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Tahitian Cuisine and Recipes

Tahitian Recipes, Food and Cooking

Cooking by Country - May 2003



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Situated in the Pacific Ocean, Tahiti is possibly the most well known of the Society  islands, just a few of the 100+ islands collectively known as French Polynesia, which are scattered over nearly 2,000,000 square miles of  sea.  Whilst modern day Tahitian cooking is a blend of European (mainly French),  Asian and traditional styles, Ma'a Tahiti (Traditional Tahitian food) remains very  popular.



Ancient Times, History and Influences on Tahitian Cooking


The first settlers are believed to have come from Southeast Asia by about 800 AD. Having discovered the island, these expert navigators returned to their homelands not only for their families but also for plants and animals, which is just as well as, like so many isolated oceanic islands , it is out of physical reach of many mainland plants and animals. There were no native animals on Tahiti apart from a few reptile species and some birds. The earliest Tahitian diet consisted of fish and seafood, pork and chicken,  tropical fruit and vegetables such as taro, breadfruit and yams.


The first Europeans to visit the area were the English in 1767 and it was Captain Cook who is believed to have introduced cattle to the island. Oh, and remember Captain Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame? He first arrived there in 1788 to collect the Breadfruit saplings for onward transport to the West Indies.


British missionaries arrived in the islands in 1797. They did their best to control and "civilise" the natives and by 1815 had secured a strong influence over the whole of Tahitian culture.


By 1880 the French declared Tahiti a French Colony. In 1957,  the whole of French Polynesia became a French Overseas Territory and has been internally self-governing since 1984. Obviously, throughout this long period French influences took hold, not only in the cuisine but also in the language, government and culture.

The Chinese influence started as a direct result of the American Civil War. In 1884 in an attempt to ease the worldwide cotton shortage caused by the War, British born William Stewart obtained a permit to import Chinese workers as labourers on his huge cotton plantations in the south of Tahiti. By 1866 there were more than 1000 Chinese in Tahiti.



Current Day Tahitian Cuisine


Whilst the French and Asian techniques and influences are strong, it is good to see that traditional meals are still cooked in an earth oven. Known  an Ahima'a, this is where meats and vegetables are wrapped in leaves, placed on a bed of hot stones. The parcels are covered with more  leaves and earth, and left to cook for several hours.


As in the very beginning,  fish, shellfish, chicken, pork,  tropical fruit, breadfruit, taro, cassava,  yams, and rice are staples and frequently used ingredients include lime juice, coconut milk and vanilla which is used with a passion in both savoury and sweet dishes.


Click here for lots of Tahitian Recipes

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