Food brings people together, no matter what the culture or geographical location. In the Polynesian region of the world, underground ovens are commonly used for large feasts at special occasions and events. In New Zealand, this type of cooking is known as Māori hāngī, while in Samoa it’s known as umu. When it comes to the beautiful oasis of Fiji, this type of ceremonial feast is known as lovo.
Whether for a celebration of birth or marriage or welcoming visitors, lovo is a ceremonial way of preparing a lot of food or communal or large parties using naturals elements of fire and earth.
“Lovo is a Fijian cuisine and mouthwatering feast that has been passed down from multiple generations and cooked in all ceremonies in traditional villages, resorts, and homes,” explains Wakaya Club & Spa’s General Manager Monika Pal. “Whether it is a birthday, wedding, funeral, Christmas, no celebration is incomplete without lovo.”
In this traditional cooking method, chicken, fish and vegetables that include taro, bread fruit and cassava are marinated and prepped for the underground oven. The vegetables and meat are intricately wrapped with banana leaves using a braiding technique that ties the fronds tightly together, sealing whats inside.
In Fiji, it’s tradition for the women to prepare the food, while the men prepare the lovo. To do this, they dig a shallow pit, kindle a fire using dried coconut husks and tinder, and they proceed to stack piles of wood around the fire. Once things are smoking, they set lava stones on the wood and get them as hot as possible.
After that, the wood and debris are removed, the banana wrapped meat and vegetables are stacked on to the hot stones, and the men wrap the entire thing in palm leaves and banana leaves. Once this is completed, the “oven” is sealed with large pieces of wood. The food inside proceeds to steam and cook in this underground oven for several hours.
“Chicken, pork, lamb and fresh locally caught fish can be marinated in herbs, spices, and coconut cream squeezed by hand from local coconuts before being wrapped in banana and coconut leaves and placed closest to the hot coals,” explains Pal.
“Palusami is one of the delicious delicacies put in lovo made from fresh taro leaves from the farm and locally collected coconuts are scraped to make coconut milk. Chopped onions, tomatoes, garlic mixed with coconut milk is placed carefully in the middle of the taro leaves, folded and then placed in an empty coconut shell. The top shell is covered with banana leaves tied with vines and placed together with the meats on the charcoal to cook.”
When the foliage is peeled off, what emerges is an abundance of smoky, tender, and flavorful food, meant to be shared by many. The juicy meat falls apart at the touch, having soaked in all the marinade, while the vegetables are perfectly steamed and served with a range of sauces and sides.
Traditional lovo is one of the many culinary experiences that Wakaya Club & Spa offers its guests. Set on 3,200 acre lush and wild private island, this property is a true foodie paradise, and one of the preeminent examples of authentic ‘living off the land’ cuisine.
On Wakaya Island, not only is everything is locally grown, but also cooked and prepared by an incredibly talented kitchen staff comprised of native Fijians, including Sous Chef Siteri Adicakobau, Sous Chef Emiou Ruateke, Pastry Chef Kelera Cegu and Junior Chef Peniame Drova. Using recipes passed down through generations of Fijians, the culinary program utilizes over 60% of ingredients grown and found on Wakaya.
Drawing inspiration from the abundant resources of the island, every dining experience on Wakaya is a unique culinary experience — no two meals are alike. The thoughtfully crafted menu seamlessly fuses together the rich tastes of Indian, Mediterranean, and fresh Fijian cuisines. Additionally, guests can savor dishes showcasing island venison (Wakaya is the only island in Fiji that has native deer), locally raised chickens and farm-fresh eggs, as well as a bounty of locally sourced seafood including lobster, shrimp, crab, tuna, wahoo, walu, and mahi mahi.
Wakaya is also home to a one and a half acres on-site organic farm featuring produce micro-greens, herbs, several varieties of lettuce, eggplant, Chinese cabbage, avocados, kumquats, limes, lemons, pineapples, bananas, Dilo spinach, papayas, soursop, guava, and Fijian ginger, as well as an herb garden where turmeric and ginger are grown.
When it comes to lovo, guests are invited to forage for the freshest island ingredients to prepare for the feast.
“Lovo is embracing the traditional authentic method of cooking taught by our elders and passing it on to our future generations,” says Pal. Experiencing the traditional Fijian lovo and the taste is like celebrating our culture, it also shows our respect to the rich cultural heritage and the connection to the land and sea.