In about 1915 the Japanese took control of the islands and
they settled to a vast degree. This led to significant changes in the food and diet
as the Japanese ate exactly what they ate at home, so began importing or growing
these foods on the islands. However, the Japanese influence was short-lived as they
were forcibly removed from the islands during World War II, leaving behind some
traces of their diet, but most of it left with them.
After the United States expelled the Japanese from the islands the United States used some of
the atolls as nuclear testing sights into the 1950s. This forever destroyed some
of these atolls and greatly affected the local fish and plant life in some areas.
This of course also hurt the food production and food safety, but most of the tests
were limited in scope and few people were directly affected by these tests although
a large part of the people's diet, in the form of plants and animals, were destroyed
in some areas. Some people also suffered from radiation poisoning after these tests.
Today the diet remains somewhat divided between the local people and the foreigners.
Throughout the islands most of the people maintain their historic diet along with
the new additions over time, but few people have abandoned their historic diet for
a more European-styled one. However, tourism throughout the
country and United States military presence
on Kwajalein Atoll demand a growing number of ethnic restaurants particularly American
food, but also Chinese, Italian, and
When & Where to Eat
Many people in the Marshall Islands start the day
with coffee or tea as well as a small breakfast, including a bread of some sort,
fruit, and sometimes fish or rice. Breakfast is usually eaten at home prior to school
or the workday.
Lunch was traditionally the largest meal of the day in the
Marshall Islands and for some people this is still true. For these people,
lunch is a large feast at home with family, which can last a couple hours. The foods
served for lunch tend to be local foods and generally include vegetables, fruits,
rice, and perhaps a protein, like fish. For the people who have a more rigid work
schedule, most commonly in the larger towns, lunch tends to be smaller and is eaten
at work, often times consisting of the previous day's leftovers.
For those who have large lunches, dinner is the secondary meal as it tends to be
much smaller, often just consisting of leftovers from lunch. For those who eat lunch
at work, dinner, which is typically eaten at home, tends to be the largest meal
of the day and can go on for hours as many of the above mentioned foods are served.
Breadfruit (ulu): this fruit is very common
Coconut: coconuts are used for their milk and flesh
Rice: a common base or side for many meals
Taro: taro root is prepared in numerous ways and is one of the
main staples throughout the South Pacific
Yams: yams, a member of the potato family, are found in most meals
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Barramundi cod: cod cooked in banana leaves
Fried Prawns: these prawns are deep fried then topped with a spicy
Roasted Chestnuts: as simple as it sounds, these are a street side
Dining etiquette in the Marshall Islands is quite
varied and relaxed as there seems to be a large divide between the locals and the
restaurants catered to tourists. Due to this people tend to eat in numerous ways
and nearly all are acceptable, although in extreme cases you may be looked at oddly.
If dining with locals be observant of customs and how others eat as this varies
as well. Generally speaking, let your local host show you a seat, then be polite
and try everything. Accepting food is a sign of appreciation and not trying the
foods offered to you is an insult to your host. On the other extreme, eating as
much as you can shows great appreciation. Of course eating all of their food is
a bad idea as well; the people believe food is to be shared by all as families and
neighbors often share food and you should be sure to eat only as much as your present
company. Whether or not you leave food on your plate when you're finished eating
is up to you.
Most of the people eat with their hands and children are often fed first. Some families
may have and provide forks, but this is not always the case and is not the traditional
method of eating. Of course if you're dining at a restaurant you will be provided
silverware (cutlery) and are expected to use it. In these settings eating in the
continental style (knife in the right hand, fork in the left) is the most common,
but generally the etiquette is relaxed so eating in nearly any style will be fine,
but this again depends on your company.
If you do eat in a restaurant and are paying the bill, it is important to remember
that tipping is not customary in the Marshall Islands
and you should not bring this custom to the islands.
Today nearly any popular international beverage can be found in the
Marshall Islands, such as juices, soft drinks, tea, and coffee. However
for a more authentic taste of the South Pacific try kava, which is available
on some islands in the country. This drink is made from the kava plant's roots,
which are ground to release liquid, then water is added and the juice is drunk.
This drink gives a very relaxing effect, yet is not considered a drug in the countries
of the South Pacific.
Alcohol is easily accessible on most of the islands in the
Marshall Islands, however past problems have caused some islands to ban
alcohol entirely. Among the local favorites are beer and hard liquor, but in most
hotels and nice restaurants wines are also available.
Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink on most islands of the
Marshall Islands, but smaller islands have questionable water safety standards.
Either way, check with locals before consuming the water and if you do decide to
drink the water, remember that many people may have troubles adjusting to the local
tap water as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to.