Foreigners didn't make any settlement efforts until the late 1800s, at which
point they began to influence and change the food in Tuvalu.
These settlers, primarily British,
Germans, and Americans, brought
their own foods to Tuvalu as they introduced cattle, chickens, wheat, potatoes,
cassava, watermelons, pineapples, papayas, oranges, mangoes, onions, and tomatoes
among many others. These foods added to the local diet and gave these foreign settlers
a familiar diet, but most locals still relied heavily to their historic foods.
Through the 1900s few large culinary influences changed the diet in
Tuvalu, although better communication, transportation, and technology gave
the people access to imported foods and non-perishable goods; this extended the
shelf life of many foods. Today these foods make an impact on the diet as canned
meats are common and western foods and restaurants are arising in some areas, particularly
those islands catering to tourists. However, the locals still tend to maintain their
historic diets with the addition of these imported foods.
When & Where to Eat
Most people in Tuvalu start the day with a small breakfast,
which may include fruit, breads, toddy (made from coconut sap), coffee,
tea, or the previous day's leftovers. No matter the food it tends to be small
and eaten at home.
Lunch was always the largest and longest meal of the day in Tuvalu
as people would return home to eat a large meal and perhaps take a nap afterwards
to avoid the hottest part of the day outside. This is still common in many villages,
especially among farmers, fishers, and others who spend their time outside. In most
places lunch has become a shorter meal as most people eat at work or school.
For the workers that eat lunch at work, dinner is the largest meal of the day now
and it tends to be a large feast with the family. Often times there is enough food
made for this meal and the following day's breakfast and lunch. For those people
who have a large lunch, dinner tends to be a bit smaller and usually consists of
the leftovers from lunch.
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, including as poi;
it is one of the main staples throughout Polynesia
Yams: yams, a member of the potato family, are found in many meals
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Funafuti: the island of the capital has more meats and fish in
their diets than on any other island; elsewhere taro tends to be more prevalent
Palusami: a dish consisting of taro or breadfruit, coconut
cream, lime juice, onions, spices, and sometimes seafood
Dining in Tuvalu varies a bit depending on the setting and
your company. Generally, the dining in Tuvalu is less formal than it is in many
countries and rules are more relaxed. Despite this, there are some formal restaurants
in the country and if dining in a business setting rules are more important.
The formalities and most important aspects of dining in Tuvalu are related to behavior
more than actual eating. For example, bringing food to a dinner, even a small side
dish or dessert can be a great offense to the host by indicating they will not prepare
enough food for everyone. Also let your host seat you as guests are also often asked
to sit in the middle of the table so they may converse with everyone more easily.
Once seated, and you must be sitting to eat, you may notice silverware (cutlery)
or it may be absent. Many of the people eat with their hands and if this is the
case do the same, although your host may offer a fork or spoon. If you do eat with
your hands a bowl of water will likely be passed around before (and after) the meal
to wash your hands.
Prior to taking your food be aware that taking a second serving is rude so take
everything you plan to eat before you begin (even if this plate is huge as many
of the locals will do) and be sure to try every dish offered as this is a sign of
appreciation and respect. Don't begin eating until indicated to do so; your
host may expect you to start eating first as the guest, but don't assume this.
Most meals also begin with a blessing of some sort and you shouldn't start eating
Try to eat at the same pace as everyone else so everyone begins and finishes eating
at about the same time. Most of the people will leave some food behind then will
take their excess food home for a latter meal. You are welcome to do the same, but
as a guest your host may insist you finish your food so follow their lead and suggestion.
If dining in a restaurant, many of the above rules also apply, but there will most
definitely be eating utensils and the setting will be more formal, but still less
formal than most of Europe, Australia,
or North America. The host of a meal is expected to
pay for everyone present; if this is you tip at your discretion. Tipping is not
expected in Tuvalu, but is becoming more common in hotels
and restaurants catered to foreigners.
Celebrations & Events
Most celebrations and events in Tuvalu are centered on a
fateles, which is a party with dancing. Of course food is also an important
part of every fateles and the food is usually centered on pork. Sweet potatoes
are also commonly found at fateles and any other special event or meal.
Tuvalu offers numerous beverages, including nearly every
well-known international drink, including juices, soft drinks, tea, and coffee.
Another popular drink throughout the South Pacific is kava, which is made
from the kava plant's roots, which are ground to release liquid, then water
is added and the juice is drank. If you want something else local try pi,
which is simply coconut milk drank from the coconut itself.
Tuvalu offers most of the major international alcoholic beverages,
especially at hotels and restaurants catered to foreigners. However when it comes
to local beverages the one drink to look for (or avoid) is kao, which is
fermented from kaleve. As the production of this is often done without
regulations it can be very strong and every batch is a bit different so be cautious.
Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in Tuvalu,
but check with locals for any particular regional differences. Also, 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.