A Guide To All The Flavours Of The Cook Islands
When you visit the Cook Islands, you'll never have to eat the same meal twice (or in the same place!) Yes, contrary to what you might expect from a small cluster of islands in the Pacific, the food scene in the Cook Islands is incredibly diverse and caters for just about every budget.
Perfect for families, couples and travellers with all kinds of tastes, there are ample cafés, bars and restaurants across Aitutaki and Rarotonga offering fine wines, world-class cocktails and a range of delicious Polynesian and international cuisines. What’s even better, you can choose exactly how serious you want to get with your food experiences. While many bars and restaurants embrace the relaxed and casual vibe, others offer chic and exclusive experiences that make the most of the islands’ idyllic and secluded settings.
So, from delicious local dishes to tastes of the Mediterranean and Asia, here are some tips for where to go and what to try.
The markets are a great place to experience some of the local Polynesian dishes the Cook Islands are famous for in a casual yet buzzing environment. Although, it’s worth keeping in mind that you’ll also be able to find a few popular dishes from across Asia at very affordable prices.
Two of the best markets for great value local food are Muri Night Market on the island of Rarotonga and Rarotonga Punanga Nui Market. And while you’re browsing the stalls, some tasty local dishes to look out for include poke – a sweet and creamy pudding, ika mata – raw tuna marinated in lime and coconut milk and curried eke – octopus in coconut curry.
Casual and upscale restaurants
When it comes to food, almost every corner of the globe is represented across the Islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki. While Rarotonga’s Muri Beach is a popular hotspot, in almost any district you’ll find restaurants (casual and upscale) offering European dishes, fresh seafood, grilled meats and a variety of Mexican and Asian plates among many other options. This is what makes the Cook Islands a great destination for couples and families – catering for the most adventurous food explorers as well as those who enjoy eating all their favourite foods on holiday.
Need some tips? Trader Jacks is a popular dining spot on the island of Rarotonga and there’s no surprise about why. Making the most of the islands’ quality produce, Trader Jacks’ extensive menu features, fresh seafood, local cuisine, steaks and gourmet pizzas – along with an impressive list of wines to choose from too.
For a more casual experience, why not head along to the waterside setting of Vaima Polynesian Restaurant and Bar, which has everything from coconut fish curry to fish and chips and slow roast pork belly with local vegetables. The mooring fish café also offers excellent seafood either in traditional Polynesian style, sandwiches, salads or Mexican tacos – all at affordable prices to eat in or takeaway.
Enjoy the chic surrounds of hotel dining
It’s hard to ignore the stunning beachside backdrop of some of the Cook Islands’ most prestigious hotels. Dotted around the islands of Rarotonga and Aitutaki, you’ll discover exquisite hotel restaurants which attract guests from outside seeking fine wines and beautifully presented dishes inspired by international cuisines.
Boasting share plates and a la carte dishes overlooking the water, Antipodes Restaurant in Rarotonga is a great choice for enjoying some Mediterranean food alfresco style. All dishes are made with fresh local produce and are accompanied by a wide selection of wines.
If a freshly squeezed juice or barista style coffee is your favourite way to start the day, you won’t have to leave your morning routine at the home when you visit the Cook Islands. Great coffee, pastries, light bites and hearty breakfasts are readily available at various cafés around Rarotonga and Aitutaki. The well-renowned Beluga café in Arorangi district is always worth a visit idyllically located between the Raemaru Mountain and ocean.
Whether it’s a night of revelry or a relaxing evening cocktail watching the sun go down, the number of bars and pubs in the Cooks Islands is growing with many bars in Rarotonga staying open until the early hours. Better still, late afternoon and evening Happy Hours offered by many bars (usually between 4 and 6pm) make it easy to grab yourself a sea view seat complemented by a choice of reasonably priced drinks. Many bars will offer $10 cocktails and $5 wine and beer – some even offer these prices all day.
Right on the beach at Charlie’s in Rarotonga, you’ll be spoilt for choice with delicious cocktails at cheaper prices than you’d find at home, a selection of cold beers from Rarotonga Brewery and plenty of tasty bites to go with it!