About the food of Kiribati

Inspiration for our Global Gingerbread Contest: the Former Kiribati House of Assembly. Photo by Roisterer

Every country has a distinct personality. Think of Kiribati as a distant relative – one you might not have even known existed.

And I don’t mean your grouchy Aunt Lola.

Nope. I mean an upbeat and exotic cousin – one that somehow also manages to exude simplicity and thrift. At her most basic, Kiribati’s a hodge podge of 33 teeny weeny coral atolls in Oceania. Translation? Kiribati’s landmass is so small that “island” is not an appropriate way to describe her situation (although the grouping is officially called the Kiribati Islands – confused yet?).

Fire truck, pandanus tree, flag and maps. Courtesy of CIA World Factbook.

To be honest, I had never heard of Kiribati before GTA. It only took a few internet searches to realize I was not alone. Most of the information about Kiribati was sparse and – as I was to learn – completely wrong. The little good information I could dig up was found in World Cookbook for Students and on a neat web site called 12 Months in Kiribati (about a guy and gal volunteering in Kiribati for – you guessed it – twelve months. They site is mid-process, so you can jump in and enjoy it as their adventures unfold).

I contacted the authors, Pete and Nicky Holden for more information. They were kind to send a few emails to help me wrap my brain around the food of Kiribati.

At the end of the day, if I had to sum Kiribati’s cuisine up with one word, it would be FISH.

Lots and lots of fish. Nicky says the most popular seafood is: “lobster,yellowfin or skipjack tuna, but also other fish (fried, boiled, battered and deep fried, baked… anything you can think of). […] Kiribati is a coral atoll (not volcanic, fertile soil like most of the Pacific), so not much grows here. Coconut, breadfruit treas and pandanus are the main things that grow. Things like pumpkin, cabbage and cherry tomatoes have been introduced, so they grow too. […] little bananas are everywhere.”

She adds that curry powder, rice and canned goods – such as corned beef (something that also showed up nearby Fiji’s menu)  – are all popular, although in each case they’re imports. Exotic items like ginger, garlic, and chili peppers are all imported and not used in daily cooking. A basic meal might include fish or lobster with coconut milk & curry powder [Recipe], finished with sweet pumpkin and pandan leaves [Recipe]Boiling and underground roasting is kept plain and simple.

It’s fun getting to know a new country. Even if she’s been there all along, just waiting for someone to notice.

What are your favorite foods from this region?

Tarawa, Kiribati. Photo by Luigi Guarino.


    • Sasha Martin says

      Probably in the water, swimming. That’s where I’d be if I lived there 😉

  1. elisa waller says

    what a very simple place……that flag is beautiful..Im wondering what it symbolizes….yep! i could live here..fish water: could be perfect!

    • Sasha Martin says

      Here’s what it says about the flag on CIA World Factbook:

      “The upper half is red with a yellow frigate bird flying over a yellow rising sun, and the lower half is blue with three horizontal wavy white stripes to represent the Pacific ocean; the white stripes represent the three island groups – the Gilbert, Line, and Phoenix Islands; the 17 rays of the sun represent the 16 Gilbert Islands and Banaba (formerly Ocean Island); the frigate bird symbolizes authority and freedom”

    • Sasha Martin says

      Ooo I’d love to go to New Zealand! That’s quite a hike from our house though…definitely not a day trip 😉

  2. I’m totally hooked by Pete and Nicky’s adventure. I think I’ll spend the afternoon reading their blog. And to think that I had never heard of Kiribati too, until now! How I love internet travelling..

    • Sasha Martin says

      Yes, I read through a good deal of it – I really enjoyed the bits about the food (did you see the “ham, egg and rice” photo?

  3. Jessica Bennett says

    I’ve heard of Kiribati but only because I’m a geography nerd. I don’t know much about it though. I look forward to your recipes. For the record, the island I’d most like to visit in that region is Tuvalu.

    • Sasha Martin says

      You are good! And Tuvalu is way fun to say 🙂 Reminds me of that song that goes …. Too la rooo la roo la! Too la roo la ehhh! 8)

  4. Simone says

    I heard about Kiribati back in 1999… there were lots and lots of stories about the island group as being the very first country to welcome the new millenium 🙂

    can’t wait to read all about it and I might just make a lobster… haven’t had one at all yet this year because we skipped our usual Rhode Isand summer vacation… now I’m really hungry….

  5. kaitaake says

    my mom is from these islands and its nice to see other people try there food but on the outer islands they seemed to just eat grilled or fried milk and bone fish that they caught in the morning its hard to get the curry powders and other things like that out side of Tarawa.

  6. Ainete Iete says

    aha its a funny thing when I am from Kiribati and I don’t know what the Kiribati Flag symbolises…..the only thing i know is what the bird symbolise but the rest I don’t. So thanks to u Sasha Martin for ur explanation and also to ellisa waller for making that question…….and also for this day which I can visit this site and see everything in it.

    Thanks again

    • Sasha Martin says

      How fun! I’m glad to have helped… thanks for stopping by. Love that you’re from Kiribati and made your way here 🙂

  7. Ainete Iete says

    love this site too………………
    hoho I love to eat fish with breadfruit…….that’s my favourite foods…….but the problem is it is hard to get that everyday cos money is the only way to get it…as I lived in Tarawa and this is a problem as there are no breadfruit trees near my home not like my home at outer island like in Tamana island ( one of the Gilbert island in the South) where there are so many breadfruit trees there……….wanna go back to Tamana but school made me stay here in South Tarawa at Betio permanently.

    God bless us all in everything…………..

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