The food flavors of French Polynesia come from three main places; Tahiti, France, and China. The first migrants from China started to arrive in the second half of the 19th century, and today as much as 10% of their population is of Chinese origin. Tahiti is no longer a French colony, but the influences from France are still everywhere, especially in their food. Chris and I signed up for a walking food and city tour with Tahiti Food Tours, which promised several stops in Papeete to sample the different flavors of the island, as well some city/history information along the way. After a familiar walk back to town, we met up with our guide Kalei, as well as two other Americans who were joining us. These tours can be done in English or French, and overall it lasted between 3 and 4 hours. Our first stop was in a local “snack,” which is what they call their small local restaurants. These snacks only seated between 10 and 20 people, and seemed very popular with the local Tahitians. As Kalei told us, “Tahitians love to eat.” We were introduced to a very typical Tahitian breakfast at our first stop, which consisted of coffee (I am no connoisseur, but read that it is generally not that great of quality in French Polynesia), firi-firi (a twisted, fried donut that tasted like a funnel cake), and poisson cru, which is essentially the national dish of Tahiti. Poisson cru is pieces of tuna marinated in lime juice, then mixed with coconut milk, shredded carrots, and cucumber, and is very similar to Hawaii’s poke. I will admit that I did not eat the fish, but tried some cucumber. Chris was more brave than I, and had a small piece of the tuna. He never repeated this meal on our trip, so I’m not sure that it was his favorite, but everyone else in Tahiti seemed to love it.
The next stop was the Chinese snack. Though I don’t love fish, I do enjoy Chinese food, so I was excited for this stop. And then out came the fish! We got some sort of fried fish cake. Okay, so fish dish #2 of the morning. We also got some crepes (yes!), though these were banana crepes, and apparently they are made by mashing up the banana and somehow mixing it into the crepe and what came out looked like some sort of kind of oily folded up crepe. It tasted pretty good, but was heavier than I expected.
From there, we walked to the Municipal Market, where Chris and I had gone the previous day. We noticed a lot fewer stands with food (though still plenty), and more stands with jewelry, woven bags, clothing ,and toiletries were open on this day, catering more to the tourists. In the market, Kalei grabbed a bag of green mango slices covered in Li Hing Mui powder, or Chinese candy. These were delicious, with flavors of sweet, salty, and sour all in one. Kalei also told us that you can tell who has been sneaking slices of this popular treat, as the powder stains your fingers red right away! We also got a bottle of a ginger iced tea, which had pieces of fresh grated ginger and was definitely refreshing.
Next up was a walk to a very popular snack with several locations in Tahiti called Vini Vini. At this location, Kalei snagged a couple of the outdoor seats along with 2 of their famous fish burgers. These burgers combine all the flavors of Tahiti, with a brioche bun, a sashimi sauce, and a tuna burger that is crusted in cornflakes. I have to admit, of all the fish dishes of the day, this one wasn’t bad. The tuna didn’t taste like fish at all, and the crunch of the cornflakes was delicious. If you enjoy fish, a food tour in French Polynesia is definitely for you. I just noticed along the way that a lot of the food in Tahiti and French Polynesia is very heavy, and was honestly craving a salad by the end!
We also walked around the city of Papeete on our tour, checking out places such as the artist Paul Gaugin’s infamous treehouse where he supposedly entertained the ladies, the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral which is the oldest building on the island and the site of PK0, where all of the addresses on the island originate from, Papeete Town Hall, and the French Polynesia Assembly, where there is a nice garden and the Queen’s Pond, where Queen Pomare used to bathe in the waters. We finished the tour with some fresh coconut water, and a dessert that was made of (I think) taro flour??? and coconut milk. The taste was good, like coconut milk would be, the texture, not so much. Kalei was a great tour guide, I just wouldn’t say that Tahitian food is my favorite.
We walked around the shops on our own after the tour, and grabbed a few souvenirs to take home. We also stopped into a bakery I had seen the day before, Les Reves de Lucie, which had beautiful and delicious French pastries, and may have been the best thing that I ate on the island of Tahiti. We grabbed a feta and pesto twisted bread that we shared for dinner, along with a parfait type of dessert. I’m sad I didn’t get pictures of these, but we honestly couldn’t wait to dig in (and in fact ate the mini puffs with powdered sugar on our way out of the store)! Saw some more beautiful street art on the way back to our hotel, and just relaxed at the resort again.
I’m pretty convinced there is never a bad sunset in Tahiti, and tonight did not disappoint. Last night here before we head to a new island tomorrow!