Posted by on 11 May 2023
You may know the Cook Islands best as an idyllic group of islands with long stretches of powder-fine white sand and crystalline blue waters. But aside from its gorgeous, untouched beaches and year-round sunny weather, these islands are also known for their delicious food.
Although the islands are small, the country offers plenty of delicacies. The locals get very creative with their cuisine, especially regarding fresh seafood and fruit, so you’ll surely find unique culinary delights you won’t find anywhere else.
Whether eating at one of the upscale restaurants in the Rarotonga dining hub or eyeing a quick snack in Punanga Nui market in Avarua, the nation’s capital, something delicious always awaits you.
Need some help deciding what food to try on your Cook Islands holiday? Check out this roundup of the best delicacies and traditional food in the Cook Islands.
12 Cook Islands Food and Dishes You Need to Try
Many locals consider ika mata the Cook Islands’ national dish. Like “poké” in Hawaii and “ceviche” in Latin America, ika mata is a raw fish dish.
To prepare it, maroro (flying fish) is marinated in coconut juice and lime then mixed with chopped vegetables to turn it into a salad. It’s a refreshingly vibrant fish dish with a sweet and tangy kick that many travellers enjoy, especially in the summer.
Rukau is a traditional food from the Cook Islands made by cooking taro leaves in coconut cream and adding caramelized onions. The leaves are cooked about three times to eliminate their prickly texture.
While rukau is usually a vegetarian dish, some restaurants add corned beef to spice things up.
Umukai is not just a dish but a way of cooking. “Umu” means “oven,” and umikai literally translates to “food that comes from the oven.”
Locals wrap plenty of meat and juicy vegetables in banana leaves before placing them in an underground oven. When the food is done slow-cooking, you get tender, melt-in-your-mouth food.
Another simple yet delicious dish in the Cook Islands is eke takare, or octopus meat curried in coconut milk. Add flavourful herbs and fragrant spices, and you have a simple yet mouthwatering seafood coconut curry.
The waters surrounding the Cook Islands are abundant with wildlife, so you can look forward to indulging in incredibly fresh, tender fish. One of the most popular ways to enjoy them is by grilling them.
You can enjoy grilled maroro (flying fish), tuna, mahi-mahi and more on the islands. They’re usually served with side dishes, like cassava or a helping of rukau.
Poké is typically served with diced salmon, tuna, and veggies over rice. But in the Cook Islands, poké is a dessert dish.
It’s made by blending arrowroot and coconut milk with rich fruit or vegetable—the most popular of which is overripe banana–and a ton of sugar for a sweet treat perfect for lounging on the beach.
Rori is also referred to as sea cucumber on the islands. It’s prepared with a simple set of ingredients–garlic, onions, butter and a few herbs–but combined, it creates a unique, salty-sweet, divine taste. Some locals also prefer to eat rori raw.
It’s especially popular in Rarotonga since the waters on that island are shallow enough to find sea cucumbers everywhere.
Freshly Baked Coconut Buns
The freshly baked coconut buns sold at some local markets are another delicacy worth trying in the Cook Islands. Similar to the Samoan “pani popo,” these sweet coconut buns are the perfect morning snack to have over coffee, especially when they’re still warm.
Kinaki is a popular side dish made using fresh vegetables—like kumara (sweet potatoes), taro and arrowroot that are boiled or fried, then salted slightly for flavour. You’ll see it served alongside most of the meals on the island.
Tuna is one of the more popular catches in the seas of the Cook Islands, so sashimi is also quite popular there. Although grilling the fish is a more popular way to eat it, having tuna fresh is perfect if you want something lighter and more refreshing.
The Aitutaki Snowball is a simple yet decadent dessert famous in Aitutaki, the second largest isle in the Cook Islands. It’s vanilla ice cream scooped into the shape of a ball and then rolled in fresh coconut shavings. It’s the perfect dessert for the kids or anyone with a sweet tooth.
Fresh Tropical Fruit
Fresh fruit is a no-brainer in the Cook Islands. No tropical holiday is complete without trying out the country’s selection of sweet and delicious fruits.
You’ll find plenty of fresh mangoes, coconuts, pineapples and passionfruit here. Check out the local market or order a fresh fruit shake from your resort’s restaurant to enjoy them.
Experience the Cook Islands through Its Culinary Delights
Travelling in the Cook Islands isn’t just about sightseeing or sunbathing on its pristine beaches. One of the best things about a trip to the islands is indulging in its remarkable cuisine.
If you’re a fan of fresh seafood and sweet tropical fruits, you’ll definitely love Cook Islands food. Plan your next holiday to this picture-perfect group of South Pacific islands and get a taste of delicious tropical flavours you won’t find anywhere else.