ABOUT a third of Fiji’s population is made up of Indo-Fijians who are mostly descended from Indian indentured labourers brought to the islands by British colonial rulers to work on Fiji’s sugar cane plantations. As such, Fiji’s cuisine is also influenced by Indian cuisine. On my recent visit to Fiji I was wanting to try examples of Indo-Fijian food and I have two spots that serve some good Indian food at locals’ prices.
The New Nadi Farmers Club was recommended by a taxi driver (and other drivers and locals concurred), as a good place in Nadi Town to get a drink and a meal. The club is run by Aussie lass Tracey and her Fijian husband Tom. Tracey also owns the Bondi Beach Bag Co., and has her Fijian boutique in the club.
To use an Australian analogy, the Farmers Club is like an RSL – you can get a meal, a drink and entertainment.
You enter the club via the main bar area which has tables and bar stools and large TVs with satellite stations. There is the Bondi Beach Bag Co. boutique as well as an indoor dining area but the main attraction is the sparse outside beer garden that overlooks the river where you can sit under the veranda or on one of the stools under a thatched bure. There is also a small stage where live music is played.
The clientele is mainly locals with a mix of tourists and ex-pats. Be aware that the locals love to dance and you may be grabbed and flung out to the centre stage. They also love to have a few drinks, so it is wise to stay at the end from the locals (especially in the late afternoon after work), as things can get loud as people get” excited”. We didn’t see any trouble (and staff will keep a look out).
We were told that the Farmers had a very good fire dance and cultural show staring an 11-year-old boy who is Fiji’s youngest fire dancer (we saw him on his skate board flinging and twirling his sticks around as a warm up). Visitors say it was the best one on the island (from reading reviews of it), and it is free.
The Baroness and I went to the club on two occasions to have a drink and dinner. The first occasion was to prepare ourselves before we headed off to meet my Fijian “brother from another mother” at Nadi’s latest locals’ disco – The White House (an interesting place to say the least as it includes strategically-placed poles which you can dance around under the watchful eye of bouncers that are bigger than King Kong). If you go there just be alert.
You can get drinks from the Farmers Club main bar but waitresses roam and will keep an eye out on your drink if it gets low and will take your order. Beers include Fiji Bitter or the better Fiji Gold (FJD$5 for a stubbie, FJD$54 for a 3-litre tower or FJD$550 for a keg!); Fiji’s very own ready-mix alcho-pops called ‘Tribe’ (F$5.50); wine and bubbles by the bottle (from FJD$35), and passable cocktails (a cosmopolitan will set you back FJD$18).
The menu has western favourites (chicken schnitzel, salads and club sandwiches and a decent kids’ menu) but it was the curries and ‘chasers’ that appealled to us. The chasers are little appetisers or nibbles to have with a drink.
All curries come with dal, a vege curry, chutney and either rice or roti, so it’s like having a thali. You can add additional items such as extra roti (FJD$1 per price) or another curry (from FJD$9.90).
On our first visit we started with two chasers: calamari rings (FJD$9.90) and spicy fish (FJD$9.90). When the calamari came out is was thermo-nuclear hot! Once it had time to breath it was a classic battered ring enhanced by a tangy lemon dipping sauce on the side (instead of the usual lemon wedge). Ideal for the accompanying Fiji Gold. Baronesss loved the sauce. I thought the spicy fish was the pick: similar to fish tikka, it was cubes of firm pearl-white fish that had been marinated in a dry masala (blended Indian spices) and then baked. A chili dipping sauce accompanied it. Both chasers beat the classic potato wedges at any RSL.
We followed the chasers with a prawn curry to share (FJD$16.90) with four pieces of extra roti on the side (FJD$4). The curry was excellent. A small handful of good-sized prawns with tails still on were immersed in a peppery curry sauce. The added vegetable dishes: a potato and pea curry and a watery yellow dal, were also good. A tamarind chutney was on the side.
On our second visit we went for the calamari chaser followed by the boneless chicken curry to share (FJD$14.90). The chicken curry was cubed thigh fillets in a mild, yet flavoursome sauce and was accompanied by the two same vegetable dishes as on the previous visit.
Both the prawn and chicken curries were good and were made using fresh ground masala – well worth the price and the trip to the club.
Service is excellent (local staff enjoy chatting to tourists), and Tracey and Tom ensure that visitors feel that their local club is also your club away from home. Kids are most certainly welcome.
Food came out fairly promptly (we were the only ones eating at that time, though) and from reports the club can get busy in the evenings (especially for the show).
Raju’s Indian Fast Food Curry Restaurant was discovered by chance while doing a quick grocery shop in Nadi Town. It is a small restaurant packed full of local Fijians and Fijian Indians alike and is located off Queens Road down a small side street called Park Street and is almost opposite a discount “two dollar” shop.
It’s a basic “diner”. There are booths on one side of the wall and large tables in the centre. Towards the back wall are the staff behind the bain-marie filled with curries. I ordered from spec – a lamb curry, dal and roti which all came to FJD$8. Service was friendly with the waitress telling me what was on for the day and bringing it all over to me with a carafe of cold water.
The lamb curry consisted of cubes of lamb on the bone in a dark rich sauce. Not overpowering or spicy but certainly flavoursome. The yellow dal was of a watery soup consistency and seemed spiced predominately with cumin. I must admit I prefer the thicker dal (like a dal makhani or dhal palak). I have read that Fijians tend to use yellow split peas instead of chickpeas or lentils, so it may explain the style of dal that was served. It was, though, a good accompaniment to the lamb and meshed well with the robust flavours of that curry.
The roti consisted of four folded sheets and was moist and tender. In hindsight I should have ordered a serving of rice in order to soak up the dal as roti just doesn’t do it (I had to do the old slurp from the bowl trick).
Raju’s is a local’s place and it was nice to be the only non-local dining there among the lunch time workers. It is well worth a look if you want something original and authentically local dining experience. Don’t be intimidated – staff are very helpful and will make sure that you will get something delicious.
The verdict: Two nice and cheap eating spots: The New Nadi Farmers Club is a good place to sit outside and enjoy a beer or cocktail in the beer garden as well as a snack or cheap meal after pounding the main drag of Nadi looking at tacky souvenirs. Raju’s is ideal for a “curry in a hurry”, has local flavour and atmosphere, and is well worth a look away from the places that the touts will try and lure you into.
What: New Nadi Farmers’ Club, Ashram Road, Nadi, Viti Levu, Fiji; Raju’s Indian Fast Food Curry Restaurant, Park Street, Nadi, Viti Levu, Fiji.
Ate there: 3 and 10 January (The New Nadi Farmers’ Club); 8 January (Raju’s).
Note: FJD$1 = A$0.53 at time of writing. Also Vonu is the pick of beers in Fiji. If you find it, try it.