• Wrapping a leg of pork in palm leaves for lovo cooking, a traditional cooking method used in the Fijian islands. (Getty/iStockphoto)Source: Getty/iStockphoto
Island Feast is all about bringing Pacific Island flavours and tastes to Sydney.
Aimee Chanthadavong

6 Apr 2020 - 12:18 PM  UPDATED 6 Apr 2020 - 12:51 PM

Sydney might be home to a large community of Pacific Islanders, but there are only a handful of restaurants that serve food synonymous with their roots.

Even when they do, it's not what Pete Waqa describes as "native Islander food". 

It was one of the main reasons why he and his wife, Seni, decided to open Island Feast, a casual eatery dedicated to cooking home-style Pacific Island dishes.

Waqa tells SBS Food, "We started Island Feast because there are so many Pacific Islanders in the Sydney region and we want them to experience the taste of the Pacific right here.

"Rather than having to go back home, we're trying to bring the taste to them."

The menu at Island Feast changes daily where all the dishes cooked are on display at the counter.

Waqa, who relocated to Sydney from Fiji just over a year ago, reveals the other reason for opening the eatery was to pay homage to his late mother.

"She was not able to come here and see [the restaurant] so I did this for her. She had lived in Sydney for 25 years. My mum loved to cook and bake," he says.

The menu at Island Feast changes daily. Customers are notified through the Island Feast Facebook page or by popping into the restaurant but they can also peer through the food display cabinet to see what is on offer.

Li Hongzhang’s chop suey

The dish of chop suey was more likely to have developed as a simple stew of whatever ingredients were available, seasoned with the only common Chinese seasonings available in the Americas at the time – soy sauce and rice wine. Here’s a version of chop suey in the style of Anhui cuisine, with a rich broth, silky soup and delicious mountain ingredients. Destination Flavour China 

It rotates and ranges from chop suey to chicken or lamb curry served with house-made roti. Fried fish, topped with tomato and greens before its dressed with lolo (coconut cream), is another regular dish.

Waqa says the menu samples different dishes from the Pacific Islands: from Samoa to the Cook Islands and Tonga, as well as New Zealand and Fiji. 

"Rather than having to go back home, we're trying to bring the taste to them."

"For instance, the Tongans love coconut cream, so we use a lot of it in our dishes, while chop suey is very popular with Samoans," he says.

But the main star at Island Feast, and Waqa's personal favourite, is lovo.

Palusami, goat curry with roti and lovo chicken are some of the dishes that are regularly featured on the menu.

"In New Zealand, it's called hangi. In Samoa, it's umu but if you're Fijian, it's lovo. It's a traditional style of cooking that uses an underground oven for cooking.

"It's a method we use to cook with all the time at home," he says.

Waqa explains how each serving – whether that's cassava, taro or chicken marinade in a "secret sauce" – are individually wrapped in foil, before being placed in the ground and hot stones, which are heated up using firewood, are used to cover the pit before it's cooked for 1.5 hours.

Umu-cooked fish

An umu (also known as a lovo or hāngi) is a popular traditional method of cooking throughout the Pacific Islands. This recipe will help you achieve the signature taste of umu-cooked fish in your home kitchen, without the need to dig up the backyard!

Dishes that are cooked using this traditional method are only served Thursday to Sunday and are accompanied by house-made coleslaw and kokoda, a ceviche-style dish where raw fish is marinated overnight in coconut cream, lime juice, coriander and chillies. 

Palusami, taro leaves with coconut cream, is another dish cooked using the lovo.

Waqa's wife Seni says it's a dish that's often popular with vegetarians. "In Fiji, we sometimes have it with corned beef, or Tonga have it with lamb," she says.

Cream buns are a favourite baked good in Fiji that's commonly had alongside a mug of tea for breakfast or after a meal.

To end the meal, Waqa suggests a cream bun, an unofficial Fijian baked good made famous by a well-known Fijian bakery, Hot Bread Kitchen, with a giant mug of tea.

As the name suggests, it's a slightly sweetened bun that's baked in house daily by Waqa using a recipe that was shared by his mother who had passed it on to Seni.

"If you go on holiday and ask for the cream bun, you'll find it everywhere," he says.

Also look out for Nana's kitchen special, panikeke (pancakes), a dish that Waqa fondly explains his mother made when he was younger.


Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @achanthadavong or Instagram @aimeech33Photographs by Aimee Chanthadavong.

Island Feast
1/8 Hume Highway, Warwick Farm
Mon 9am–9pm, Tue to Fri 10am–9pm, Sat & Sun 7am–9pm

Takeaway orders for Island Feast are being personally delivered by the owner, Pete Waqa, and all orders can be placed by calling them directly.

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Fijian feast cooked in the earth (lovo)

Cooking food in the ground, in Fiji called a lovo, is a traditional method using hot stones. Here the chicken is served with palusami: taro stuffed with coconut and onion.

Fijian taro leaf (rourou) with root crop chips

Rourou is a dish of taro leaves cooked in water and coconut milk. They are heated for at least 10 minutes to be sure they don’t itch the throat.

Fijian fruit lote

Breadfruit is native to the Pacific islands. It has a green skin and its flesh is pale and starchy. It is used in both savoury and sweet recipes.

Fijian ceviche (kokoda)

This is a traditional Fijian seafood dish served as part of a shared meal though delicious by itself or with some steamed rice. It is similar to a “ceviche” where the fish is slightly cooked from the acidity of citrus. Food Safari Water

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Coconut caramel bread (fa’ausi)

Coconut palms line the sandy shores of Samoa, and coconuts are used to make one of the country’s favourite sweets, fa’ausi. It consists of a creamy caramel made with coconut milk, the sugar traditionally caramelised over hot rocks. This mixture is then poured over cubes of baked taro or fa’apapa, rock-hard coconut bread, which hold their shape when soaked with caramel.

How to cook Vanuatu
Vanuatu only gained independence in 1980 so its cuisine is undoubtedly influenced by the British and French culture of its earlier controllers. Local specialties even include escargot. However the group of islands that make up Vanuatu mainly use local ingredients to create a distinctly tropical cuisine. Seafood is a common staple in the Pacific Islands and is widely available due to the abundance of beaches. Lobster, crabs, prawns and various types of fish are found as the main protein in many dishes. Fruits such as coconut, papaya, banana and mango are common, as are root vegetables like cassava and taro. Vanuatu also has a traditional drink called kava, made from the roots of the kava plant, which has mild narcotic effects.
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Rarotonga raw fish salad with coconut (ika mata)

As given to me by Gran Mary, my Rarotongan grandmother. We marinate the fish in lemon juice so that it's "cooked". It's an ideal starter or light lunch. Has also been a great late breakfast on a summer’s day. All the flavours combine so well and come together as at once creamy, yet fresh as a salad. It's a staple throughout the Pacific, with each country having its own version. Due to the overnight marinating, it's also an easy way to serve seafood without the mad rush of quick cooking prior to serving.