About the food of the Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands, Majuro, Photo by Stefan Lins.

When I first read about the Marshall Islands, my mind immediately went to Lost, the epic television series that most people started watching almost a decade ago. We started watching it last month on Netflix. Please excuse me for being a little out of date, but in all honesty, thinking about these hundreds of tiny, tropical islands floating in the vast Pacific Ocean, I can’t help but think how easy it would be to get Lost there – hidden away forever.

Part of me desperately clings to the idea of a life filled with peace and solitude, where there is nothing to do but watch the tides come and go. I am comforted to know that, in some parts of the world – like the remote corners of the Marshall Islands, this is a reality.

Upon further investigation, it turns out there’s also a healthy tourism trade – if only among those rare people who celebrate and enjoy peace, snorkeling, and a total lack of timepieces. Sure, there’s a capital city with thousands of people who have their own version of “hustle and bustle,” but for the most part the Marshall Islands is stuck in a past I know I  wish I could get to. A simpler time.

Majuro, Marshall Islands. Photo by Mrlins

The food is typical of the pacific – there is a bounty of fresh fish, coconuts, pandan leaves, bananas, macadamia nuts (hello Sweet Macadamia Pie [Recipe]), cabbage, potatoes, and, of course, the mighty canned meats, a.k.a. Spam and corned beef. The Marshallese eat a great deal of preserved foods because of the difficulty of growing fresh foods on the islands.

A simple meal might consist of boiled potatoes, breadfruit, or pumpkin tossed with any combination of coconut milk, pandan leaves, or even fried bananas… with all the seafood you can eat. (i.e. Baked Papaya with Coconut Cream [Recipe] or Sweet Potatoes & Fried Bananas [Recipe])

Large feasts include roasting whole pigs, usually under the dirt and leaves – making for a slow roasted, tender-as-can-be meal.

One thing I didn’t expect to find was the interest in American foods, like coleslaw, doughnuts, hot dogs, pizza, and French fries – as well as foods from China, Japan, and Korea. Then there’s the interest in Indian food – something we’ve already seen with Fiji (when we made the homemade curry to serve on Curried Corned Beef). Epic.

Personally, I’m looking forward to daydreaming my way the Marshall Islands via stove top travel… and maybe getting lost there awhile.

P.S. If I made you fearful, rest assured. The Marshallese won’t let you get really lost. 

Turns out, all they need are a few sticks to find their way home (see stick-based navigational map below).

Maps and flag courtesy CIA World Factbook. Photo of traditional stick navigational map by Sterilgutassistentin


  1. Is this the Marshall Islands of the Second World War “Turkey Shoot” – which turned the tide in favor of the oppressed….

    • HB says

      You’re thinking of the Marianas Turkey Shoot, the Battle of The Philippine Sea

  2. So glad you shared this. We adopted a baby last year whose biological parents emigrated from the Marshall Islands and I have been searching for recipes and cultural things to bring into our home for her, especially for her first birthday. I am so excited for these recipes.

    • I am an executive chef who studies cultural foods.My wife of 12 yeas is a true 100% Marshall Islander and we live in DC with our two children. Unfortunately the culture has been extremely watered down since WWII and Marshall Islanders culture’s foods have been lost and substituted by canned imports from the USA,China and Taiwan and those cultures are more evident in there food than true Marshallese “Outer Island Culture”. Some of the most popular items are Calrose Rice (a varity of rice), Ramen Noodles (Ichiban in the red lable) corned beef hash in a can (oxford brand) dried plums found in Asian markets, SPAM, preserved daikon radish found in Asian markets, fried chicken gizzards served with “SO SHOE” the word for soy sauce and char broiled fish the oilier the better like mackerel and raw tuna is a special treat.For birthdays the Marshallese always BBQ chicken and hot dogs and usually have egg potato salad.

      • Iokwe. I have connections with the Marshallese communities in Majuro, Ebeye, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Iowa, but I live in the DC area. If you and your wife still live here, I’d love to connect ([email protected]). I self-publish short stories and poems in Marshallese to promote Marshallese literacy. What you described is more of the food I’m familiar with than what is described in this post. But, on the outer islands, people still have access to more coconut, pandanus, iaraj, bananas and fish. Everyone loves it but it’s hard to get on the urban islands or in the states.

      • Fuisega Sualau says

        Interesting this most accurate description of Traditional Marshallese food we do use coconut, pandanus fruit, iraj (Taro), bananas, pumpkin, breadfruit, crustaceans, land coconut crab and fish are main ingredients used in our diets. However, as for the Macadamia Nut Pie seems like it is a new thing that may have come after the influence of colonial powers.

        As the Macadamia Nut Pie, may been introduce by Likiep Atoll they are known for there recipes in baking. Which was a famous German trading outpost in the 1800s. I have traveled there a few years back and they make the best coconut cookies that it fine treat. I do agree with the canned food Spam, Cornbeef and also Tuna are normal seen in many household as a normal “eat-and-go” food for workers getting home for lunch.

        As for the “SO SHOE” it is true we do have to thank the Japanese for that when we were under their colonial rule after the War World 1. As some dishes you may see a fine mix fusion of local and Japanese cuisine. For example, We did not have rice in the old days so Japanese introduce rice to the islands. Dishes came from the idea of rice to name a few are pumpkin rice and “bobo rice”.

        If you were to visit Majuro stop by family owned Ri-Wut Corner Restaurant highly recommend located in Delap next to Marshall Islands Visitors Authority. They do serve local food and a mix of the Japan cuisine that date back from the colonial days.

        Jeramon waj nan kwe.

  3. Melissa Grassi says

    My name is Melissa and I am a television producer for a property/travel show. We are looking for a special story we could film on Marshall Islands. Ideally an expat that is living there off the grid or on a remote island location. If you or someone you know may be interested in sharing their story please get in touch!

    Any help is greatly appreciated!

    • April Harvey says

      I am not from Marshall island but I live in a community were most of the people there are from the island
      They may be interested,heres my email.
      I’ll ask around for you.

  4. Stacey says

    I grew up in the Marshall Islands and was thrilled to read your post. Thank you!

  5. bobby longdong says

    dude …. learn proper fucking English lol…… NO SHIT SHERLOCK … marshall islands are a real place …its fuckng out in the middle of nowhere in the ocean

    • Alyssa says

      HEY YU!! Shut the hell up because yur not even a marshallese!!!… Did yu know tht those Americans bomb one of our Island and NO ONE HAS BEEN THERE EVER SINCE!… so stop talking shit about our Island!

  6. Rine says

    Wow this is so amazing, I am from the Marshall islands and I honestly miss it there so much. Reading this article made me cry because it shows that you have a lot of respect and Love for us Marshallese people.

  7. “An amazing article on your Website.
    This is really a considerable post – Clear enough and easy to follow on the topics of.. Great Presentation.”
    Your site looks great Mani! Good luck with everything.

  8. Anita Peralez says

    I read that the soil is still contaminated by the testings of the atomic bomb that they can’t eat anything grown on these islands. A Mcdonalds is their only source of food for which they are given a stipend of $500. to buy food.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.