorated in quality.
Arii Vahine, Hilton’s on-site French restaurant is out of this world. Not only is the outdoor ambiance of this gem romantic and luxe, but the menu’s food and wine offerings leave you nothing to complain about.
Imagine fine dining on a relaxed, tropical patio with private lagoon and mountain views. If you end up staying here, you can roll over to your refined bungalow with vaulted wood ceilings and whispering palms after dinner. Wind down by having a rainfall shower, a soak in your claw-foot tubs, or a plunge in your terrace pool before retiring. There’s also an overwater bar, a salon, spa, gym and tennis court here.
Two thumbs up for Arii Vahine’s Chef Jerome Lehoux and team. We only experienced the restaurant, not the hotel rooms, so can’t speak to what it’s like to stay here, but the service was top notch, so imagine the lodging side of the house is too. We stayed at the InterContinental in Mo’orea so be sure to check out our review.
The Hilton Lagoon Resort & Spa
The Mo’orea’s Intercontinental Buffet
This is a renowned and respected four star property in Mo’orea and its known not just for its fabulous rooms and bungalows overlooking the ocean, but for its international buffet, turtle and dolphin centers and other nature perfect areas.
Maui’s Beach in Toahotu
This place reminded me of some of the hot spots I used to love spending hours on end at in Thailand before the country (and her stunning islands) became overly saturated. It got its name because of its location — Tapuaemau, which means the sacred ground of Maui. Maui lived close to this splendid bay and used to walk on the beach during the full moon.
As I’ve mentioned in other articles on Tahiti, the land is sacred to Tahitians and they’re deeply connected to the Earth, to the skies and to the water. Maui’s Beach has become a traditional cultural sites, and is where the ancients ate their meals on Maui’s table close to the cave at the edge of the Faana River (today, it sits under a road). It was also the port of call of the SS “France” during its world tours.
Since my stomach was most definitely off (and not from any of the restaurants we dined at), I lasted for 15 or so minutes here before vegging out on the beach and then the van. Here are a few shots of some of the same dishes ordered that afternoon and from other visitors.
Look fresh and delicious? That’s what locals and visitors alike rave about. A major call out goes to the Seafood platter which includes raw tuna salad and coconut milk with sauteed blue shrimps, Tuna sashimi and Tuna Tartar with seared fresh tuna, green salad and rice.
Other fun things on the menu include their Tuna Tartar with green salad and fries, a tuna steak with ginger, olive oil and sea salt from Guerande and Paraha Peue from Vairao’s Lagoon (it’s a whole fish steamed with ginger, olive oil and veggies). You can also get your fish filet deep fried with shallots and cream sauce, shrimp sauteed with coarse sea salt (oh so yum!) and a Curry Dish with Blue Tahitian shrimp and coconut milk.
You see, coconut and tuna are literally everywhere and about as fresh as you can get!! Unlike some of the other desserts at other restaurants we visited, Maui’s offered hot apple pie with ice cream (perhaps more yanks came here?), a waffle with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream wtih caramel or chocolate sauce. Ouch, right? What a fabulous way to end a lunch.
PK7.7 – 98719 Toahotu
RC 38169A Tahiti 573170
Tiki Village: Brunch on the Water’s Edge
The Tiki Village is an upbeat Tahitian culture center offering a buffet dinner and live performances by traditional dancers. They also offer educational classes related to Tahiti culture, music, art, Tahiti food, and more.
Here, we took a basket weaving classes (and made our own weaving from palm leaves) as well as a cooking class to make Poisson cru (ia ota) which as noted above, consists of raw fish marinated with lime juice and soaked in coconut milk. We added shredded carrots, onions, scallions and tomatoes.
Many of the menu items were fresh and light compared to other restaurants. While rice and fresh fries was available, almost everything on the menu was a fresh fish either served raw, seared, or tossed with ginger, pineapple, coconut and lime.
Given that we were literally on the ocean’s edge, there were plenty of choices, from Mo’orea shrimps with pineapple, egg and onion and Tuna Sashimi to Carpaccio, tropical fruit and green salads.
They also offered Crevettes de Mo’orea Flambees, which is essentially shrimps made with whiskey, cocnac, pastis or Tahitian rum and a l’il fire.
You could also get a Sirloin Steak with spice butter, blue cheese, red wine and green pepper sauce. Sounds good, but why would you want steak when you can get fresh fish daily? You could even just order a simple piece of grilled fish with lilme or mango butter — talk about bliss!
Breakfast at the Manava Hotel
We stayed at the Manava Hotel in Tahiti when we first arrived, so had a few mornings to test out their breakfast buffet. While not a large buffet, they do make a very good carrot bread which seems to be a staple every day and there’s always fresh eggs and yogurt. We also love their espresso and cappuccino machine — it’s a great way to start your day, especially in a courtyard as pretty as this one.
Beach House Mo’orea
This cute guest house in Mo’orea offers lunch and dinner under a covered terrace or on a small open air patio directly on the water.
Meals are simple but delicious and the portions are quite large for the price.
We also stayed at the Meridien and tried both their regular restaurant menu as well as their buffet on the ground floor, which overlooks a lovely lily pond and a short walk to the beach.
Brunch is a great option at the Meridien, particularly if you have kids in tow. Be sure to check on the hours of the buffet, but they do offer both afternoon and evening dining offerings on-site.
At the end of the day, it IS a buffet, so you’roe not going to find exquisite luxe tastes or wine options like you do at Le Mayflower or the Hilton, but its a great option if traveling as a small group, on business or are on a family trip.
The Market in Papeete
Markets are always a good source of fresh healthy food anywhere in the South Pacific. Here, pineapples are so sweet, they melt on your tongue. Also delicious are Tahiti’s mangoes, passion fruit, grapefruit and their umpteen varieties of bananas.
Marché Papeete or Papeete Market sells fruit, vegetables, fish, oils, handicrafts and various souvenir items. It’s known as the oldest attraction on the island, and there’s plenty of Tahiti food to be tasted in real time or purchased to take home with you. Think jams, jellies, sauces, pies, fish, cakes, parrot fish, Monoï oil, vanilla beans and honeys. You can sample exotic fruits that you never knew existed, such as carambola and soursop.
There’s also a large array of artisan products as well. You’ll find sarongs (pareos), hats, necklaces, banners, streamers, head dresses, leis, fabrics (there are tons of fabric stores), multi-colored flowers, handicrafts, baskets and skirts as well. The fish and meat section is separate from the rest of the bazaar, which occupies 75,000 square feet on two floors, all in a wide open setting.
The Papeete Market is a great place to stop at the end of your stay. There are also vendors offering lower priced strings of pearls than what you’d pay in regular shops, which Tahiti is so known for. The Papeete Market is located in the historic center of the city, close to the northwest coast of the island.
Breakfast at the Port
If you’re planning to take a ferry out to one of the other islands, which I’d recommend, have breakfast in the port. They have a lot of more American style plates than many of the French influenced restaurants offer. In addition to croissants and rolls, you can get scrambled eggs and ham, eggs with bacon, sandwiches and more. They also sold those scrumptious coconut donuts which are often formed into an infinity like shape.
Be sure to book at least four days on Mo’orea (you’ll take the boat over to Vaiare). See our Tahiti & Mo’orea Travel Guide for our suggestions.
Food trucks are a great way to dine on a more reasonable budget, which is particularly useful if you’re taking a long vacation with your kids.
The best place to go for food trucks is Place Vaiete which kicks off at around 6 pm each night. In an open air dining area, you’ll find a wealth of vibrantly colored food trucks surrounded by small white plastic tables, dressed up with those red checkered plastic table cloths that are meant to provide a dash of ambiance.
Here you can find meat and chicken skewers with tomato sauce, mayo, mustard and barbecue sauce, which is typical for Tahiti food trucks. There’s always plenty of fish as well, including swordfish, tuna and Mahi Mahi. Chicken and pizza are the best way to go if you’re traveling with children.
While Place Vaiete is the main spot to hit, there are smaller areas which set up 2-4 food trucks as well — we hit them one night knowing we had an early morning start the next day. These set of four food trucks are located near the Manava Hotel. Here, it was mostly Chinese food, pizza, kebbabs and salads.
Your local concierge should be able to direct you depending on where you’re staying in Tahiti.
Fresh Fruit Everywhere
Below, we were given a selection of fresh fruit to taste during our Safari Tour as soon as we landed on Mo’orea. A few locals we spoke to claim they have the sweetest pineapple than anywhere else in the region. The bananas (and plantanes), grapefruit and passion fruit was out of this world too.
Tahiti food and the cooking of Tahiti is typical Pacific Island cuisine. In addition to seafood and fresh fish, pork roasted in a firepit (ahima’a) is a highlight. Taro root, cassava and rice are staple starches.
We seemed to order dishes that had the legendary breadfruit chips adorned on top of them, often. If you’re not familiar with breadfruit, it’s delicious and incredibly healthy for you so be sure to try it when in Tahiti.
The tarua, the ufi and the ‘umara make up the basis of island cuisine. And, don’t forget the islands are known for vanilla, so be sure to pick up some vanilla beans before you head home.
Be sure to also try Tahitian chicken fāfā (local spinach) and po’e. There are even specialized tours that let you discover the flavors of the islands on picnics organized on beaches or on a motu (islet). On these tours, you can taste rarer fish like the ume, the Long Nose Emperor fish of the lagoons and little jacks.