Assignment 97: Tonga

TGA mapLocation: Oceania
Population: 100,600
Capital: Nuku’alofa
Geography: A tropical rainforest-rich archipelago consisting of 169 islands
Language: Tongan, English
Signature flavours: Coconut, seafood, tropical fruit, root vegetables

The Menu

So Tonga likes the coconut milk. Not a surprise, given our past forays into Oceania’s culinary cultures, but still — Tonga likes that coconut. It was featured in all my recipes but one, and I’m sure it would have been included if it could have been. I had great fun crafting a menu that brought Tongan food to a small village in wintry Ontario.

TGA octo

L’oi Feke: Octopus served in coconut milk with shallots and onions. I couldn’t find an official recipe for this dish, but found it mentioned so often in relation to Tongan cuisine that I was determined to figure it out on my own.

Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Difficulty: 2/5

TGA rice

Waterfront Lobster: Lobster meat and vegetables sautéed in red curry paste and — guess what? –coconut milk, served over white rice.

Prep and cooking time: 15 min
Difficulty: 2/5

TGA dumplings

Faikakai Topai: Dough balls drizzled with a caramel made from raw sugar and coconut cream.

Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Difficulty: 3/5

TGA pancakes

Keke Vai: Buttery pancakes loaded with ripe bananas.

Prep and cooking time: 15 min
Difficulty: 2/5

TGA otai

‘Otai: A refreshing fruity drink made with watermelon, mango, pineapple, and coconut milk.

Prep and cooking time: 5 min
Difficulty: 1/5

The Shopping List

I found everything I needed at a nearby market, including coconut cream, lobster, and octopus.

The Meal

I knew I would have a challenging assignment on my hands since nearly every recipe said its dish was best served warm. The meant a lot of last minute frying, boiling, and stirring, but I was up for the task. I recruited our trusty Instapot to act as a fifth element, and got my chopping and other prep done early so I could enjoy the chaos that would be the final thirty minutes of cooking.

We began our Tongan feast with bites of chewy, juicy octopus. The l’oi feke had a mild coconut and onion flavour, allowing the octopus to shine in all its salty, rubbery glory.

TGA lobby

The waterfront lobster brought a nice heat to the meal. It was one of the only dishes not served hot, and with the fresh raw vegetables alongside chunks of flavourful lobster and spiced coconut milk, it was almost like a very dressing-y salad. I loved it.

TGA cakes

The keke vai were frustrating to make, only because I just couldn’t stop them burning, but they were delicious anyway — soft, fluffy pancake enveloping pieces of sweet, ripe banana.

While the faikakai topai weren’t my favourite dish on the table — I found them a bit too squishy — Eric, lover of squishy desserts from around the world, enjoyed them immensely. The caramel that blanketed each one was incredible. Made from raw sugar, it had a molasses-y kick that deepened the flavour and rounded out the dish.

We slurped our ‘otai through big straws while we ate. The tropical drink was cool and refreshing — even as snow spun outside the kitchen window — and must be a real treat in the Tongan sunshine.


Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.

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