Telling tales through food

Staff of FRIEND Fiji pictured at the newly opened Tukuni restaurant at its headquarters in Tuvu, Lautoka. Photo: ANA SOVA.

By ANA SOVA

In a bid to promote healthy eating and give more exposure to the pristineness of our local food, Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises & Development (FRIEND) Fiji has opened a restaurant at its headquarters in Tuvu, Lautoka.

Tukuni is a local organic restaurant involving a farm table approach.

According to FRIEND’s Associate Director, Dr. Jone Hawea, serving local traditional food to people is a form of telling a tale about a significant part of our traditions.

“We are about telling a story, that’s how Tukuni, the name came about. Tukuni in the ITaukei language means to tell a tale, it’s not only as simple as telling a tale, it’s about messaging, in the olden days when there are sensitive messages that the elders wanted to share with the younger generation it would come first in a form of a tale or Tukuni,”

“The message here is that we are proud of the pristine nature of our food. We know food is at the heart of our identity, our way of life and our ceremonies, our culture, our relationships rotate around food and we want to share that,” Dr. Hawea said.

He said they’ve also heard from foreign visitors to FRIEND about the lack of restaurants in which they can really taste authentic Fijian food.

Interior decoration boasts the use of wooden table and chairs, masi(tapa) and houseplants as seen above. Photo: ANA SOVA

Dr. Hawea said the more FRIEND ventured out into facilitating people in their livelihood the more they realised that a lot of it is around our food systems.

He said they’ve worked with a lot of people in the food industry in the past and have tried to ask them to show a little bit more pride in our Fijian cuisine.

“Like most other activities that we engage in, we have to do it ourselves,”

“We realise we had to try and send the message across ourselves and we made an investment decision to set up this restaurant,” he said.

He adds this feeds onto another issue that they’ve always dreaded.

“That is the increase in diseases that are affecting our population, Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD). This is another way of tackling that problem. People need to value our local food more,” Dr. Hawea said.

He said they’ve has some assistance from the United States government.

“This is in facilitating the supplier side of things, helping farmers with supplies, organic practices and sustainable farming practices so that gave us courage to fulfill our goal”.

Staffing and sources of food are from the local community. The food is cooked by women from around the community, for generations Dr. Hawea said have inherited the methods of cooking traditional food. This is in both traditional iTaukei food and indigenous Fijian food.

The interior design and decor of the restaurant like that of some local resorts ooze with the elegant use of clay pot, bamboo, masi (tapa), magimagi mixed with wooden chairs, houseplants and herbs.