Come with me for a culinary journey into Fijian cuisine and learn a little about the mouth-watering feast of fresh local meat, seafood and vegetables you can try at a lovo night in Fiji. It’ll be a highlight of your trip and offer heaps of Instagram-worthy deliciousness.
What is a lovo?
A lovo is an underground oven used as a traditional Fijian method of cooking food in large quantities to bring together communities or groups. It can be likened to a Fijian version of a barbeque or grilling, with somewhat more smoky flavours.
It’s a very healthy way to prepare food and ingredients are usually fresh and local. A variety of meats and vegetables are wrapped in foil and banana leaves and placed on hot rocks lining a shallow pit dug into the earth. The food is covered and left to slow-cook in the steamy oven, where the delicious flavours of the meats and local produce infuse with herbs and smoky flavours to produce a traditional Fijian feast.
History of lovo in Fiji
Lovo cooking is very meaningful in Fijian culture and village life. It’s been used as a method of cooking here for centuries, with knowledge passed down from generation to generation. It remains an important way of preparing food today. In local villages, it’s usually reserved for celebrations or special occasions such as births, funerals, marriages, Easter and Christmas. Guests are often welcomed with a lovo because the method is useful for preparing large quantities of food.
Traditionally, women prepare the lovo for cooking and the men will prepare the fire and tend to the lovo oven while the cooking in taking place. The act of preparing food together keeps social bonds strong, providing a sense of community and connection. It’s also very important for keeping traditional Fijian culture alive within younger generations.
Lovo feasts have also become a popular inclusion at many resorts in Fiji. Lovo night is often part of a regular weekly tradition so be on the lookout during your stay. Local staff love to share this meaningful experience with visitors, allowing guests to get a real (and delicious!) taste of Fijian culture.
How to make a Fijian lovo
The first step in preparing a lovo is to dig the fire pit, a bowl-shaped hole in the ground. Dimensions vary depending on how many people the lovo feast will be serving. Once the hole is dug, it’s lined with stones or bricks. These trap the heat within the oven, allowing the food to cook. Kindling and firewood is then added on top of the stones. It is lit and allowed to burn down until the flames die down and good hot coals remain. Now it’s time to add the food!
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 foil and placed closest to the hot coals.
A traditional dish called palusami is added next – it’s made with taro leaves, coconut cream and corned beef and makes an excellent hearty accompaniment to the feast.
Finally, the vegetables are added. These can include breadfruit and root vegetables such as cassava (tapioca root), dalo (taro root), turnips, uvi (wild yams) or sweet potatoes seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil before being wrapped in foil and placed on the coals.
Sometimes food is also wrapped in beautifully braided banana- or palm leaf parcels, with or without the foil. This provides additional protection from the hot coals while imparting flavour and fragrance to the food inside. The food inside the parcels is steamed and infused with local flavour.
Desserts can also be added on top with the vegetables. These can include a soft, sticky dish called vakalolo, made from coconut and cassava drizzled with caramel sauce, or steamed egg custards. Yum! Are you hungry yet?
Additional banana leaves are layered on top of the food to lock in as much smoke as possible to provide heat for the oven and the smoky flavour. This also makes the food moist and tender. Potato sacks may be added on top of the leaves to provide a barrier and then the mound is covered with soil. Traditionally, food is cooked for between three and four hours, with the men tending to it and rotating the food over if needed part way through the cooking time.
After the food is cooked it is unearthed from the oven, with the soil, sacks and leaves removed layer by layer to finally reveal the steaming goodness. The cooked deliciousness is placed on large banana leaves to cool before serving the feast buffet style with tasty sauces and accompaniments. Bringing people together afterwards to share in the meal is a highlight of the experience.
Fijian lovo recipe
Palusami is a traditional inclusion in the Fijian lovo which complements the meat and vegetables perfectly. To prepare it, between twelve and twenty-four medium taro leaves are prepared by removing the tough stalks and soaking them in hot water. In another bowl, a can of corned beef is mixed with a small can of coconut cream, crushed garlic and some herbs. A baking dish is lined with foil and then the soaked taro leaves. Half of the corned beef – coconut cream mixture is added, followed by a layer of roughly chopped onions and tomatoes. Another layer of each is added and then the taro leaves are bent over to cover the dish (securing with toothpicks). The dish is then covered with foil and placed on the coals.
Where to try a traditional Fijian lovo feast
Mantaray Island Resort is the perfect place to experience a traditional lovo feast, with one night a week dedicated to celebrating Fiji and Fijian culture with our guests. Food for the lovo is prepared by our Executive Chef and guests are invited to come along and experience the preparations. There’s nothing better than embracing the full authentic experience of Fiji – from the incredible natural setting of white sandy beaches, sparkling water and waving palm trees to the rich cultural heritage and tasty authentic meals. Sampling the feast created using fresh local ingredients is most enjoyable.
The lovo experience is included in your compulsory meal package if you’re staying with us on lovo night. Just the head’s up, our lovo night is Friday, so be sure to plan your stay around lovo night if you want an authentic Fijian experience. We look forward to sharing this special Fijian experience with you.