What do people eat in New Caledonia?

Photo Gitanjali

Photo Gitanjali

What does one eat in New Caledonia? Tropical fruit, right?

Well, that’s what we thought. We imagined lots of pineapple, mango, papaya, melon, watermelon and bananas. Imagine our disappointment when we found some fresh fruit, but not the beautiful fruit and veg we’d found in Europe or the United States.

Fruit and vegetables here are often damaged, sad-looking and expensive (a head of lettuce is going for 1,000-1,200 CFP [€8,38-10.06 or AUD 10.86-13.03 right now due to shortages). We’ve been without onions for the last month, due to Freda, the tropical depression, which destroyed what was in the fields or cannot be accessed in the fields now.  The FCC, which meets every month, approved the importation of 150 tons of onions to cover our monthly needs just recently, but there is still a shortage – due to the amount of time it takes boats to arrive.

In short, we are punished for the fact that in New Caledonia, we produce only 40% of our agricultural needs. This is one of the lowest rates in French overseas countries (by contrast, Reunion Island has a coverage rate of 75%).

So yes, we can get pineapple and mango, but the melons and bananas are a little worse for the wear. Why, you ask? We are yet to solve the mystery – except to say that we’ve seen more bananas growing in the Loyalty Islands than on the mainland. Melons appear to be imported – and are thus subject to taxes and the 65% higher food costs that I’ve mentioned before. There are also importation quotas and rules concerning the price of local produce (which should cost the same as imported produce), so we can’t win.

How about fish? Yes, lots of fish. And shrimp (the size of your index finger and thumb) and lobster right out of the sea (especially on the Loyalty Islands and at Isle of Pines!). Our lobster was caught the very morning of our Mana Nautique outing – by two young Melanesian boys. What a life.

Photo JH

Photo JH

Coconuts? Yes. You can find these in the stores and at the markets. In Lifou, we were shown how they are taken down out of the trees (with a long axe-like stick – watch your head!) and we’ve seen them shucked and opened (with very sharp utensils, of course). Fresh coconut and coconut milk is amazing!

Then there is the passion fruit and papaya that you can find in abundance in Lifou (less so, in comparison, on the mainland).

What are the country’s staples? Rice, fish, root vegetables (taro, manioc, yams, sweet potatoes), fresh fruit.

How do we cook? Just like everyone else in the world – over a hot fire. The Melanesians, however, do so literally. We’ve seen many a makeshift kitchen on the floor of huts or in back gardens, or on the land. Basically, they cook over an open fire, without ovens (or refrigerators to keep things cool – this we’ve seen mostly on the islands) and with very basic utensils.

Photo JH

Photo JH

With regard to traditional fare, I find wikipedia states it best:

Bougna is a traditional Kanak casserole, considered a national food by many Kanaks.[13] It is made of sliced root vegetables which might include taromanioc,yams and coconut milk.[38] Pork, chicken or seafood may be used in the filling which is then wrapped in poingo banana leaves before being cooked over hot stones in an earthen oven.[39] Other local ingredients used in Kanak cuisine include Rousettus (flying foxes) and local deer; marine staples such as lagoon and coral reef fish (including dawa), as well as crabs and lobsters. Paita beans are locally grown haricots, while custard-applelime and saffron are other local ingredients.[38]

One tip we have found, in addition to buying and eating local, is to have our food delivered, using a service called “gamelles”. There are several providers in Nouméa. Basically, you order in meals a week in advance, which are delivered to your doorstep. The service we use uses fresh produce, varies the menu (we’ve eaten the same meal twice only once in 6 months), offers a vegetarian meal, and is believe it or not, cheaper than shopping locally and preparing your meals yourself. These are not fast-food or frozen options, but fresh salads (fantastic when lettuce is 1,000 CFP a head), fresh fish and meat, fresh vegetables, and great desserts (think mint-chocolate mousse, vanilla creme brulé, passion fruit parfait). The portions are copious – and delicious. A true lifesaver for those of us who are still in shock over food prices. Who do we use, you ask? Assiette filante!

So there you have it. Will we be seeing you soon for some fresh lobster or bougna? A little mint-chocolate mousse? A €10 head of lettuce?

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40 thoughts on “What do people eat in New Caledonia?

  1. If you ordered a week of meals, do they get delivered fresh every day? My husband is gone for over 2 weeks and I could really use a service like this!

    • Hi Carrie – Good question. Yes, they get delivered every day (or every day you order them for – you do not have to order something for every day if you do not want to). If you decide to use Assiette Filante, do give them a call before to see if they are not too full up and are accepting new clients. Their number is on their site. And if you end up ordering with them, the 1/2 portion is the right order for 1 person. One portion equals 2 people. Good luck!!

      • Hi – Do you know if this service is still cheaper than buying and preparing meals yourself today? I am going to go to NC in March and stay until late October.

      • Hi – Yes, this service is still more reasonable, price-wise, and I highly recommend it. You can start ordering when you arrive. I think you have to order before Thursday for the next week. Let me know if you need any further information! – Julie

      • Also – if it is cheaper, should I sign up to them now so I can get them in March? Do you think that they allow that as I don’t want to be too late.

  2. Hi,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences of New Caledonia. I am from Canada and will be travelling to Kone, NewCaledonia for work reasons. By looking at the map it looks like Kone is in the north of NewCaledonia. Do you have any information about Kone. If yes, please kindly share that with me. I am mainly concerned about living style and food. You can email me at the email provided in the form below as I will like to discuss about this trip. I will wait for your message.

    Have a good day.

    Thanks and Regards

    Max

  3. Pingback: Tribal ways in New Caledonia | New Caledonia Today

  4. Thanks for sharing. I live in Paris and i am packing my bags to new Caledonia for 3 years. Hope i ‘ll find it interesting there. Thanks for the food tips.

  5. Should I sign up to them now so I can get them in March? Do you think that they allow that as I don’t want to be too late.

    Can I order just one day in advance? Or does it have to be that I order all the days I want for the following week on the Thursday?

    • Hi Jai – Are you speaking about the “gamelles” – the weekly food deliveries? I would contact them in advance to make sure they can include you among their new clients. You’ll need to order once a week for the week to follow. Hoping this helps! – Julie

      • Yes I am talking about gamelles. How in advance would I need to sign up?

        Not sure what you mean but order once a week the following week?

        Thanks

      • Jai – You’ll need to contact Assiette Filante via phone or via their page http://www.assiettefilante.com/ to see if they can include you in their new clients. Then what you do is place an order on line before Thursday for the next week. You can decide to order just one meal or one per day for the next week. Does this help? – Julie

      • I’m goin to arrive on 19 March. When then should I sign up as you said to do in advance? Are you saying I can order after signing up just one meal for the whole week?

      • I have contacted them but still need to know a few things as they haven’t responded to everything. Do I need to have a minimum each week of orders? I know some weeks I will not order anything. Also the place I live at has a gate for the carpark and you can only unlock it with a button key. I live in the building within this carpark and I’m afraid that the deliverer won’t want to deliver here. The solution would be that he texts or calls when he is here but I’m not sure if Assiette wants to do that…

  6. I’m worried about my French. I am posted to work as an English assistant at lycee laperouse dor 7 months. I have done French in high school and university. They have also accepted me through an application that I had to give referees for so theoretically I’m qualified but I’m anxious about it. Could you tell me a bit about the people and their attitude towards foreigners working there and their French level? Anything that can alleviate my anxiety! Thanks so much, Jai

    • Jai – You’re going to be great! I never found any discrimination because of my accent or mistakes in French. The people were always very forgiving and understanding. If you try, and you will, and you smile, and you earnestly work to improve, you will not go wrong! Good luck – and let us know how it goes! (PS We used to live next to Lycee Laperouse. If you get a chance, have lunch one day at Ptit Café – around the corner from the lycée. It’s the best food you’ll have in all Nouméa and the staff are wonderful.)

      • I’m here now (a month it’s been!) Thanks so much for your kind words, they still help to this day as I read them! I’m improving and it’s a real challenge speaking everyday in French especially when I need to ask for something complicated … Keeping me busy and on my toes though and I’m learning so much! Lots of people have recommended this cafe and I in fact had my birthday dinner there with the other assistants. It was delicious!!! Pricey but worth it (at least for an occasional thing and my bday!). You’re right staff was lovely and I’m from Wellington NZ – the cafe central of the world so I’m pretty picky! Haha. Also tried some cheesecake and I’ll be coming back! I live in the studio which belongs to Lycée Laperouse, I wonder if it’s the same one? Maybe not. Bonne nuit!

    • Hi Jai,
      I’m from Australia and I’m applying for the English language assistant program in New Caledonia. I’ve been trying to find out more about the program online but I can’t really find anything apart from what’s on the French Embassy page.

      I was wondering if you could give me some insight into what the experience has been like for you so far?

      Thanks! 🙂

      ps- sorry to hijack your post jhwordsmith :/

  7. So glad you are getting on well, Jai – and that you liked Le Ptit Cafe. :)) I don’t know where the studio is that Lycee Laperouse has, but I bet it’s very close to where we used to live! 🙂 Keep well – and let us know how long you’ll be in Noumea!

  8. I attended the 2016 FestPac in Guam and tasted a dessert from New Caledonia. the dessert was made of a thickened coconut cream topped with a mixture of mango and papaya. It was delicious. I forgot what it is called in their native language. Would any of you know what it is called?

  9. Hello,

    I’ve a few questions to moving to New Caledonia. Can you please contact me by email (see the one I left).

    Would be great to connect with you.

    Thanks so much,

    Gerald

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