Tonga is surrounded by the sea and Tongans will eat just about anything that comes out of it, from shellfish to shark to sea turtle. ‘Ota’ika, raw fish in coconut milk, is a favourite across the islands.
Pigs are prized family possessions and roam the streets, along with myriad chickens. For feasts, smaller pigs are roasted on spits over open fires while bigger ones are cooked in umu (underground ovens).
Starchy root crops such as taro, sweet potato and yams are easy to grow in Tonga, so take precedence over vegetables which are more high-maintenance.
Tropical fruits are everywhere, with coconuts, bananas and papaya available year-round. Summer is the season for mango, pineapple, passionfruit and guava.
Unfortunately, imported goods are having detrimental effects on Tongan diets and obesity is a problem. Canned meats from Australia and New Zealand, packets of chips (crisps), sugary drinks and high-carb instant noodles are some of the worst offenders.
There are bakeries throughout Tonga producing a wide variety of goodies. Tongans love keki (doughnuts).
Tongans have a growing taste for imported wine (mostly from Australia and New Zealand) and beer is available everywhere, also mostly imported (fine if you like Heineken). Look for the excellent Tongan-brewed Outrigger lager and Popao ale in bars and bottle shops.
As in other South Pacific countries, Tongan men drink kava, made from pepper roots. This is done as a social activity by groups of men in kava circles, usually in the evenings and late into the night.
Coffee grows well in Tonga's climate, but local cafes and restaurants haven't quite mastered the dark art of espresso. Weak and watery is the norm.
As per most South Pacific nations, food in Tonga is heavy on the protein and carbs: big serves, big people. See Food & Drink for more.