Say, on a cloudless summer’s day you find yourself beside the crystal blue waters of a Polynesian island paradise. You bury your feet in the soft, slightly warm sand and look out, past the placid lagoon, to the verdant hilltops on the horizon. If you then find yourself jolted out of that serene experience by the intense smell of fermented fish, know that you have found fafaru. But to dismiss this specialty simply for its infamous odor, which takes some getting used to even for locals, would be a mistake. Once you get past its olfactory impact, fafaru offers a medley of unique flavors and a glimpse into local cuisine that you won’t find at the region’s resorts.
To make fafaru, islanders gather crabs and shrimp from the seaside, which they crush and put into a jar filled with sea water. This jar is left to ferment under the sun for a couple of days. The pickled seafood water, called miti fafaru, is then filtered, and slices of fresh fish (usually tuna) are added to this base. The fresh fish marinates in the fermented juice for a few hours (or longer, depending on how strong a flavor one wants) to make the fafaru. The dish is usually eaten with mitihue, which looks like coconut cream, and is a condiment made with the flesh of a green coconut that has been fermented with seafood and/or snails. Often taro is served alongside, and the best way to enjoy a bowl of fafaru is by washing it down with a glass of chilled Hinano beer. This dish is such a local staple that bottled miti fafaru is sold at markets in Tahiti.
Mildly sweet, slightly tangy, with a strong salt component and a velvety mouthfeel, fafaru may be an acquired taste, but its complex flavors make it well worth acquiring.
Need to Know
This is not a dish they’d serve at the all-inclusive luxury beach resort. You might need to wait for an invitation into the home of an islander to have a taste. Local grocery stores such as Champion are likely to sell bottled miti fafaru and mitihue.
Where to Try It
Magasin Mou Chi Youk WebsitePK 13,5 Coté Mer, Puna'auia, 98703, French Polynesia
This grocery shop sells bottled miti fafaru. Just add the sliced fresh fish. It's located between two temples, close to the Puna'auia fire station.